Talking Gender


A blog about gender, culture and organizational change

By Gender at Work Media / December 23, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

By Tish Haynes, Director of DOCKDA

This is the final part of a two-part blog post. Read the first part here.

Home-based care workers have been working voluntarily for up to 10 years to bring those who are ill back to full health. They have walked through the windy summer sand storms of the Kgalagadi to reach their patients. They bring first and foremost themselves as women, tenderly caring and bathing the ill woman, making her as comfortable as possible in her small house. Home-based care workers provided their services voluntarily. They provided transport for the patient to go to the clinic; they shared their food with children; they fetched medication from the clinic. They also became aware of the different kinds of abuse they or community members were experiencing. DOCKDA facilitated workshops with women from Home Based Care organizations to address issues of inequality (in remuneration because they were women); abuse and harassment on women and girl children by men; the context of sexuality and gender; and the influence sexuality has in human relationships. When these organizations wanted to share their knowledge with the community, they organized and facilitated workshops. At the end of the year, after four mentoring and monitoring field trips by DOCKDA staff, DOCKDA would hold a Lekgotla to bring women and men together to share opinions on power relationships. This deepened their understanding of power relationships and they were inspired to support each other.  

Growing awareness brought more questioning. Through the Gender at Work peer learning process, I became clearer about the links between HIV and gender-based violence. We were successful in accessing stipends for 95 home-based care workers from the Independent Development Trust. The stipends would provide an income to reduce women’s debt and over time enable them to start saving.  A focal point for our grant-making was to shift from solely supporting GBV awareness workshops to supporting women to become financially literate and have more choices.

If women workers are unable to make decisions on household budgets because they do not receive a stipend, they are again in subservient roles. If they have access to a stipend at the very least, they can make decisions on their own or jointly with their husband/ partner. The change project is bringing new life into our organization. Women are receiving stipends and are contributing to their families’ budgets.

Tish Haynes is a participant in our Gender Action Learning process in South Africa.

By Gender at Work Media / December 19, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

By Tish Haynes, Director of DOCKDA

What is the value placed on the work of caring for children, the ill and the elderly in our communities? As people we know that our children are a source of joy, that we should care for the ill, and we want to show our gratitude to the elderly for their devotion and care in the past.

DOCKDA Rural Development Agency is an NGO established in 1994 to take resources to rural community initiatives. Over time, not only funds but organizational development and management skills training workshops were facilitated with emerging projects and community organizations in Eastern, Western and Northern Cape. DOCKDA highlighted HIV as a sector for special focus by the year 2000. Our current leadership program works with rural women who are already organizing in their communities.

Since 2003, we have been working in the John Taolo Gaeteswe (JTG) municipal district, one of the 13 poverty nodal districts in South Africa, with women and particularly with Home-Based Care Workers. This has surfaced long-held experiences of gender-based violence and abuse within households. We hold lekgotlas for people to dialogue on beliefs, perceptions of power relationships, and practices that promote harmony.

In 2012, we joined an 18-month Gender Action Learning Process with Gender at Work. Our board and staff were curious and eager and during the first session, we were asked what gender discrimination we had experienced. When I qualified as a teacher in the late 1960s, I worked in schools in the east end of London. Returning to South Africa, I married and sought a teaching position in a government school. As a white, married woman teacher, I was employed only in a temporary position, and I was not offered legally-due benefits like a housing subsidy. That discrimination awakened my personal understanding of the many injustices on the majority of people/ citizens in South Africa. I joined the Black Sash, a women’s rights organization that promoted universal franchise and gave practical assistance on forced removals, arrests and court appearances.  I became acutely aware of the hardships and violence the apartheid state committed towards the citizenry.

Rural women who had shown so much resilience surviving apartheid, had to face the scourge of HIV within their communities from the late 1990s. Often, it was working children who returned to their villages to be cared for by their elderly parents as they deteriorated further. The women took the initiative and banded together to help each other in this new and overwhelming task. The women gained experience in the villages. They grappled with extending their meager grant to cover the needs of their newly orphaned grandchildren. The government was slow in setting up training in Home-Based Care and in giving access to anti-retro viral treatment. The women were becoming the eyes and ears of the community as they went into the homes of the ill and dying. Their growing awareness became clearer to me in the Gender Action Learning Process.

We want to strengthen women’s leadership and affirm their position in their communities as valuable workers, citizens and leaders. But habitual ways of thinking and expression are hard to break through to enable fresh words to flower. We have come through feelings of exasperation and frustration. We sometimes wondered if we would be able to find a safe landing for our change project.

This is the first of a two-part blog post.

DOCKDA Rural Development Agency is a non-profit organization working in partnership with home based care organizations in the deep rural areas of South Africa’s remote Northern Cape province. 

Tish Haynes is a participant in our Gender Action Learning process in South Africa. 



By Gender at Work Media / December 5, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

By Kailee Jordan 

This November, Toronto officially opened its first "Canadian Center for Men and Families.." Supported by the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFÉ), the center will address problems facing men in today’s society, and will provide a range of services including mentorship, counseling, and support groups for victims of abuse. The opening is already causing controversy, with CAFÉ claiming that although their main goal is to break down gender barriers, they have faced pushback from the feminist community. Women’s rights activists point to their association with several misogynistic men’s rights groups in the US, and claim that CAFÉ is more frustrated with women’s rights being promoted than men’s rights being violated. This divergence between men’s issues and feminist activism goes beyond this one center, and into the broader concern of how to improve gender relations in Canada. How do we find productive ways of engaging men on gender equality, without it turning into a he said-she said battle over who has rights to vulnerability and harm?

Let’s make this clear right off the bat: there are real and important issues effecting men in our society. Increasing rates of mental health and suicide, addiction, and the lack of services for abuse all deserve our attention. Stereotypes of what it means to be “a man” can lead to harmful notions of masculinity, that at best constrain the ways men feel they can express their emotions, and at worst, lead to cycles of violence. These are real problems, and do need to be addressed.

As someone who cares deeply about global discrimination towards women, however, the fine line between discussing contemporary issues facing men and completely sidetracking the conversation around gender equality makes me uncomfortable. Our society operates in an environment where women are still over-represented as victims of violence, and under-represented in positions of decision-making. Activists have fought for years to get gender equality to be seen as a priority, and Canada is still very far from making progress on these issues. As a new report launched by the Canadian Coalition for Policy Alternatives demonstrates, 34 out of every 1000 women in Canada have reported a sexual assault, and over 6.4% of women have reported intimate partner violence. As these are thought to only be 10% of actual cases, in reality, the numbers are much higher. When it comes to looking at women’s roles in decision-making, women make up only 25% of MPs, 14% of board members, and only 3% of CEO’s. 

Any approach toward tackling societal inequity must take into account this uneven impact still placed on women. In addition to failing to adequately address gender constraints, we’re also operating in a climate where there are fewer and fewer resources allocated to alleviating women’s inequality. Canada does not have a stand-alone policy on violence against women, in addition to only directing minuscule resources to the Status of Women Canada. Because of funding cuts, the Status of Women was forced to close 12 out of its 16 regional offices, and support has been cut to operations such as Women’s Centers of Excellence and research and advocacy organizations. 

I am not arguing that just because resources for women are being slashed should automatically mean that we don’t have the space to address challenges facing men – that is definitely not the case. Yet, it makes me uneasy to think that discussions around women’s inequality may get inadvertently stifled by men wanting to change the conversation. If we want to create new spaces to address male issues in Canada, this must not be at the expense of failing to recognize the disproportionate social inequities women continue to face.

Gender equality is not a zero-sum game. If there is going to be any sustainable progress on combatting discrimination, we need to find ways to include men and boys into these conversations. Campaigns such as UN Women’s #HeforShe movement, or Canada’s White Ribbon campaign recognize this, and we’re seeing a global shift in trying to find new strategies to engage men in the fight for women’s rights. This recognition does mean that we need to make sure to include the voices of men (and all other categories across the gender continuum) who also feel the impact of gender constraints. The same societal forces that perpetuate violence against women also lead to harmful and aggressive masculinities; we must recognize that what holds women back from reaching their full social, economic, and political potential can also have negative impacts on men as well. Creating spaces where men can talk about the challenges they face, as well as topics such as consent, positive masculinity, and how to be allies to women, could be a helpful tool to realize the goal of a more equal and peaceful society.

No one is arguing that gender polarization isn’t detrimental for both men and women. Do I think that the new Men’s Center will be a positive step in combatting this? I’m still not sure. If this turns into a debate about how “women have their space, now give us ours”…. then I want no part in that discussion. But if this opens up new ways for men and women to combat harmful gender inequalities together, well then, that’s something worth supporting.


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