Walking the talk: Think Tanks & Gender


Like all organizations, policy research organizations  also known as “think tanks”  reflect the gendered social norms of their societies. This means that think tanks themselves can either perpetuate gender inequalities or foster gender equality in their organizational structures and research processes.

Fortunately,  many think tanks are committed to building a stronger enabling environment for gender. At Gender at Work, we’ve been lucky enough to work with five of them. This blog series, Walking the Talk: Think Tanks and Gender, shares stories of their successes and challenges in addressing gender inequality.

Think tanks learning about gender  

In 2018, a small group of think tanks participating in the International Development Research Centre’s (IDRC) Think Tank Initiative (TTI) were asked if they wanted to be part of the Gender Action Learning Projectsupported by TTI and implemented by Gender at Work. The intention was to strengthen participating think tanks’ organizational capacity to conduct gender responsive research and/or improve organization policies and processes regarding gender equality. 

Ultimately, five TTI partners chose to be part of the program: La Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social (El Salvador), La Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales  (ASIES, Guatemala), Centre for Population and Environmental Development (Nigeria), Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research  (Ghana) and BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (Bangladesh) 

These organizations committed to 18 months of learning, experimentation and integrating gender in their research and organizations. (For more details on the project, see Using action learning to promote gender equality.)  

The Gender Action Learning Project used a peer-to-peer learning approach via webinars and face-to-face meetings, with support from Gender at Work facilitators and coaches. Think tanks chose a variety of projects which would be the basis for their learning. Projects included mainstreaming gender into research projects across the think tank, building research capacity to work with a gender lens, crafting a gender research protocol, and developing a national State of Women report, among others.

Using storytelling to consolidate and share learning about gender 

The blogs in this series emerged from a Writeshop” — or writing workshop — organized by Gender at Work and TTI, and hosted by ASIES in Guatemala City in March 2019.  

One of the purposes of the Writeshop was to explore the potential of storytelling as a tool for individual and collective reflection, sense-making and consolidation of learning from the Gender Action Learning Project. The Writeshop was designed to create a safe, reflective space for the 15 participants to write about their personal experience of gender in their lives, their workplace or their research.  

Gender at Work found a brilliant writing coach, Ethan Gilsdorf, who introduced participants to skills for different types of writing. Throughout the week, they progressed from private, reflective writing, to writing about their personal experiences for their Writeshop peersto crafting a complete story or blog post for a wider, public audience.   

Those of us with a research background, more at ease with an objective academic writing style, found the Writeshop at times both daunting and transformative. Learning to weave together reflections on our personal experiences of gender with our professional roles and research took some practice, but the results were impressive.


Watch this space 

Twice a week for the next six weeks, we will share the 12 blogs that emerged from the Writeshop  

There are poignant, sometimes passionate stories by participants who tell of the moments in which they came to understand the realities of gender inequalities in their own lives and communities 

There are stories of the frustrations, challenges and small victories of researchers working to promote gender within their think tanks and in their think tanks’ research.  

Also included are blogs from the Writeshop facilitators, who step back from the workshop and reflect on the process and experience.  

A final blog in the series will offer some conclusions by Gender at Work and TTI on what the stories tell us about “Walking the Talk” on gender in think tanks. 

We launch the series with Why international development needs storytelling. In the blog, Shannon Sutton from IDRC reflects on why the act of storytelling and sharing of stories — such as those in this blog series — is so important to our work.  

We hope you enjoy the series and welcome your thoughts and feedback.  

This blog series is edited by Gender at Work Associates Carol Miller, David Kelleher and Aayushi Aggarwal, and Shannon Sutton from IDRC. 

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