Voices Loud, Clear and Diverse at the Cutting Edge of Sexuality Research and Activism: Reflections on ILGA2014

10/12/2014

Cheryl OversOvers blog 1 dec 14

The theme of the Annual Global Conference of the International Gay and Lesbian Association conference in Mexico City was ‘decolonising our bodies.’ Five hundred activists, academics and policy makers talked about forms of colonisation and how to identify, resist and defy it. I followed sessions that reflected areas of work of the Sexuality Programme, economic challenges and resiliencies in LGBTI communities and legal aspects of the struggle for LGBTI rights in the global south. I also visited discussions about immigration, digital security and gender identity which are some of the ascendant issues that reflect important shifts in thinking within queer spaces.

The Year of Conchita

I first heard the term SOGI, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, from the UN so I was prejudiced against it. I am disillusioned by social movements and community actions being instrumentalised by institutions and it is often heralded by a new acronym. But at this conference I realised that SOGI is well used which suggests it better describes the conversation than ‘Lesbian and Gay’ plus the various letters that have been added as history has unfolded. I was also surprised to rarely hear ‘queer’ but perhaps that’s because it’s done its job of making way for gender identities to be liberated from the binary idea that there are men and women and that transgenders and intersex people must become one or the other.

For many people their first view of contemporary challenges to binary gender identity was Conchita Wurst, winner of Eurovision 2013. Predictably some people across all sexualities were mystified, having understood the categories gay men, lesbian women and trans people as settled. But here the importance of freeing minds and bodies from binary sexuality and gender categories in the overall aim of decolonisation of queer bodies were discussed throughout the conference. As well as arguments about how and why law, medicine and anthropology should shift away from gender binaries and heteronormativity, gender activists also called for the process to begin in LGBTI communities and ILGA itself. Given the historical context in which inclusion of lesbian, trans and bisexual and intersex peOvers blog 2 dec 14ople in ILGA has itself been an evolution, this process is clearly still underway. The outward signs of this shift were the familiar sites of gender contestation – clothing and bathroom designation. Beards and frocks were all over the place at ILGA 2014 and the two bathrooms became three. But the third bathroom was not marked “T” in reference to binary transpersons.

“It’s not the same to be a gay person with means as it is to be a gay person without means.”

Fundamental human rights to life, freedom of assembly and speech, non-discrimination and access to justice are rightly at the top the SOGI agenda. But in view of the number of people at the conference from middle and low income countries I was surprised at the lack of content on economic rights in the Global South.

Micro Rainbow’s research in Brazil is also an interesting exception. It shows that lesbian, gay and transgendered people are more likely to become and/or remain poor due to the stigma, prejudice and discrimination they face on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. LGBT people who live in poverty in Rio de Janeiro often deal with verbal, physical and sexual violence, and other abuses motivated by homophobia and transphobia. It argued that the lack of social and legal recognition of LGBT people, coupled with heteronormative, exclusionary policies on poverty provide a context that maintains the invisibility and structural marginalization of LGBT people living in poverty. I hope we see more research like this and that it drives demand for redress.

The World Bank provided an opportunity to engage with development policy and it was very well attended by Global South delegates. The Bank has recognised that to fulfil its mission of poverty reduction, sustainable development and shared prosperity the development process must fully respect the dignity, human rights, economies, and cultures of gender and sexual minorities; that gender inequalities and differences expose LGBTI to various forms of risk and that LGBTI communities play a vital role in sustainable and inclusive development. It convened the meeting at ILGA2014 to discuss ways in which LGBTI groups can be involved in the process of ensuring that Bank financed projects avoid negative impacts on sexual and gender minorities and promote gender and SOGIE equality. A consultation with LGBT organisations will be taking place over the coming months to develop policy including a Gender and SOGI Plan/Planning Framework that will inform the appraisals or impact assessments of Bank funded projects. Bank staff were keen to hear suggestions about how to do that. ‘Be very careful not to do harm” was the loudest suggestion and perhaps after that ‘Don’t necessarily believe what our governments tell you about how they treat us.’ The session was convened by Chad Dobson of The Bank Information Centre which is monitoring and critiquing this process.

A recurring idea about the economic consequences of homophobia and gender was that it pushes people into poverty which forces them to sell sex. Thus sex work was uniformly cast as unsatisfactory, tragic or worse. I was musing during a coffee break about the inadequacy of this discourse with a Canadian woman. Sex workers rights were fresh in her mind because of debates in Canada where sex work has recently been further criminalised (see Pivot Legal Society). She was Helen Kennedy and the next day she was elected as Co Secretary General of ILGA which bides well for more visibility for queer sex workers at the next conference.

Although quite a lot is known about the issues facing LGBTI migrants, refugees and asylum seekers there has been little attention to SOGI issues more generally in disaster relief and humanitarian aid. In the case of outbreaks of illness sexual minorities are often blamOvers blog 3 dec 14ed for causing epidemics or making them worse. Gorma Togbah Kollie from Liberia said this is happening in relation to Ebola for gay, lesbian and transgender communities and people living with HIV in West Africa.

I was unsure if my impression about lack of economic and development content was correct until the European Parliament Co-President Ulrike Lunacek mentioned it as she presented the ‘Go Visible’ award to Galang, an organization of lesbians in the Philippines which Lunacek said stands out because it addresses economic issues. Some years back Susie Jolly wrote an article with the self-explanatory title, “Why is Development Work So Straight?” and other work at the Sexuality Programme of IDS argued that ‘development theory and practice impose reproductive heterosexuality (heteronormativity) both as the only functional form of sex for its policies and as the ruling norm subjective experiences of pleasure, desire, and identity claims.’ It would be useful to ask the converse now -why is LGBTI activism not more focussed on development?

Liberation and the Law

Activists from several countries where homosexuality is illegal spoke about their experience with law reform advocacy and strategic litigation. Stephen Chukwumah from Nigeria was one of several activists that spoke about the strain legal processes place on communities and about the challenge of ensuring that potential benefits are distributed. Others spoke about putting energy into different legal processes. Ian McKnight of J-Flag Jamaica spoke about the impact of intense police liaison and a clear directive by senior police against homophobia in law enforcement. He said that although miracles don’t happen there has been real change. Similar stories came from Fiji. This serves as a reminder that ending police negligence, violence and misbehavior doesn’t have to be complex or long term. A particularly heartening story came from SMUG Uganda. An activist is suing a US evangelical church in a US court for the damage it has caused in his life.

Several delegates spoke about the confounding logic and sheer complexity of law. Some groups have been fortunate to have skilled pro bono lawyers but even then law is a maze. I was pleased to be able to share IDS Sexuality Programme’s contribution to addressing that problem, the Sexuality and Justice Toolkit.

Sonia Correa of Sexuality Policy Watch shared her thoughts about sanctioned sexuality and commented very frankly that while the law reform process must go ahead, anyone who thinks that the law or legal reform will liberate the sexually and gender transgressive is deluded. Sonia Corrêa and Akshay Khanna have recently compiled essays that explore and reflect on the limitations and possibilities of law reform and legal processes.

The technology paradox

Several activists spoke about digital security and the paradox that networked technologies have bought joyful, rich and lifesaving opportunities at the same time as posing serious threats. Governments are increasingly taking a keen interest in the use of this space by dissidents in general and sexual dissidents in particular. Homophobic oppression is thus disguised as fighting terrorism, pornography, trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Another threat is on-line violence which causes both direct harms to targeted individuals and indirect harm by turning people away from activism. However in the context of low income counties lack of access to high speed internet remains the most pressing problem. I was delighted to see Tactical Tech at ILGA 2014. It does great work producing internet tools to help activists overcome some of these problems.

The amazing potential of citizen controlled technology was evident in the films, photography and websites on show at ILGA2014. I managed to see the beautiful photography of Chouf, Tunisia (who also won a Go Visible award); No Easy Walk to Freedom about the Naz Foundation’s challenge to Indian anti sodomy law; three short films about the work of BeLong Ireland with asylum seekers and “The Son I Never Had” about the experience of an intersex person.

Cheryl Overs is a Senior Research Fellow at The Michael Kirby Institute of Human Rights and Public Health at Monash University Melbourne Australia and is a visiting research fellow at IDS.

Previous blog posts by Cheryl Overs:

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Getting under the skin of patriarchy: how change is happening in oppressive gender orders

17/11/2014

Thea ShahrokhThea Shahrokh

The Delhi Global Symposium on Men and Boys for Gender Justice (November 2014) provided a space for an unconventional dialogue between social movement activists, thinkers and policy makers engaged in the Gender, Power and Sexuality programme hosted by IDS. This was a conversation that cut across contexts, genders and identities and provides insights on the changing nature of patriarchy and how different constituencies are challenging oppressive gender orders for gender justice. This article captures key points from this exciting and oversubscribed session which saw participants fill all seats, floor space, aisles and walls to engage in discussion and debate.

Manifestations of patriarchy and evolving forms of oppression

Patriarchy is reproduced and reinforced through complex political, social and economic processes that work to constrain equity and justice for men and women of diverse gender, ethnic, racial, class and ability based identities. Of note Alan Greig argued for the recognition of a deep-rooted interlacing of male supremacy, white supremacy and capitalism. Through this form of intersectional analysis it is argued that patriarchy and supremacy are bound up together in their origins, they work together racialising masculinities and power hierarchies. The situation of ‘angry young men’ was highlighted by Carolina Wennerholm as a manifestation of complex processes such as these; however, the issue is not recognised within development policy. By not engaging, are we enabling the roots of patriarchy to grow deep into the lives of boys and young men manifesting as violent and repressive performances of masculinity?

Darkening international contexts and geopolitical strategies was an important strand of oppression highlighted in this dialogue. Emily Esplen argued how the growth of conservatism and religious fundamentalism is a significant force playing out from local to global levels driving a fierce backlash on women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, and using tradition and culture to promote control and oppression of women within a protectionist framing. akshay khanna argued that sexuality has been cynically appropriated into the centre of geopolitics and the political strategies of the nation state to construct norms of personhood and national identity that valorise heteronormative and specific class, caste and religious identities against a subordinate, and criminalised other.

Marcos Nascimento emphasised the role of national policies in controlling gendered norms and identities through the case of a male gay couple in Brazil being granted maternity leave as the system could not reconstruct the norms of maleness that limit paternity leave to five days (versus six months for maternity). Care work is invisibilised, and misconstrued in the dominant patriarchal economic model also as a result of the value of market growth in macroeconomic policy, not people, and not their economic and social wellbeing. Valentina Utari highlighted how policies that identify unpaid care of women within families and communities are necessary to ensure that development programmes recognise the importance of caring activities in women’s lives – both in terms of how care restricts opportunities, and also the value of care to human and social relationships.

Alexandra Kelbert spoke to the rapidly changing, food insecure contexts perpetuated by the global economic crisis and related shocks driven by capitalist macro-economic policies. Poor and marginalised women are pushed into new forms of work and more work, having to be more creative to gain food on a smaller budget whilst retaining their unpaid care roles. In parallel, a poor man’s patriarchy is evolving, where the pressures of provision within the home cannot be met, in turn masculine norms are challenged and men find themselves in crisis. She asks however is this a possibility for transforming gender relations and building solidarity between men and women for redistribution of gendered roles within the family?

Strategies for getting under the skin of patriarchy

In order to penetrate the skin of patriarchy the duty bearers and the institutions in which the structures of patriarchy are perpetuated and secured need to be transformed. Satish Singh and Phil Otieno highlighted the significance of engaging men in the critical reflection of power in institutional settings. This relates significantly to the resources necessary for gender transformation – can we release resources from the clutches of patriarchy to invest in men’s engagement for gender equality? Alan Greig asked however that where state and societies are satiated with racism and capitalist intent, is the state a legitimate source of justice?  He outlined that we also need to understand alternative modes and mechanisms of justice in our communities. There is potential for transformative justice in communities that are bound by geography and identity, and men can play a critical role in this.

Julia Hamaus highlighted research on gender justice in social movements working to transform the systems of oppression that patriarchy enables.  She asked how to create critical engagement and reflection of repressive gender orders within and across social movements in order to address the hidden hierarchies that exist. Cross-movement dialogues between women’s and wider social justice movements represent an opportunity to challenge patriarchal structures. Involving men in dialogues to reflect on internalised notions of masculinity is a critical approach to interrogate gendered division of labour, leadership, decision-making and other barriers to women’s active participation. Alan Greig takes this line of introspection further, asking us to recognise the socialisation of our oppression or privilege within our own bodies and that our bodies can channel the change we want to see. Where we may have built a discourse of social justice, it is critical to hold our bodies to account in recognising their response and reflecting on the meaning of this in a process of healing and personal transformation.

Transformation in oppressive gender orders

Unlikely dialogues enable us to get under the skin of patriarchy and understand oppressive power as a living entity that adapts aggressively to changing contexts. Patriarchy is finding new ways to subjugate and constrict our humanity. We need strategies for social transformation that get under the skin and disrupt, dismantle and deviate from the privilege and control that patriarchy prescribes.

This is a continuous process that enables new trajectories to grow, through critical engagement and reflexivity. Mobilising men and women for gender justice in institutional settings is not seen as a one-off project, but a process of constructing new norms of gender equality. This goes beyond adopting the right jargon and the introduction of policies for gender equality. It involves finding allies across spaces and levels including those unlikely alliances which will enable greater momentum for changing deeply entrenched structures of inequality. Joint monitoring by rights holders and institutions can ensure that accountability is demonstrated in the upholding of these new norms as they translate into behaviours and practices. The work of social movements was also expressed as an ongoing struggle for political and social change, where strategies evolve and transformative potential is deepened over time. However as new rights claims are made and achieved, and our understanding of patriarchy is enlightened we need to continue to revise our tools of engagement and strategies for change, ensuring they are specific to people, place, and the contextual drivers of poverty, inequality, and gender injustice. Carolina Wennerholm emphasised the important role that donor governments can play in resourcing this work, enabling strategies for change that work across structures and systems. However Jerker Edstrom – moderator of this discussion – concluded by arguing the very real way in that patriarchy is embedded in the aid business and how a fundamental shift is needed in the positivistic tyranny of donor systems and related reductive, target-driven approaches that we all engage in.

Success as outlined by a number of the panellists will mean building alliances across civil society movements, nationally, regionally and globally, building solidarity by identifying common ground in terms of social justice that responds to gender inequalities in an increasingly violent, conservative, fundamentalist and market oriented global context. It is important to draw the connection between various forms and systems of oppression and realise that they all follow the rules of patriarchy. Getting under the skin of patriarchy means to engage in a deep reflection through continuous and persistent dialogue, redefining concepts of gender identities and social justice.

Thea Shahrokh is a Research Officer at IDS.


Picturing gender, ethics and health systems: a competition for photographers

20/08/2014

The aim of this competition, organised by Research in Gender and Ethics (RinGs), a new cross-RPC partnership between Future Health Systems, ReBUILD and RESYST, is to capture the everyday stories of the ways that gender plays out within health systems around the world. The winning entry will be exhibited at the Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, and be used to illustrate our website, and in other published materials with full credit to the photographer.

Gender-sensitive health policy is a feature of international commitments and consensus documents and national-level normative statements and implementation guidance in many countries. However, there are gaps in our knowledge about how gender and ethics interface with health systems. Our project shines a light on some of the ways that gender and health systems come together in a variety of settings. We are looking for photographers who can help us communicate this area of work visually. We welcome images of people of all genders from all areas of the health system, all around the world – be creative!

The deadline for entries is the 1 September 2014.

The judging

Photographs will be judged by a panel of gender specialists and a representative from the creative industry. They will be marked according to:

  1. Their content, i.e. their relevance to subject.
  2. Their ability to tell the story of gender and health systems, i.e. the message they contain, their creativity. We are looking for original and authentic visual representations of health systems in action.
  3. The technical merit of the photo, i.e. exposure, focus, colour, lighting etc.

We are looking for images which challenge stereotypes, encourage the viewer to learn more and act differently, and which respect the integrity of any people who may be photographed. There is a rich discussion on the ethics of photography in international development which should help guide entrants. Further information can be found here and here.

Who can enter and how to submit?

Those who have an experience of, or interest in, gender and health systems are very welcome to send images.

Send up to a maximum of three photos by email to RinGs.RPC@gmail.com

Submission requirements:

  • Size: At least 1MB
  • Print resolution: 300 dpi
  • Format: JPEG or tiff only
  • Landscape and portrait images are acceptable
  • Although some digital enhancement is acceptable we cannot accept images that have been digitally altered to change what is portrayed.

Send each photo separately and include in your message the following information:

  • Name of photographer:
  • Photographer email:
  • Photographer phone:
  • Title of photograph:
  • Location (country and city/town/village where the photograph was taken):
  • The date (if unknown, please provide the year) each photograph was taken:
  • The level of consent provided from any people pictured in the photo (see informed consent guidelines for more information):

Submit your entry:

All images should be emailed to RinGs.RPC@gmail.com by 1 September. We look forward to receiving your entries.

For more details please download the entry requirements and terms. Information about informed consent and a sample consent form are also available.


Women in Politics: Beyond Numbers

24/07/2014

Jenny_Edwards200Following David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle, the UK government has moved from having three women in the cabinet to five: and these two new members are working mothers, a presence not there before. This still fails to improve the overall gender equity: according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union the UK currently ranks 65th globally for women parliamentary membership. Women comprise 22.6 per cen of the total UK parliament, compared to 51 per cent of the population. A focus just on numbers, however, doesn’t give us a complete picture. Even if countries have high numbers of women political representatives it doesn’t necessarily mean that the women are full, active members; they could just be there for window dressing, and they may not promote women’s rights once they get into politics. Recent research conducted in Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, India, Palestine, Sierra Leone and Sudan suggests that exploring women’s political pathways from the ground up may provide a more comprehensive understanding.

What do we mean by politics?

Lessons from the eight country studies suggest that we need to have a broader understanding of the history of women’s political activism before they entered formal politics. Most of the women interviewed had been involved in community support professions before taking up politics, such as teaching, nursing and NGO work. Quite a few of the women had also been involved in student politics. Community service and charity work were also significant aspects of their lives before formal politics. In Bangladesh many of the local women councillors interviewed had helped in providing emergency relief and welfare, building them a reputation for aiding the disadvantaged. In Ghana one woman councillor explained how her work with the youth was important for appealing to a key constituency as 15-24 year olds constitute almost a quarter of Ghana’s population. It is important that political empowerment training programmes recognise the full extent of women’s experiences and help them to draw upon this in building their constituencies and working in formal political spaces.

Where and when politics happen

Politics happens in private and public spaces for 24 hours a day, not just in parliamentary headquarters between the hours of 9 to 5. For young girls growing up in a political family this can provide an invaluable early immersion into the political world. A councillor from India explained how she had an open house growing up, ‘with endless streams of people coming and going’. She, ‘enjoyed meeting people, talking to them, learning about their problems, listening in how [her] father and uncles solved these’. It can also, however, be exclusionary. In a recent article for Contestations, Mariz Tadros asserts that parliamentary sessions and council meetings held late into the evening block access for those women politicians with unpaid care responsibilities. She contends that if we are to be serious about inclusive political representation, ‘Processes of deliberation and decision-making be they at the local or at the parliamentary level need to be sensitive to unpaid care responsibilities and how they feature in timelines’.

Family support?

For women in the case studies, family support was key to their ability to carry out their political duties. Husbands provided moral, organisational and campaign assistance, even cutting across party divides. Few husbands, however, provided childcare support and their motives were not always completely altruistic. Power and prestige for the family were motivations for many of them. The support given does however go against much feminist literature, which often casts men in a disempowering light. But let’s also not forget that family importance can be less positive. Maintaining political power in the hands of a few powerful families creates an elitist system. It also reduces the women’s autonomy in terms of what they do once they are in government. Nevertheless, women’s relationships are a significant factor in how they operate within politics and recognition of this and support for these family networks is important.

Supporting women’s politics from the ground up

If we are to move beyond numbers and women getting into cabinet being front page news (rather than just the norm), we need to support women much earlier in their political careers. We need to recognise that politics begins informally and to support women’s roles in this and also their jump, should they choose to make it, into formal politics. We need to move away from ‘projectivising’ political empowerment training and support programmes and provide help for women over the long-term, not just focusing on elections and then abandoning them once the vote is over. This also means following up on what worked and what didn’t and providing continued support for those women who advocate a social and gender justice agenda who failed to get elected. Most of all we should recognise the importance of relationships. This includes recognising and supporting the roles of family members in helping women in their political careers, but also taking into account women’s unpaid care responsibilities. If we take this much broader and also bottom-up approach to women’s entry into politics, perhaps then we will begin to see a much broader, comprehensive spectrum of society within politics.

Further reading: Women in Politics: Gender, Power and Development by Mariz Tadros.

Jenny Edwards is Programme Officer for the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment Programme, based at IDS. 

 

 


The paradoxical role of families in women and girls health in slums

09/07/2014

Pauline OosterhoffPauline profile

One of the things that strikes one most clearly in working in the slums in Kenya is that, as in many developing countries, the state is barely present in most people’s lives. For the women my colleague Emily Kahega Igonya and I encountered in Nairobi’s slums last week, the government was inactive while they were sold by their sisters or brothers-in-law, tricked into unpaid work with false promises of education, and kicked out of their parental homes as orphans.

Yet Kenya’s recent constitutional reforms are based on the idea that devolution, handing off central government responsibilities to municipalities, can solve people’s problems by bringing government closer to their lives. This seems doubtful, given that for most of the women in slums we talked to, it is family and friends, not the state, that provides them with support. It made us wonder how and to what extent state policies can interfere in dysfunctional families, when it is the family that provides for the services that dysfunctional states fail to provide.

The impact of the new Kenyan constitution on health outcomes

According to the new Kenyan constitution introduced in May 2010, all Kenyans have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. To realise access to health, the constitutional reforms prescribe “devolution”, a transfer of responsibility from the national government to the counties. Devolution should bring the government closer to the people.

Last week Emily and I examined the effects of Kenya’s constitutional reforms on access to HIV and AIDS services for women and girls in Nairobi slums. We worked with HIV-positive women, all young mothers, on digital storytelling to inform policy makers of the effects of these national policies on their health. All women described betrayal in their families –often by other women- that exposed them to HIV, violence, and destitution. Yet it is their sense of family –even if it is just their own children – that allows them to survive in the absence of a functioning state.

When Larissa, a widow with two children, completed primary school in a village, her mother was no longer able to pay for her school fees. She called her elder sister in Nairobi, who offered to pay for her education. Upon arrival in Nairobi, however, her sister told her that she would only pay for school fees if Larissa agreed to marry her husband as his second wife. When she refused, her sister’s husband presented Larissa with a widower with two children who would marry her and pay her school fees if she were to take care of him and his children. She ran away and met a man with a job in a restaurant who paid her school fees and married her. Shortly after the delivery of her second child, he fell ill with AIDS. He encouraged her to seek treatment from international donors but he denied that he was HIV positive to her until the very end. She has now been inherited by his younger brother. He takes good care of her, and she is pregnant with his child. Who is failing women like her?

The implementation of the devolution of health services began last year, with the election of governors and county principals, but it has barely affected these women. For sex workers -some of whom have been involved in sex work since their early teens – the effect on their health has been clearly negative. Municipalities interpret and enforce laws on sex work more harshly than the central authorities did, chasing women off the streets and detaining them. Police detention makes it harder for them to take their AIDS medicines. Sex workers reported having to stop their medication completely, or change to herbal medication. In their perception, devolution means that “law enforcement can now use their cars freely to extort more bribes from us later at night.”

Sex work, the family and state support

For sex workers, other sex workers and community-based organizations are the main form of support after their own family failed. Rose, a young mother, was taken in by older sex workers when she was orphaned at the age of 15 and rejected by her family. She has worked as a sex worker ever since. Sarah’s mother decided that her job was done after her daughter finished primary school. Sarah decided to go to Nairobi to live with her aunt, who could not pay for all her expenses. She had to look for money herself, and at the age of fourteen she found herself on the streets as a sex worker. When her aunt guessed how she made her money, she threw her out, leaving her at the mercy of different men who took her in until they were bored or she became pregnant. Linda finished high school and went to college, hoping to become a secretary. She came to Nairobi to look for work and live with her uncle. He had no money to pay for her. The only people who were willing to help her find a job and a home were bargirls who moonlighted as sex workers.

Women we spoke with –no matter how poor- had done their best to avoid the state health services for years. As Lucy, a young widowed mother of two, explains, “there is no confidentiality, the lines are long and the hours are short, and everyone can see you.” Instead, they obtain AIDS medicines through internationally funded and managed services like MSF and CDC. Kenyan community-based organizations, like HAKI and COTANET, help women to organise themselves and establish their own peer support systems. But for housing, food and other essentials, it is their own family they rely on first. And when that system fails- without any safety net offered by the state, charities or INGO’s – women are exposed to many risks, including HIV. Policies that aim to support the right to health of women and girls in slums need to recognize the central roles of families in responding to governmental irresponsibility.

All names in this article are fictional to protect the identity of the women.

Pauline Oosterhoff is a Research Fellow for the Participation, Power and Social Change (PPSC) team at IDS. She can be found on Twitter as: @PPJOosterhoff

Previous blog posts by Pauline Oosterhoff:


5 take home messages from Pathways of Women’s Empowerment: Beyond 2015

30/06/2014

Kate HawkinsKate Hawkins

The life of a meeting report writer is a lonely one. It is easy to get caught up in the energy and excitement of an issue when surrounded by fascinating and challenging speakers. But once everyone has flown home and you are wading through 50 pages of meeting notes, trying to decipher acronyms and cryptic quotes you sometimes feel like you are drowning in a mass of information you will never make legible to those who didn’t have the privilege of attending. So to give myself a bit of impetus and help order my thoughts I have come up with a list of what I consider the top 5 take home messages from the recent Pathways of Women’s Empowerment meeting.

To add to the complexity of synthesising simple messages, the meeting made it clear that there is no single feminist nor a single development actor. Those involved in this field inhabit very different worlds, subject positions, politics, and positionalities. When we sit outside the places that people live and look in on them, we can fail to make sense of, listen to, and resonate with women’s lives. Those caveats aside, here are the messages:

1. That there is a gulf between policy advocates engaged in post-2015 agenda setting and the fears, dreams and demands of many women organising in disparate settings. The skills required to track and influence advocacy at the global level are very technical and a particular cadre of feminists occupies this space doing vital and necessary work. But somehow, post-Beijing, the parallel structures which enable these staff to adequately network with women at the grass roots have been lost. (Re)building this dynamic and organic network of links and entry-points for dialogue is a key priority.

2. There is a translational issue. Women’s movements have been just as good as any other advocacy group in developing clear messages for policy. However, what is understood by the term ‘women’s empowerment’ differs between large development institutions and social movements struggling for justice. All too often empowerment is instrumentalised – as exemplified by catchphrases like ‘gender equality is smart economics’. The reductionism and sloganeering of the development sector sometimes strips the politics out of the work.

3. Feminist networks and monitoring, learning and evaluation experts need to work together. Participants at the meeting decried the difficulty of generating indicators and systems which would allow them to trace the impact of strategies like collective organising and consciousness raising. They also rightly pushed back against a value for money and results agenda which inadequately traces the types of change in women’s lives which women believe are important. More could be done to foster partnerships between feminist activists and progressive evaluation experts who are trialling methodologies such as process tracing and realist evaluation to strengthen this area of work.

4. Research has failed to adequately deal with the implications of global capitalism for women’s empowerment. The global financial crisis has had a very debilitating effect on global policy spaces. At first people with a progressive slant to their politics thought that it would highlight the failure of capitalism and provide an opportunity to create a new world. But the opposite has happened and neo-patriarchialism has been enforced. Moving forward this needs to be central to research agendas.

5.Forging new alliances and intersectionality will be central to the future of feminist activism. The importance of partnering and working together with men, sexual rights activists, the creative industries, workers movements, revolutionaries and legal and religious scholars with an interest in social justice all came through strongly in the meeting. As did the idea that women have complex identities which encompass a number of interests and issues beyond women’s rights. There is a need to be strategic about these alliances and understand that there will be instances where interests do not necessarily collide. Furthermore, women’s movements need to guard against instrumentalising others in the push for women’s empowerment.

I hope that this blog gives a flavour of some of the issues that we discussed. I am relying on my co-author Jenny Edwards to add a bit of oomph to the text I have come up with. And we are planning to bring together some of the multi-media content from the meeting which will make it all the more engaging. Join the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment mailing list to get a notification of when the report and the multi-media contents go live and watch this space for details of how to learn more…

Kate Hawkins is a member of the Sexuality and Development Programme International Advisory Group and the Director of Pamoja Communications.

Read previous blog posts by Kate Hawkins


Understanding food security through a gendered lens

16/06/2014

Georgina Aboud

At the heart of the IDS Knowledge Services’ gender team – BRIDGE – is a passion for understanding and promoting gender justice through participatory approaches. BRIDGE’s latest publication – the Cutting Edge Pack on Gender and Food Security – due to be published in autumn 2014, is an excellent example of this. The team recently convened a highly engaging 48 hour online discussion, from 13-14th May, with the main objective of allowing experts to share and exchange ideas on the most current thinking and practice on the issue in order to inform and strengthen the publication.

women selling fish

Key themes to emerge from discussions:

Food Security needs to be understood as much more than just food production: Emerging strongly from discussions was the extent to which, in policy, ‘food security’ is being conflated with and reduced to food production, driven by an economic growth agenda – described as the ‘productivist’ trend. Success is measured in crop yields, disconnected from people, power and inequalities, but very much connected to market solutions and agricultural profit. Food insecurity is more complex than simply not enough food, so increased food production does not necessarily mean enhanced food security, and enhanced food security for women.

Women’s lived realities need to be fully understood and integrated: Thus, calls for more holistic approaches to food security and gender equality emerged from our discussions, where the popular policy response of ‘invest in poor women farmers’ is seen as only part of the solution to a complex problem. A close connection to women’s lived realities is needed – where women are not just mothers, or farmers, or farmworkers, they have multiple roles and needs.

Identifying the interconnections between policies is key for effectiveness: Key recommendations to emerge in terms of ensuring policy change move beyond words into action, is that policy makers need to see and develop the interconnections between policy areas so that policies strengthen each other. For example, interconnections should be made between food security and climate change, and between food security, gender and HIV/AIDS. It was also identified that a rights-based lens, a clear understanding of the problem, political will and robust monitoring are also essential elements to success.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment must be central in action and practice: Overwhelmingly the discussions saw calls for holistic approaches, with the need for food and nutrition security approaches to not only tackle women’s nutritional status but also their ‘position’ in families and society. Discussions linked women’s earning power and control over land resources, to strengthened decision-making power in the household and greater control of women’s social and physical security.

Learning from good practice: Examples from India, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were given of successful initiatives using a more holistic approach, which essentially created safe spaces for women to talk and reflect. These were an important step in women gaining confidence and made way for more decision-making opportunities within the household. Other fascinating examples included several initiatives on value-chains.

Training and skills promotion, for women in particular, is key: A key theme running through much of the discussion was the importance of training, skills promotion – the idea that ‘new skills will add to a woman’s status, and decision-making’.

More research on food security using a gendered lens is vital (and access to it): many participants pointed to the persistent and yawning research gaps: from the need for more contextualised household-level data, to sex-disaggregated time allocation surveys; from research into the impact of female extension workers, to research that unpacks the disconnects between rights to food and women’s rights, amongst others.

Understanding the value of gendered research: We also need evidence that demonstrates the value of investing in gathering these types of data, and the costs of failing to do so, from a food security and a gender equality perspective.

The Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge Pack will incorporate, and build on, these points to ensure that relevant policymakers and practitioners have a clearer understanding of the key issues and a set of recommendations sign posting the best way forward. For more information about the Cutting Edge programme, please visit the BRIDGE Gender and Food Security Cutting Edge page .

Cutting Edge Pack Series

Written and produced in collaboration with partners, Cutting Edge Packs provide accessible overviews of the latest thinking on a cutting edge gender theme in development research, policy and practice. Each pack includes:

  • Overview Report, outlining the main issues, examples of innovative practice and recommendations;
  • Supporting Resources Collection including summaries of case studies, tools, online resources, and contact details for relevant organisations;
  • Gender and Development In Brief comprising a short overview of the theme and two inspiring case-study articles by Southern-focused practitioners

We usually translate packs into at least French and Spanish to reach a broader global audience.

The Cutting Edge Pack Series is available online on the BRIDGE website.

Georgina Aboud is a Gender and Food Security Convenor at BRIDGE, a research and knowledge mobilisation programme located within IDS Knowledge Services. BRIDGE supports gender advocacy and mainstreaming efforts by bridging the gaps between theory, policy and practice.

Photo credit: C. Schubert (CCAFS) under the creative commons license

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