Talking Gender


A blog about gender, culture and organizational change

By Gender at Work Media / January 26, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

By Nisreen Alami

Nisreen Alami has recently completed an assignment as gender advisor to a humanitarian team in Palestine. The aim of her assignment was to work with humanitarian partners to mainstream gender in their programming and to ensure that the humanitarian response both contributes to gender equality and effectively responds to the needs of men, women, boys and girls. 

The Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the prevailing policies restricting mobility, freedom and security of Palestinians has had a huge toll on the whole population. More than half of the population is vulnerable to food insecurity (2.3 million), and daily restrictions on freedom of movement, construction, water and energy affect people’s livelihoods, access to education, health and basic infrastructure. Land confiscation to expand illegal settlements in the Palestinian territories exposes Palestinians to physical threats and losses. The long-standing failure to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict results in repeated cycles of violence. The last such cycle can be seen in the war on Gaza during July 2014. This resulted in large numbers of fatalities and injuries amongst civilians, the destruction of large areas of Gaza, and the displacement of almost half a million people (with 100,000 expected to remain displaced in the foreseen future). It also resulted in the destruction of public facilities including schools, hospitals, universities and water and sanitation infrastructure. The absence of state institutions (whether Palestinian or Israeli) that are mandated to protect the rights of civilians creates a legal and administrative vacuum that sanctions impunity for human rights abuses, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of the population. 

Gender inequality presents a unique set of challenges to the effectiveness of the humanitarian response, as humanitarian actors usually consider this as falling outside the scope of humanitarian efforts. Barriers to Palestinian women’s access to income, assets, property rights, and mobility remain unchallenged by humanitarian interventions. Interventions in Palestine are mostly based on the male breadwinner assumption, with little recognition of the burden this poses for men as having the sole responsibility for large households. With available data mostly highlighting formal economic participation, humanitarian interventions generally do not recognize women’s invisible economic role, including their informal and unpaid work (such as agricultural labour), or the biases that restrict their access to land and economic opportunity. While the prevailing conditions are key drivers of social problems, the dearth of protection measures and services for gender-based violence (whether legal, health, security or psychosocial), especially in Gaza, receive little attention in humanitarian programmes. Interventions on psychosocial support often overlook gender and age specific concerns, despite variance in the experiences of boys and girls at different stages of their childhood. They also overlook available evidence on the particular vulnerabilities of adolescent girls and boys. 

Budget analysis of the humanitarian response using the IASC gender marker data for the three annual programming cycles (2011-2013) confirmed those challenges. Over this period, out of the 303 humanitarian response projects implemented (with a total value of $ 873,263,761), only 10 projects, amounting to 6.34 million, had gender equality as their principle objective (0.72%). Following a similar trend, the funding mechanism for emergency response up until 2013 had not supported any projects by women’s organizations (although this has significantly changed in 2013 and 2014).

To address these challenges, my work during the 2014 programming cycle focused on: strengthening systems of planning, funding and accountability at the institutional level; building an evidence base to give visibility to gender concerns in advocacy and programming work; and providing technical support to humanitarian partners to ensure adequate response. More specifically my work included the following:

1) Strengthening institutional collaboration between UNOCHA and UNW on gender related coordination. This included facilitating regular flows of information for complementary agency roles, in order to mobilize action amongst partners. 

2) Facilitating effective participation of gender advocates in shaping the humanitarian response, including through the convening of consultations with national women’s organizations, members of the UN Gender theme group and international NGOs.

3) Building capacity of humanitarian partners operating within the cluster system (e.g. GBV, Food security sector, protection, education, health and shelter) on gaps in gender equality programming and ways to address those challenges. 

4) Integrating gender data and analysis in OCHA’s information management systems in order to improve availability of quality gender analysis and address gender-related gaps in data collection tools.

5) Advocating for women’s needs and priorities in the emergency response following the war on Gaza. 

6) Providing support to strengthen accountability mechanisms on gender-focused programming, including monitoring implementation, the use of gender sensitive performance indicators, and meaningful application of the gender marker in projects.

7) Advocating with donors for increased financing for gender equality programming, in addition to providing support to improve country funding mechanisms such as the Emergency Response Fund (ERF)

It is anticipated that this work will be continued over the course of 2015.

For more information:

By Joanne Sandler


I doubt that any young girl or boy stares dreamily into space thinking, “When I grow up, I want to be a gender advisor!” The idea that advising, advocating for and guiding organizations to become more gender equitable could be an exciting and viable job or career is a fairly new concept. 

And, yet, there are legions of such jobs and consultancies everywhere now: the UN alone has nearly 3,000 staff members that are responsible – mostly as part-time staff but with an increasing number of full-time positions as well – for supporting more effective policies and programs on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Multiply that by the number of such advisors in other government and non-governmental organizations, as well as an increasing number of equal opportunity and gender equity positions in the private sector, and you probably have tens of thousands of these jobs all over the world. Imagine the collective wisdom that the men and women who have these jobs could share if they joined together! 

Gender at Work is a global learning collaborative of more than 30 gender equality and women’s rights experts and organizational development specialists from almost every region in the world. Some, like me, have worked in large institutions and know the joys and frustrations of advocating for entrenched, patriarchal institutions to change. Others are long-time consultants, activists or scholars, highly skilled in bridging academic theory with organizational practice. 

We have supported more than 100 organizations with a wide range of gender advisory services over the past 10 years. As Aruna Rao wrote in an earlier blog post, Gender at Work helps people inside organizations identify deeply embedded gender-biased norms or “deep structures”, and then chip away at them. 

A couple of years ago, we held an e-consultation with 40 leading specialists on how organizations engaged in development – private foundations, UN organizations and government donor agencies like USAID or UK-DFID – transform to build ‘cultures of equality’, proactively advancing gender equality from the outside in and from the inside out. We wanted to share some of the collective wisdom on strategies from the trenches. Four of the key points that emerged: 

  • If an organization is passionate about ‘results’, help them clearly identify the gender equality results that they want to be known for: We rightly bemoan the obsession that many development organizations now have with “Management for Development Results” when it comes to complex processes like changing gender power relations. For those who are looking for quick fixes and immediate returns, it is true that there is no vaccine for gender inequality. But the results regime can also be an opportunity. A consultant who works with Irish Aid noted that she used the organizational commitment to results to help staff articulate concrete expectations of change. In 2.5 years, this approach showed more change than the 10+ years that she supported them to create institutional gender strategies and policies. 
  • Position gender equality as ‘mission critical’: Organizations tackle their exclusionary practices – including gender inequality — when they realize that these practices and underlying discriminatory values inhibit them from achieving their larger goals. The U.S. military, as an example, is an inherently patriarchal organization that exists to protect US global dominance. It will only make progress on eliminating gender discrimination when it realizes that it’s undermining their larger mission. Wide-ranging organizations – from McKinsey to the World Bank – are producing evidence to show how gender equality and women’s empowerment is absolutely mission critical to profits, productivity and effectiveness. 
  • Change happens when individuals begin to see themselves as gendered beings trapped within — but not prisoners of — gendered institutions. We have to stop conflating ‘gender’ with women. We are talking about a spectrum of gender identities. Narrow expectations of what is normal for ‘men’ and ‘women’ are constraining for almost everybody at some point. Participants in our e-consultation talked about the importance of creating reflective spaces so that staff in organizations can identify the gendered expectations that constrain them and then devise strategies to change these. 
  • Culture eats strategy for breakfast: The best laid plans for transforming gender discriminatory practices in organizations are sabotaged when organizational culture is not part of the consideration. The IMF can have a robust policy against sexual harassment, but if the organization’s leader is a well-known violator, the policy is not even worth the piece of paper that describes it. A law firm can have a strategy for non-discrimination, but if working 19 hours a day is incentivized with promotions and perks, women who are still largely responsible for reproductive chores will be disadvantaged. You can read the full e-discussion here
What are your ‘secret’ insights and strategies about the ways that organizations transform to build cultures of equality? We’d love to know! 

Joanne is a Senior Associate with Gender at Work. Previously she was Deputy Executive Director of UNIFEM for 10 years. She is an active Board member of Breakthrough and Women Win, and is a member of the Global Civil Society Advisory Group for UN Women. She tweets from @JoanneSandler. A version of this post was originally published in Fem2pt0.


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