Talking Gender


A blog about gender, culture and organizational change

By Abigail Spangler

The Peruvian Government has made progress in addressing gender inequality. There have been great strides at tackling gender issues. The Ministerio de la Mujer y Poblaciones Vulnerables (The Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations) have worked hard in creating the National Gender Equality Plan which in the most general terms refers to the role of the State implementing policies that confront gender based violence (GBV), discrimination and inequality. Unfortunately these policies have not yet impacted Peru as drastically as some had hoped.

The cultural attitude around gender inequality and violence are many times linked to tradition. History and tradition have at times been used as an excuse for the continuation of gender discrimination.  The word Macho has a long history in the Spanish language, originally associated with an ideal role men were expected to uphold in their communities such as to possess and show bravery, courage and strength as well as wisdom and leadership.  Nowadays these societal roles have transcended into men displaying sexism, misogyny, and chauvinism. Here in Peru, the problem of gender discrimination lies within cultural and society attitudes that have been passed down from generation to generation.

Outside of the cities, where many people feel that they are not even acknowledged by the national government, what good are laws and regulations? Especially within rural areas of Peru where there is very little presence of national government. Implementing laws are important in order to battle gender-based violence and discrimination, but the lack of enforcement is Peru’s downfall. Throughout this last year I’ve observed many local women come to the realization that laws are not going to change the ingrained behaviors men have toward women. I have witnessed a transformation in these women to channel their anger into positive change. Women have come together to campaign in an effort to empower women and change ideas around gender.

A good friend, mentor and community counterpart has been very vocal about GBV and the negative societal views men have on women. Her involvement in the community is an example of how determination and passion can lead the way to positive progression. Due to her active participation within the community she has created an environment where women have become vocal in standing up for what is right and what is wrong. Her talks in the community have encouraged people to question why certain behaviors and or attitudes toward women have not changed. And through that, the desire to create change began. 

Although there is a lot of grassroots mobilization taking place all over Peru, gender inequality still handicaps women throughout all levels of society. The lack of self-worth women and girls see in themselves is disturbing. I have witnessed girls being ridiculed for wanting to go school. I have watched adolescents become ostracized from their family due to being victims of a rape and consequently becoming pregnant. I have seen women fear their husbands and how watch as their self- respect and self-esteem plummet into nothing.

One of the most inspirational aspects of this grassroots mobilization is watching how these communities are coming together to create the change for themselves. Women are empowering women and working together to challenge the societal “norms.” These women symbolize the power that we each carry within ourselves to be the positive change we want for our global community. I came to Peru with an idea that I was going to share my knowledge in development with this town. But what I’m realizing is that I am learning far more from them about resilience, perseverance, determination and passion, which are the true ingredients for change. The change that laws, regulations and policies have yet to touch out here in rural Peru.  

Being adopted from Indian I grew up understanding the harsh reality my biological mother faced while she was pregnant as a single woman. Even from a young age I knew I wanted to dedicate my time and energy working in the field of gender equality and women empowerment. I am currently serving as a youth development facilitator with Peace Corps Peru.  I work in a small community on projects that primarily promote gender equality, health and leadership. Prior to coming to Peru I worked in Malaysia for Tenaganita, a nonprofit that advocates for women, refugees, and migrant rights.  My main focus was supporting a Burmese women’s cooperative where women were able to learn skills that promoted economic stability, leadership and gender-based training.

The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government of the Peace Corps. 

Gender at Work and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex jointly held a course, Doing Gender, in June, at the University of Sussex. Watch this short video created by Aditi Bhonagiri to find out how it went!

By Aditi Bhonagiri

We have our 30 credit Doing Gender module in June once all other MAs are done with teaching. Can you believe it!” said an annoyed peer from the Gender and Development Masters program.

Andrea is going to bring two really established feminist bureaucrats and if she pulls this one off, it will be one of the best learning experiences IDS can offer to its students - it’s a make or break for us,” said another, sounding more optimistic.

This was the usual chatter in the corridors at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) building, at the University of Sussex, in the lead up to the two-week intensive workshop about gender mainstreaming in development institutions that was being planned, albeit shrouded in worrying uncertainty. Some of the uncertainty came from the fact that the convenor of the module, Andrea Cornwall, wanted to experiment with more immersive forms of learning to either enhance or complement conventional classroom style learning that is otherwise staggered over 12 weeks. 

Aruna Rao and Joanne Sandler from Gender at Work were invited to pilot their Gender Action Learning (GAL) program, specially tailored to prepare MA students specialising in Gender and Development for the world of development work and practice. The rest of us, especially those pursing the overarching Development Studies masters program like myself were really envious of such a promising opportunity. Submitting to part curiosity, part initiative and part coincidence, I decided to audit (attend informally, without credit) the two weeks hoping for it to be a stimulating and insightful learning experience.

The workshop was split in three parts that introduced us to key concepts, themes, strategies and relevant literature on mainstreaming gender in institutions; power dynamics in organisations and systems; feminist leadership and feminist institutionalism; strategic learning and feminist evaluation and monitoring for gender equality. They were also coupled with sessions that allowed us to engage with experiential and creative techniques of learning such as storytelling, forum theatre, simulation exercises and more. 

We began by drawing out our own expectations from the workshop: what was interesting about this exercise was that we were not asked to state them in purely transactional terms but carefully situate our responses with reference to how our mind, body and heart felt. This was a clever way to start as it helped everyone gauge where everyone else was positioned in the gender debate — an important dimension that is often assumed i.e. the fact that if we’re advocating for gender equality then we must all be on the same page. This also helped initiate a great safe and interactive space to learn by doing, reflect and share in togetherness. Over the course of the workshop, the creation of a healthy learning community meant that we are all present for each other’s feminist awakenings!

Personally, I found the Gender at Work framework to be an extremely valuable tool to analyse issues of gender inequality not only in organisations but also everyday settings and for my impending dissertation as well. Throughout the course, we were encouraged to use personal case studies to illustrate gendered power dynamics and use the framework to map out points of intervention for change and make visible discriminatory social norms and organisational deep structures of inequalities that were perpetuated, for example, even within the Institute we study at and blindly assume to be gender-aware and gender-responsive. 

By looking inwards, we were also able to build consciousness on what role we chose to play in a certain situation and found that we ourselves were often responsible for reproducing discriminatory patriarchal norms and practices that are often deep rooted and resilient. And to truly demonstrate a fantastic learning culture that was created over the few days, we ended our course by applying the tools and strategies we had learnt, to evaluate our own workshop!

Aruna and Joanna’s enthusiasm and expertise is really what made this intensive training period such an enjoyable, memorable and inspiring process. As a student, I definitely feel re-energised and equipped to step into the “real world” of fighting gender inequality and contributing to change at multiple levels. The learning process has only just begun.  


Gender at Work and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex jointly held a course, Doing Gender, in June, at the University of Sussex. Aditi Bhonagiri attended the course. 




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