Talking Gender

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A blog about gender, culture and organizational change


By Gender at Work Media / April 25, 2016 / Loading Disqus...

At a time when some corporate women leaders are advocating for their aspiring sisters to ‘lean in’ for a bigger piece of the existing pie, this book puts the spotlight on the deep structures of organizational culture that hold gender inequality in place. Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations makes a compelling case that transforming the unspoken, informal institutional norms that perpetuate gender inequality in organizations is key to achieving gender equitable outcomes for all. 

 The book is based on the authors’ interviews with 30 leaders who broke new ground on gender equality in organizations, international case studies crafted from consultations and organizational evaluations, and lessons from nearly fifteen years of experience of Gender at Work, a learning collaborative of 30 gender equality experts. From the Dalit women’s groups in India who fought structural discrimination in the largest ‘right to work’ program in the world, to the intrepid activists who challenged the powerful members of the UN Security Council to define mass rape as a tactic of war, the trajectories and analysis in this book will inspire readers to understand and chip away at the deep structures of gender discrimination in organizational policies, practices and outcomes. 

Designed for practitioners, policy makers, donors, students and researchers looking at gender, development and organizational change, this book offers readers a widely tested tool of analysis – the Gender at Work Analytical Framework – to assess the often invisible structures of gender bias in organizations and to map desired strategies and change processes.


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.


By Gender at Work Media / September 21, 2015 / Loading Disqus...
Institute of Social Studies Trust in association with Heinroch Boll Stiftung, India and Gender at Work cordially invite you to the eighteenth Gender and Economic Policy Discussion Forum ‘Gender Equality in the Workplace in India’. 

Speakers: Harpreet Kaur, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre; Kalyani Menon Sen, Independent Researcher;  Reiko Tsushima, International Labour Organization 

Chaired and Moderated by: Sudarshana Kundu, Gender at Work 

Date: Wednesday, 23rd September 2015 Time: 10 am to 1 pm, followed by lunch 

Venue: Casuarina Hall, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003


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. 



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

By Ray Gordezky

I recently returned from two weeks of work with organizations and communities in Cambodia and Vietnam. This was the first of what may be additional visits to Cambodia and Vietnam to provide support to non-government organizations working primarily in the area of community-based natural resource management, that want to bring a stronger focus to gender justice in their programming.

Achieving gender justice means that women and men are able to share equally in the distribution of power and knowledge. It also means that both have equal opportunities, rights and obligations in their private and public lives.

In both countries, even in those communities that have an emphasis on matrilineal descent, women are burdened by the full force of historical traditions that put them in positions of disadvantage.  This is not a theoretical claim; rather this statement is based on the meetings I had with four communities.

In my visits, I heard variations of the same theme: though their traditions (or the way women and men participate in village/community life) are supposed to save disgrace and misunderstandings, as well as provide for the well being of community members, the minimizing of women’s rights by claims that traditions reflect the natural order of life hides the daily dehumanization women face simply because of gender.

A restrained yet noticeable anger came through in the stories women told us, built up through daily experiences of work strain, beatings, and limited education opportunities. A man in one of the communities told us that the practice of early marriage (marriage at 14, followed by the multiple births by the age of 25) in time produces profound loneliness. No amount of visibility from past gender equality efforts, concerning how women are excluded or their contributions minimized, have altered how women are treated in a sustainable way. From hearing women’s stories, I felt in what they said loneliness akin to despair, a loneliness and despair made invisible in silence and through shame.

I felt a visceral disappointment: the very help I am offering (to make visible the taken for granted injustice done to women), and the visibility this is intended to produce, may do little to alter women’s lives. And the men, for the most part, do not fully take in the injustice, as they after all have their roles.

Even in light of these challenges, I have experienced that gender justice and unequal gender power relations can and do change as a result of organizations and communities clarifying what gender concerns need to be addressed, and addressing these concerns through co-created solutions.

We are at the beginning: establishing relationships with partner organizations, gaining a shared understanding of the gender concerns as expressed and experienced by commune and village members, and building trust between those of us involved. I intend to send periodic updates on the work in South East Asia as a way to communicate with you about how we can collectively produce changes in culture, specifically in gender justice, and in what ways efforts to positively effect gender justice are particularly challenging.


This project is a collaborative initiative between Oxfam America and Gender at Work, and also involves organizations in Senegal and Ghana.


By Gender at Work Media / September 16, 2014 / Loading Disqus...

By Ireen Dubel 

Twelve feminists from all over the world meet in upstate New York, September 2014. They meet to pilot the methodology of The TMI Project for Gender at Work. They have come to dig up stories for knowledge building about their work experiences as gender experts, feminists working in development agencies in various parts of the world. What they know upon arrival is that they are expected to write. They have come to write stories about their role as intermediaries between the agendas of their organizations and their personal drives to contribute to improve the lives of marginalized women through empowerment and tackling of persistent gender inequalities. Each of them only knows a few of the fellow participants. The majority does not know what they are actually in for. 

Day one, the magic happens. Trust and confidentially are guiding principles, without having to be formally agreed upon. Facilitation is of course key. Three women, who have gone through the same TMI Project methodology, share their stories during the opening session of the workshop. They tell deep stories about their personal experiences of discrimination and marginalization, not as victims, no, as women—who and where they are, now and where they want to go to. The three-day meeting turns out to be a most creative, exciting, inspiring, reflective encounter. 

The methodology of the TMI Project is rigid. After the opening session and expectation sharing, writing, pen on paper without lifting it—no laptops or iPads—is driving the process. Stories are shared, told, enriched over the days. The end result is amazing. Twelve authentic, compelling stories about the politics of being feminist change agents and working in a variety of organisations and bureaucracies, are staged, performed. Laughter and tears fill the room. Each participant is empowered in her own personal way. Some achieve major leaps from misery, pain and the sense of being stuck. Others share experiences never told, experience the liberation of shedding and the affirmation of deeply personal experiences of pain, sorrow and loss. Competition and hierarchy are absent. Each story is validated as the personal expression and experience of deep gender inequality issues that are on the agenda, both in the work and personal domains of the participants. The stories are publishable. The methodology can be used to produce stories for gender training modules, for evidence reporting to back donors, for fundraising in the gender & development and business worlds. The methodology enables knowledge development and sharing about the deep individual, organisational and institutional dimensions of change that Gender at Work wishes to generate. This methodology deserves replication, multiplication, through training of trainers, through wider exposure, through in-house donor familiarization and many more ways. It has the potential to recognize, validate and affirm. The revelation of one of my fellow participants: “I am stepping into my power.” 

Ireen Dubel is Senior Advisor on Women's Rights at the Humanist Institute for Co-operation with Developing Countries (Hivos). She was a participant at a recent workshop organized by The TMI Project (an upstate New York-based organization that aims to “change the world, one story at a time”), and Gender at Work. The workshop took place over three days in September and invited feminists who have worked at the front line of confronting gender discrimination.


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

This toolkit developed by Srilatha Batliwala and Michel Friedman helps build the capacities of women in leadership positions. Based on the work done for CREA’s Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation—Clearing the Conceptual Cloud, the toolkit has been developed in collaboration with Oxfam. You can download it here. We chatted with Srilatha about what it covers—gender, power, deep structures and what it takes to create safe spaces.  

1. What are some of the most important tools you have talked about in this toolkit? 

I think each one is useful in a particular way, in a particular context and what each individual experiences with each tool is highly subjective and varied. Each exercise does something different, at a different level, or works for understanding different aspects of one’s internal life or organizational environment. But there are probably some that have a greater potential to create “AHA” moments—the deep structure mapping, for instance, or the personal histories with power, or the “I'm Okay You’re Okay” grid. 

2. Some of the exercises in this toolkit are intense and challenging such as the one which requires introspection on one’s own relationship/ experience of power. What kind of mindset or attitude is important for participants coming into it? What must they be prepared for? 

I think all the exercises require a considerable degree of openness, honesty and self awareness. But it is difficult to be totally self-aware unless one is also quite mature. People who feel easily threatened and insecure, who always need to be in control, may not get much out of them, especially the “SELF” exercises. For instance, in order to locate yourself in the “I'm okay you’re okay” quadrants, you have to be prepared to admit—even if it is only to yourself—that you’re primary position is “I'm not okay, you’re not okay”. Fortunately, a lot of the SELF exercises don’t demand that you share your insights with other people but they do expect you to act on the insights they give you, or to begin to explore how you can change negative patterns. 

3. What about the other side of it? What is important in a facilitator? What kind of attitudes or openness must the facilitator bring into this? 

Because of the sensitive issues and emotions that most of the toolkit exercises will inevitably throw up, we have emphasized the importance of the facilitator’s role and skill in managing these. The facilitator’s guide was added to the toolkit precisely for this reason. But the most important factor is the need for the facilitator to create a safe environment for the process, which means establishing and sustaining norms of respectfulness, honesty, non-judgement, dealing constructively with negative emotions or conflict that may emerge. This means the facilitator herself must be careful to keep an open mind, to remain non-judgemental even when opinions or attitudes are expressed that conflict with her own. At times, however, the facilitator will also have to have the courage and capacity to name and visibilize the dynamic that is causing problems, and manage the anger or hurt this might cause. The larger purpose of each exercise, and of the process as a whole, must remain the overriding priority for the facilitator, and individual sensitivities and reactions have to be balanced with this. THIS IS HARD WORK!! Which is why we have pointed facilitators to several resources that can help them do this, especially if they are not experienced facilitators – in situations, for instance, where a staff member may play the facilitator’s role. Nevertheless, we realise that even the most excellent facilitation may not work with leaders or organizations that are deeply threatened and resistant to change. 

4. The tookit talks about creating safe spaces for participants. What are “safe spaces” and why are they important? 

The kind of openness, honesty, and deep interrogation of the SELF, of organizational systems and practices that the toolkit demands, cannot be conducted or completed in an environment where people are afraid, tense, anxious. They may fear reprisal for speaking up, for naming the “elephant in the room”, or simply for sharing their real feelings honestly. So it is critical for the atmosphere to feel safe—meaning a space where there will not be judgement, reprisal, counter-attack, or blame—where each person is treated with respect and as an equal, where everyone is given the benefit of the doubt and the right to articulate their opinions and feelings, and who is trusted about wanting to contribute to the collective goal. It is difficult to describe a safe space in words. It is something we feel in our gut, something experienced. It is being in unsafe spaces that makes one realize the quality of a safe space. 

5. What are some of the ways in which safe spaces can be created? 

This is a complex process and cannot be described in a few words. The toolkit provides some ideas on this in the facilitator’s guide, as well as links to other resources that provide guidelines for creating safe spaces. Michel, in particular, has shared some of her practices in creating safe spaces for groups riven with conflict, anger, and even violence against each other.

6. In the toolkit, you have a section on why articulating Values and Principles (as an organization) matters. What are some of the challenges that organizations may face while doing this? 

As you know, the leadership toolkit is based on the concept paper that I wrote much earlier for CREA: Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation – Clearing the Conceptual Cloud, in which I proposed the idea of the feminist leadership “Diamond” comprising the four Ps of Power, Politics (purpose), Principles and Practice. I theorized that only when the four Ps are in alignment, when the power that leaders have is tempered by and accountable to the purpose for which they are leading (the politics of the organization or movement), and the principles and values they must uphold and promote, that their practices will reflect feminist ideology. But usually, organizations and leaders don't bother to spell out their politics / purpose or the principles and values of the organization / movement, or believe they are obvious or implicit, and so they don’t create any clear mechanisms for checking whether the organization’s internal and external practices are in sync with these values or not. So an important first step is to articulate values, and then to figure out how you are going to monitor the implementation / practice of these values. 

The main challenge in this process, though, is the temptation to put down a lot of high-sounding values and principles with no corresponding set of measures or indicators of what these will look like in practice. Which is why the toolkit offers an example of how you translate values into what we call “operating principles”, which are much more amenable to assessment. 

7. You have talked about power in different contexts and forms including ‘hidden power’ or ‘invisible power’. Can you briefly tell our readers a bit about that? Are these concepts that are recognised and acknowledged among feminist organizations or is it a challenge for organizations to look within? 

I would say that hidden and invisible power are not widely recognized or acknowledged in most organizations, leave aside feminist organizations. Most organizations—private companies, government departments, NGOs—would rather not deal with these dimensions of power, because they are uncomfortable realities. In rural districts of India, for instance, I have seen senior government civil servants send their wives to represent them at various events (like the inauguration of a women’s income generation program, for instance) and these women think nothing of introducing themselves by their husband’s designation (I am the District Magistrate, said one, I am the Superintendent of Police said another). This is a highly normalized form of hidden power in rural India. 

In feminist organizations, there is even greater resistance, sometimes, to recognizing or dealing with these forms of power because of all the myths and assumptions embedded there. For example, the belief that they should avoid all hierarchies and create “flat” organizations (often resulting in hidden or invisible hierarchies), the sense of discomfort with power and formal leadership and the mythology that is created that power is distributed equally, the delusion that women can’t behave oppressively to other women (or anyone else), the assumption that feminists will inevitably lead differently, fairly. For more information and an appreciation of the importance of hidden and invisible power—especially in organizational contexts—I would refer readers again to the Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation concept paper on which the toolkit is based, and particularly to pages 32 - 45. 

8. The toolkit talks about organizational ‘deep culture’ , the hidden sites and processes of power and influence in an organisation that construct its actual culture. It includes informal or unstated values and systems of reward and recognition like gossip, rumours or the culture of staying late or working on weekends. In some countries where these are ingrained ways of working (where there is no recognition of ‘overtime’ for example), how hard is it for organizations to break out of these systems? Have you frequently seen a commitment to do so on the part of management?

Personally I have seen very few organizations in my context in India and South Asia, willing to acknowledge the existence of a deep structure, let alone tackle the dynamics that operate within it. Even some of our most famous NGOs have revolting gender-biased or caste-based practices (like dress codes for women staff even in their offices, or subtly ensuring that people of certain castes do not handle food) that continue to this day. Part of the problem is that most people don’t challenge these unquestioned norms for fear of losing their jobs, or being penalized or stigmatized in other ways. There is a culture of silence and acceptance that gets constructed, a mirror image of the silence and acceptance of our culture as a whole. I have seen change happen only in contexts where there were leadership changes, or leaders themselves recognized the destructive power of what was happening in the deep culture, and decided to address it. But this is very, very rare. The need to tackle deep cultures is only now being recognized. And frankly, even when this happens, it’s not as though we have a vast number of people who can help organizations work on this. There are very few skilled people who can walk organizations through the process of unearthing their deep cultures and resolving some of the more problematic dynamics hidden there. So the whole area of organizational deep culture / deep structure is a huge challenge.


By Solange Rocha and Michel Friedman, translated by Rex Fyles (Gender at Work); facilitated by Oxfam Canada 

                       

“I met myself again and valued myself more, not only at work but in my whole life, day to day” (participant’s comment)

In music, a pause means the sound of silence, a time between notes. For participants in our Gender Action Learning Process (GAL) in Mozambique, deep reflection about gender in workspaces often meant taking a pause. For most, this was their first experience of time to reflect, a silence filled with internal sounds coming through subjective doors. 

One of them, AMODER, provides credit in rural areas and has a mission devoted to the development of Mozambique. This is quite strategic since 54% of the population lives in poverty and women have difficulty accessing credit. Women are the most seriously affected by gender vulnerabilities determined by cultural, social and economic conditions. Mozambican society is patriarchal; power lies in the hands of men despite matrilineal systems in some parts of the country. Both patrilineal and matrilineal communities are grounded in forms of social control, which value the collective good to the detriment of the individual. This cultural context informs the conditions AMODER faces in granting loans to both men and women. 

Through the GAL process — a deep process of deconstructing the concept of masculine power visible in formal and informal institutional norms — AMODER reflected on what is necessary to overcome these limitations and make credit more accessible to women. AMODER’s process was not a flat photo, was not one-dimensional. Once they understood the different dimensions of gender, they were shocked because this perspective questioned all of the accepted truths, questioned the organization’s values and raised contradictions. 

“The big challenge is to demystify and make gender inequalities appear less natural.” (Participant’s comment) 

A deep respect for women as people and as workers already existed within AMODER. These are some ways in which the GAL process led to greater positive change: 

Greater sensitivity to “unconscious” inequalities and discrimination that existed within the organization and in their work with beneficiaries. The invisible slowly became visible. 

The genuine intention of reconstructing and recuperating a “democratic” culture” within the organization. Besides reflecting on the daily implications of gender inequalities, participants recognized that the “roots” of the limitations women face in accessing and controlling economic resources were related to the various dimensions of subordination in which women live. They understood that to advance women’s economic empowerment, it was necessary to challenge cultural and social norms to achieve economic development, which means changing the norms governing women’s access to resources and decision-making power.

 “The action learning cycle is very didactic and allows for a lot of interaction. It is more effective, especially in awakening consciousness and looking at group dynamics. It helps you to look at things differently. The methodology opens up your vision and makes things possible. People discover the need for change on their own and become aware.” (Participant’s comment) 

Individual changes related to participants’ increased awareness of the existence and reproduction of gender inequalities. These then contributed toward them initiating change at the organizational level. Improved communication stood out: greater personal openness, greater skill in managing conflicts and a feeling of calmness and assurance. Women became more vocal and assumed leadership roles in the GAL process, the workplace and family life. 

Organizational changes in terms of dynamics and rules. AMODER started paying greater attention to the specific needs of women within communities. There were changes in the ways of speaking and being within teams and in their interactions with communities and clients. More opportunities were created to hire women (7 new positions to hire women were created, using a strategy of selecting women for internships and training them to take on these positions). 

Changes in lending rules are changing women’s lives. 

AMODER now knows its clients better and knows how to do a gender analysis regarding access to credit. “Now we ask whether women are among the beneficiaries / borrowers or not.” More women are joining the credit program. There is a new understanding of credit as not merely about lending money but rather creating a means by which people – including women – can change their lives.

They also started using GAL methods in their meetings and confronted the stereotype that women are not capable. They now understand that if women are given opportunities and methodologies are appropriate, women understand, participate, open up and take on work with very good results. 

For AMODER, the biggest organizational changes started from changed individual consciousness about gender inequalities. They recognized that “if we didn’t change the culture in the organization and people’s mentality, everything would collapse”. For them, it was necessary to work on changes in institutional policies, taking the organization as a whole “as if we were stirring the ashes to make sparks to find light”. 

The GAL process touched on the roots “of personal construction and relationships with other people, it stirred something in our own lives – we consider this was the best way to understand gender”. 

Please click here to read a more detailed version of this experience. 

Solange Rocha, Michel Friedman and Rex Fyles are Associates with Gender at Work. Photo Credit: United Nations via Creative Commons. This piece was originally published in Fem2pt0.



Earlier this year, Women Unlimited published feminist scholar Srilatha Batliwala’s Engaging with Empowerment – An Intellectual and Experiential Journey which brings together her key writings of the last twenty years. In the book, Batliwala traces the transformation empowerment has undergone since the 1980s, analyzing why and how the concept has been depoliticized and diminished by the state and aid agencies.

In her response to the book published in OpenDemocracy, Andrea Cornwall said the book reaffirms that empowerment is more than just a development buzzword. It brings alive the purpose of empowerment through stories of change. "Srilatha Batliwala’s Engaging with Empowerment – An Intellectual and Experiential Journey tells stories about how change happens in women’s lives that reclaim and reaffirm an approach to empowerment that looks and acts very differently. And it is a reminder that these ways of thinking about and doing feminist empowerment work are far from buried in the past: they are just obscured from view, like the hidden pathways that are changing women’s lives that may be missed by those who travel on development’s motorways," says Cornwall.  

We took this opportunity to chat briefly with Srilatha Batliwala about the book and the writing process.   

1. When did you first start thinking about writing this book? Was there an incident or a trigger that made you decide to write it? 

The idea for the book was born on January 24, 2010, at a dinner before the Bangalore launch of Palestinian author Suad Amiry’s second book, “Menopausal Palestine.” My dear friend and noted feminist journalist Ammu Joseph, and Ritu Menon, founder of Women Unlimited (an imprint of Kali for Women), proposed that it was high time I put together my key writing on women’s empowerment and related issues, produced over the past twenty years, into one volume. I was sceptical at first – I didn’t think there would be much interest or demand for such a volume, and that some of my earlier work on the subject was outdated. But they insisted I was wrong, that many people were still using some of these pieces because they were still relevant, and that the volume would have a lot of value for many people trying to understand and work on women’s empowerment, movement building, and so forth. So I decided to do it! 

2. Tell us about the writing process. What was it like for you to revisit your experiences and pull them all together?  

It’s important to emphasise that the only original writing that I did for this book was the introductory and concluding chapters, and the introductions to each of the three parts of the book – the main chapters are all articles, concept papers and such that I had written much earlier, starting with a piece “Why I am a Feminist” that was written in 1986! But I greatly enjoyed writing these prefatory pieces… Ritu encouraged me to use these as spaces to reflect on the context I was in when the various articles in each section were written, and to talk freely about the people and experiences that influenced my thinking at that time, and what and who these pieces aimed at and impacted in some way. This allowed me to bring the personal and subjective into the book – to bring myself in – rather than restricting myself to academic analysis or intellectual distance. Many readers have told me that they have greatly enjoyed these introductory pieces, some even more than the main articles.  

3. Who are you hoping will read the book and how would you like it to affect them? 

I think the book is useful for a wide variety of audiences, but especially for activists, academics and donor agencies concerned about gender inequality and other forms of social exclusion, and about how to organise and empower marginalised people, whether they are women or not. I have generally written for activists – trying to push activism to be more analytical, more informed by theory; but on occasion, I have also written for academics, where I have tried to push theory to be more responsive to practice, to ground realities. In reality, though, I have been surprised to find a lot of the writing I have done for activists being prescribed and used in the academy, as part of courses on gender/women’s studies, development studies, public policy, social movements, civil society, and international relations. So I hope that a diversity of readers interested in social change processes will read it and find it informative. I wish, though, that the many hundreds of grassroots women I’ve worked with, who inspired so many of the ideas in the book, could also read it. Maybe some day some of them – or their children or grandchildren – will! 

'Engaging with Empowerment - An Intellectual and Experiential Journey', is available from Scholars without Borders.


Fabulous Fashionistas is about the style and attitudes of 6 women from the UK with an average age of 80. It tackles gender norms about women in a light-hearted manner. We thought this video was a perfect example of how women can break the 'deep cultures' of social expectation around gender and age. By redefining what women can look like — and behave like — at 80, the women are challenging age-old narratives and notions embedded in our culture. That they're doing this in a stylish and fun manner doesn't make the message any less powerful. In fact, it makes it even more so because it foregrounds something else that's important to remember: that we have the right to have fun, and to be fun, no matter what our age.


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