27 Oct 2021 - by A4ID

Gender: where to start?

At A4ID’s most recent staff meeting I gave a short presentation on the third Millennium Development Goal, the commitment to promote gender equality and empower women.

It’s a topic about which there is no shortage of information and opinions; I wasn’t really sure where to start.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of information I came across was that, while they do two thirds of the world’s work, women currently only receive ten percent of its income.

It’s particularly disheartening because this conception of ‘work’ is unlikely to include the childcare and care for the elderly and sick, the cooking, water-hauling and cleaning, and the many other elements of ‘women’s work’ that are essential to communities’ survival.

I wasn’t sure whether to draw the obvious, depressing conclusion that gender equality is still very far from being achieved, or to conclude by highlighting the positive changes that have been made in pursuit of MDG 3, in terms of girls’ education, equal wages, and political representation.

I didn’t want it to go unmentioned that A4ID has made direct contributions to the fight for equality, by equipping women’s rights NGOs with free legal assistance. But the fight for equality in the developing world is by no means a straightforward issue, and I didn’t want to gloss over its complexities.

One major problem, which another A4ID intern Helen underlined, is that while we may have good reasons for wanting gender parity, trying simply to impose these ideas onto communities is very unlikely to be successful. This is why some international instruments- like CEDAW– have been of limited effect: because trying to change cultural norms from the top down is almost impossible, and indeed may not be desirable.

This is why it is so important to support smaller-scale, grassroots and community-based attempts to change the treatment of women: something A4ID seeks to do through a number of its partnerships.

It was agreed that women’s own attitudes to their position in society are particularly important. For one thing, as our Chief Executive Yasmin remarked, women generally raise the community’s children, so it is often from them that their children will learn how to treat and think of one another.

One thought-provoking comment came from our Development Awareness Intern Hannah, who has spent some time in India and witnessed development initiatives carried out by global NGOs in local villages.

Here there had been a lot of emphasis on giving women training and opportunities, but to an extent this had led to local men becoming depressed and despondent, due to their lack of employment and fulfilment and because their traditional roles were being undermined.

As is often the case it is dangerous to view women’s rights isolation and not to consider them alongside the rights and needs of men.

Many other ideas were discussed at the (on this occasion, incidentally, all-female!) staff meeting. There wasn’t a pithy conclusion- gender equality isn’t that kind of topic- but there was a lot of food for thought.

Cary Swann is a Communications intern at A4ID.