Talking Gender

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A blog about gender, culture and organizational change


By Gender at Work Media / October 30, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

by Joanne Sandler



Thank You: Women’s Centre for Legal Assistance and Counseling (WCLAC)
Ramallah, Palestine - May 2015

Our deep appreciation goes to the leadership and staff of WCLAC (and to the FLOW Fund/Netherlands that supported us) for our work with you over the past year. Together, we experimented with merging the Gender at Work Analytical Framework and the Emergent Learning Framework to articulate powerful learning questions; we designed a stakeholder survey to gather feedback from WCLAC’s clients, beneficiaries, partners/donors and staff; and we facilitated a learning workshop for all staff as a way of building shared vision and leadership to underpin WCLAC’s new Strategic Plan. 

We started working with WCLAC in March, 2014. We knew a bit about its groundbreaking work, providing strategic litigation, counseling and shelter services to survivors of domestic violence and other forms of women’s human rights abuse. We knew that it was vocal and fearless in drawing attention to the impact of the Israeli Occupation on women’s lives and in advocating tirelessly for increased respect for women’s rights in Palestine. We began a conversation with the leadership team – Maha, Berni, Amal and Samar - about supporting their work on strategic evaluation and learning. Aruna and Joanne traveled to WCLAC’s offices in Ramallah in May 2014 - and met up with Gender at Work Associate Nisreen Alami - for a 3-day workshop to develop framing questions. With WCLAC staff, we decided that a good way to explore the questions they were asking - and to gather feedback to assess their current Strategic Plan and prepare for the next one - would be to do a stakeholder survey of their clients, beneficiaries, donors/partners, and staff over the next 6 months. 

Then, Maha Abu Dhayyeh, WLAC’s founder and leader, died tragically from cancer in January 2015. Maha’s leadership and work advanced so many important Palestinian women’s rights issues and losing her - for WCLAC, for Palestine, and for women’s rights work globally - was a huge blow. The organization mourned. And, in keeping with Maha’s spirit and tenacity, staff did not pause in providing the critical litigation, counseling and shelter support that is in such high demand. 

We carried on with our plans to support WCLAC to administer a survey and prepare its next strategic plan. Gender at Work Associate, Tanya Beer, guided and supported the survey design, administration and analysis from Washington, D.C. from September 2014 to June 2015. Consultants and staff from WCLAC worked together to gather data using a variety of methods. Long-time WCLAC consultant, Margo Okazawa Rey, joined us in guiding the data collection and in analyzing results. 

From May 21 to 23, Margo, Joanne and Gender at Work Board Member, Idelisse Malave, traveled to Ramallah to work with the entire WCLAC staff, including every team in the organization. We were guided in preparations by the leadership team with Acting Director, Sawsan Zaher and Berni, Amal and Samar. We found an organization in the throes of a difficult transition; with the loss of Maha came insecurities, divisions and questions. 

We traveled to Ramallah to present the findings of the stakeholder survey and facilitate an organization-wide discussion. The workshop focused on how to build the feedback from clients, beneficiaries, partners and staff into WCLAC’s vision and strategic directions for the coming 5 years. And we hoped to support them to re-experience a shared voice and vision in the midst of the profound grief that Maha’s death has left. 

It helped enormously that the survey results showed, without doubt, WCLAC is providing a widely valued and highly relevant series of initiatives, programs and services for its stakeholders. Beneficiaries and clients, in particular, were overwhelmingly positive and grateful for the professionalism, the accessibility, and the timeliness of WCLAC’s support. References were made continuously to WCLAC as a pioneer, as a fearless voice, and as a leader for women’s human rights. 

The recognition that their collective impact has been so profound had a lightening effect. As we worked through the findings and undertook a variety of participatory exercises engaging everyone, we felt the spirit in the room lift, we heard increasing amounts of laughter, and we saw more and more people engage. By the end of the two days, one of the staff members noted, “This is the first time, since Maha died, that it feels something like the old WCLAC.”

WCLAC’s leadership has now finalized the next strategic plan and staff continues to pioneer relevant and cutting edge advocacy and initiatives to advance women’s human rights. They are an organization with a deep culture of leading and learning. We have been deeply fortunate to work with them and hope to continue to involve them in Gender at Work initiatives as we move forward together. 


By Gender at Work Media / October 22, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

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By Gender at Work Media / October 13, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

by Rieky Stuart

I’ve been writing a book with BRAC and Gender at Work colleagues that looks back at work we did together 20 years ago. It’s not often that one has the privilege to go so far back down memory lane and explore ‘so what happened to you after you participated in that work?'

What is most amazing is that the 500 people we interviewed remembered – almost to a person and in considerable detail the workshops they participated in 20 years ago – what issues they wanted to work on, what happened as a result in their home lives and how they worked in BRAC. That in itself is amazing – can you remember a process you were part of 20 years ago?  

They told us that it became much more possible for women and men staff to work professionally and respectfully together – women were not treated as capable of doing BRAC’s programmatic work. They told us that abusive behavior decreased, and staff policies about leave and working hours were circulated and actually put into practice.  

But even more amazing was that when the program was taken out into Bangladeshi communities – over 2 million people have participated to date – rigorous evaluation showed that women’s and men’s attitudes and behavior to address gender equality issues like girls’ early marriage and exclusion from schooling, equal distribution of food in the household among family members, women and men both participating in decision-making about income. Equally important, the participating households had better results in improving their income, health and assets through BRAC programmes that were delivered simultaneously than when these programmes were delivered alone, or in control households.  

The numbers and results we are documenting are surprising and worth circulating widely. They’re a large-scale example of how combining practical needs and strategic interests for women and men is a successful strategy in both dimensions. It provides irrefutable evidence for the potential of gender mainstreaming that incorporates a results orientation. 


By Gender at Work Media / October 13, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

By Kaitlyn Posselwhite

As a part of my undergraduate degree in International Development and Globalization, gender studies has played an important role in terms of contributing to the programs’ foundation. The various courses offered, both required and optional, explored the intersectional nature of gender and how it affects every aspect of women, men, and transgendered people’s daily lives. While women’s roles specifically and their representations has changed over time, the systemic nature of gender inequality and discrimination (of LGTBI groups as well) continues to be reproduced throughout the world’s societies. After pursuing some work in Canada on gender activism, I sought to deepen my understanding of gender dynamics and how they might exist in different contexts. Through the University of Ottawa I came across an opportunity for a three month internship with Gender at Work in South Africa and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to not only deepen my understanding of gender and gender equality programs but to practically complement my overall field of study. 

Reflecting on my internship

It has been just over two and half months since I arrived in South Africa and the work I have been doing with my host organization- Gender at Work- has been a rollercoaster. The first two weeks of the internship proved to be laid back where my days consisted of reading previous G@W documents, important feminist writings, and making links as well as drawing conclusions - very similar to school. I’ve also been doing typical intern tasks such as filling out funding applications (actually quite useful), cutting and gluing posters to prep for meetings, and taking detailed meeting minutes and documentation. However, the pace picked up quite a bit when the organization flew the other intern and myself to Johannesburg where G@W was facilitating one of their programs called Letsema. The organization had us stay in the Vaal – which is an area about an hour outside of Joburg that provided a more realistic perspective of what life is like for many in South Africa. We stayed with a beautiful family who were warm and hospitable towards us, treating us as one of their own. Workdays were very long, with 4 am wake-ups, and return home at about 4:30-5 pm. Despite the long hours, the work has been phenomenal. 



Letsema, which is a Sotto word for women and men coming together to work the soil, is a fairly new program but they have done a tremendous amount of work since their debut, just over 2 years ago. The program is composed of different sub groups such as drug and alcohol abuse, vegetable garden, dialogue group, core group, sports, and men’s calabash. Every group does different work but they all share the overall goal of achieving 0% gender based violence in the Vaal. 

Every morning the session began with tai chi followed by an introductory check-in where people would express where they were at, how they were feeling, what they have learned, and potential questions or concerns they have. The rest of the day consisted of different activities that allowed each group to reflect on what they had been doing in their communities over the past few months as a part of Letsema, and what had been working, not working etc. For example, one of the activities required each group - represented by different coloured stickers, - to place their stickers on different categories. There were five categories, each representing the individual, family, neighbourhood, community and the broader social context. They were asked to relate their program and personal experiences to these different categories; and how they exercised influence over them; and how these categories/actors influence Letsema groups. The activity generated a deep reflective discussion that really impressed me. The participants were able to make connections with themselves and the different stakeholders around them, understanding and explaining their roles as individuals and as members of Letsema, while being mindful of the future steps they needed to take to address GBV in the Vaal. What also impressed me was the level of comfort people felt in discussing their issues about being victims of domestic violence, rape, discrimination, etc. 

I think a reason for this level of comfort is a result of the “Open Space” that Letsema has provided for these people. Just like the name “Open Space” suggests, it is an open space in both physical and conversational terms. It is a process that requires participants to make sure they raise topics they feel passionate about and participants are also required to take responsibility for their own participation. The whole process is centred on conversation, engagement, diversity and reflection. The open space allows for anything and everything to be spoken about. It was so interesting to see how a big empty room with some chairs, pens and cardboard could generate such deep conversations and powerful questions. Every single participant that I interviewed during my time there mentioned and emphasized the power of the open space and how it allowed them to feel empowered in sharing their stories with others. In other words, this safe, judgment-free environment allows participants who often feel they have no voice, to build confidence and encourages them to learn from one another.

This program allows its participants to take ownership over their advocacy and work in the communities and I think that’s why it’s been so successful and will be sustainable in the long run. These people are so passionate and truly committed to their cause of achieving 0% GBV that they embody this cause in their every action. They own this cause and are role models in their community. Their energy is extremely addictive and is reflected through the constant influx of new members. People are beginning to understand how to challenge traditional gender norms that often lead to GBV and how to facilitate change in their communities for the future.


Letsema: Breaking the silence on Gender-based violence
(Image courtesy: Oxfam International, cc licence) 

In the end, all this seemed quite ironic because if something so simple like an open space can generate such growth in individuals, why is it not more widely used in other gender related development work? Furthermore, this program is not resource rich by any means but the simple opportunity to speak and share with members of ones community has proven to be a powerful tool. Much of my work since Johannesburg has reflected drawn from my experiences at this workshop where I have provided documentation and recordings of the event for external evaluators. This documentation is very important because it serves, as evidence to funders that what Gender at Work is doing in South Africa is useful. 

The Gender at Work unit in South Africa works in tandem with the Labour Research Services (LRS), a non-profit labour service organisation. The LRS specialises in research, dialogue-building, and developmental projects with the broad aim of strengthening civil society and a particular focus on the world of the work. Their aim is to work towards an egalitarian society, which treats all people with dignity and respect. All shall have equal access to the political, legislative and economic resources and activities of society. Basically LRS and Gender at Work came together when the LRS adopted a gender mainstreaming approach several years back and have continued working together since. As a part of the internship, I have been working on a case study to analyze how the LRS has changed as an organization, since the merger, in terms of the work they do and their organizational relationships. 

Overall, I would say the most valuable lesson I will be taking home from this internship is what I have learned about Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and their general function as an organism. As an international development student, we constantly talk about NGOs and their role on the international field in terms of practical work in all dimensions of development. I have found it extremely interesting to see how an organization functions without a hierarchal structure. Everyone is a leader and power relations within the work place are understood in terms of power-to or power with instead of power-over. This approach ensures that everyone has a sense of ownership over their work because they are just as accountable as their neighbour for the work that they do. This transcends into the actual programs they create and facilitate, where a collective approach has proven successful. This approach in turn creates more sustainable work and approaches towards their cause as an organization. 


By Gender at Work Media / October 13, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

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By Gender at Work Media / October 12, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

By Ray Gordezky

We're working with Oxfam America Cambodia to address gender injustice in Cambodia and Vietnam and the vehicle for this work is a Gender Action Learning (GAL) Process with four organizations that work in natural resource management and extractive industries. These organizations are as diverse as Oxfam America Cambodia, People and Nature Reconciliation (Vietnam), Highlanders’ Association of Cambodia, and Save Cambodia Wildlife.  

We started in February and recently, we held the second of three gender action learning workshops in Hanoi. The question that framed our work was: How can change teams (in Cambodia & Vietnam) accelerate their ability to integrate gender equality into their organizations and their programs so that they increase women’s’ participation in decision making at home, in their communities and concerning the protection and use of their land?

What emerged was interesting. These are some of the things participants said: 

  • I gained a deeper and practical understanding of how gender identify and gender power relations are socially constructed, and are fluid depending on the circumstances.
  • I’m beginning to understand how the power you have is both what you see as your own power within, and is conferred on me differently by different people. So while I see myself as powerful in certain circumstances, others see me as powerless.
  • Asking questions and heart listening deepens learning and makes new action possible
  • I learned some practical ways of using questions to help analyze how gender is playing out in various situations.
  • I learned that gender inequality is more deeply ingrained and harder to change than I originally thought.

My own lessons were as surprising to me as perhaps the participants’ lessons were to them. First, the Gender at Work Framework and other Gender at Work processes (such as peer learning and body work) are most useful when used to create a field of play for conversation and meaning making, rather than as a way to get to the answers. Whether using the framework or peer learning, these approaches provide opportunities for people to go deeply into their own thinking and cultural norms, traditional practices, gender power relations and so on. Coming up with a gender analysis based on the Gender at Work framework, or a polished plan for an initiative to address gender-based violence in the home, are important. 

Perhaps more important is people beginning to make their thinking clear to themselves and to others so that they can collectively accelerate the achievement of results they want around gender inequality. Conversations about gender, identity, sexuality and so on create a field participants step into when they leave the workshop, in their homes, in their organizations, in their communities. It is from this field that they can open up explorations with others about the tough problems of changing traditional beliefs that keep women from, for example, gaining decision making power and ultimately seeing themselves as having the power to create a better life for themselves and other women. People leave these conversations with greater clarity on what gender inequality is, and they start thinking and talking differently than they did before. Together they create a field where better results can happen, though specific results may take more time than we have for the project to become visible.

At the beginning of the workshop is when it's important to create a shared understanding about the terms we use. For example, when people talk about future-oriented ideas for action they are frame these ideas as about something they can actually test, as something that is specific and doable. Getting to a shared understanding about ending gender-based violence in the home, for example, involves questioning what people mean by gender-based violence, offering competing ideas on what gender-based violence could mean, and refusing to accept fuzzy language or generalizations. Getting clarity on terms is an art – the way an artist uses their tools while carrying out their particular craft or art. 

Ultimately, the greatest power people gain from these workshops is learning the art of learning. This goes beyond correcting errors or injustices by applying a framework; it goes beyond surfacing assumptions and recombining elements of a solution in a way that addresses the current context. Both are important, but they are not enough to change patriarchal norms. My hypothesis is that if we are to achieve lasting positive change for gender justice, it is critical to both increase a group’s ability to accelerate the achievement of gender justice and to use their learning in addressing gender justice to learn how to learn so that they can effectively address new problems and opportunities.


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