Talking Gender


A blog about gender, culture and organizational change

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

By Ireen Dubel

Changing the World One Story at a Time

Eight-year-old Maria Elena del Valle went on a red string strike. She was angry about having to do all the household chores while her older brother got away with leaving their home a mess every day. She proposed to divide in two every space she shared with him, including the toilet seat, with a red string down the middle for two weeks - half for her and half for her brother. She wanted to show her mother physical evidence that her brother was the one dirtying their home. Did Maria know that she would eventually become a passionate activist promoting decent work and pay for women workers in the informal economy of the Bronx, New York?

Nine women’s rights activists enthralled the audience packing the Netherlands Permanent Mission to the UN on the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. They performed passionate stories about personal and professional struggles with discrimination, violence and the power dynamics at play.

The activists, eight women and one man from Ecuador, India, Jordan, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, South Africa and the US, are part of an exciting new initiative launched at the CSW March 2015 by Gender at Work and TMI Projectwith support fromHivos, that brings untold stories into public spaces. The collaborative storytelling laboratory is a way of catalysing analysis, learning and greater collective action. The intense pressure cooker methodology of TMI Project helps participants in only a few days to write, tell and perform compelling stories of personal, real life journeys.

Momal Mushtaq from Pakistan narrated her flashbacks while walking through metres of snow from downtown Manhattan to UN headquarters. She told about the origins of the dream that she has been able to realise now, at the age of 25, theFreedomtraveller initiative, fighting barriers to women’s mobility. As a girl she was only allowed to ride a bicycle indoors while her brothers ventured into the streets of Karachi. During her studies abroad, she used the bicycle as a means of transport, and just for fun, cycled from Germany to the Netherlands and Belgium. That inspired her to set up the #Iamfree campaign.

Douglas Mendoza Urrutia from Puntos de Encuentro in Nicaragua narrated how he grew up amidst violence, with a father who committed suicide when Douglas was still a young boy. Fatherhood was not his destiny until he was drawn into the work of Puntos de Encuentro as a young adult. He now coordinates the masculinity programme and is a proud and caring father of two boys.

These compassionate stories contain compelling, qualitative evidence of the long and winding journey of social change required for gender justice on the ground. At the closing of the event, Hivos’ Senior Women’s Rights Advisor, Ireen Dubel, cautioned the audience not to ignore the value of these stories: “This kind of evidence is often passed by in the prevailing log frames of results-based management and evidence-based reporting requirements of the development donor community.”

Momal Mushtaq, Douglas Mendoza Urrutia and Maria Elena del Valle:

First published at

By Gender at Work Media / March 20, 2015 / Loading Disqus...

By Aruna Rao

We are just back from New York where Gender at Work held three very successful events at the 2015 CSW. What a ride! Along with the TMI Project, we organized a Women’s Rights Storytelling Collaboratory involving 12 incredible gender equality and women’s rights advocates from Ecuador, Jordan, Nicaragua, Pakistan, South Africa, Paraguay, Nigeria and the USA. Through the process, they crafted powerful personal stories that they shared at three events during CSW. Spanning various themes related to gender equality, these stories combined honest, even stark truth telling with insight, humor and wisdom. They demonstrated the power of the personal story. Audiences responded with tears, cheers and an overwhelming sense of solidarity.

The winners of the End Gender Discrimination Now! Contest spoke about their projects at CSW 2015.

People commented on how refreshing it was to hear truth speaking through to power, no-UNese, just naked and real experiences. For our storytellers, it took a lot to go up there and share very personal experiences of abuse, name often-unnamed challenges and dilemmas, and open their hearts to strangers. The reception at the first event with a largely activist and NGO audience was incredible – there were few dry eyes in the room. Following that, at the Permanent Mission of the Netherlands to the UN – a session organized specifically by Ireen Dubel from Hivos – with a very different audience mostly of donors and bureaucrats - the reception, again, was very warm.  

Kwezilomso Mbandazayo is a 28 year old Black, Queer Feminist thinker, activist and agitator. Among other places, she told her story at the Intergenerational Dialogue organized by UN Women. 

We also participated in an Intergenerational Dialogue organized by UN Women where our story-tellers took centre-stage among panelists and gender experts from around the world.

Gender at Work held a session with the winners of the End Gender Discrimination Now contest that we sponsored at the end of 2013 in collaboration with the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, BRIDGE, and the FLACSO in Argentina. The winners were Kuña Pyrenda which challenged the political system in Paraguay, forming the first-ever women’s political movement in the country, based on socialist feminist principles; Freedom Traveller from Pakistan which launched a travel service supporting women in countries that limit their mobility; and Aiyoh Wat-Lah, a coalition of seven Malaysian human rights organizations that works to encourage higher standards of behavior from public figures and institutions in relation to gender and sexuality. Find out more about them here.

Hanadi Riyad is a development practitioner, a researcher, and a change facilitator in-the-making. Among other places, she told her story at the Dutch Embassy. 

Gender at Work is accredited with ECOSOC, and this is a space where we plan to be more active in the future. In that context, I moderated the UN Women session on Financing for Gender Equality held at the CSW – which was unexpectedly inspiring for me because I saw more clearly the possibility of a new financing model for human rights – not just in theory but also in practice.

Interested in stories on social justice? You are invited to Gender at Work events at 2015 CSW in New York, on 11 March, 2015. Check out the details below and please share widely.  


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