Tackling gender inequality to promote inclusion and justice in society

Tackling increasing inequalities in society is a complex and sensitive process but is a key part of IIED's institutional strategy. Reducing gender inequality is just one aspect. Rosalind Goodrich reports on recent progress to integrate this into our work.

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6 July 2020

Rosalind Goodrich is head of research communications at IIED

India’s Anganwadi rural childcare centres provide vital healthcare to millions. The centres are mainly staffed by women, and they have been fighting for better pay for years (Photo: Public Services International via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In January 2018, I co-wrote a blog summarising how far we'd come since IIED launched its gender manifesto in 2016. At the very end of the piece, we signalled the potential for more progress with the upcoming work on our institutional strategy for 2019-2024

Launched in June 2019, "Make Change Happen" sets out five strategic challenges, including tackling increasing inequality. Inequality not only arising from gender difference but from age, race, religion, disability, sexuality and wealth. 

This challenge underpins all areas of our work.

In the gender equality, voice and power work programme flowing from the strategy, one of the three longer-term outcomes we are aiming for is:

National and sub-national government and traditional leadership structures recognise the rights of the most marginalised women and men, boys and girls … and their roles as change agents, and in doing so make sure they are part of relevant decision-making processes so that their voices are heard.

We know that realising those rights, particularly for women, depends on many things, including the nature of women's relationship with men and how the men close to them respond when they assert greater power.

Reflecting on this, in tandem with wanting to act on the ambition of the new strategy, led us to decide that it was time to move on from a gender manifesto to having an institutional gender equality policy.

From manifesto to policy commitment

The significant shift from the manifesto to the policy was to acknowledge gender intersectionality with other social, economic and cultural factors and to set out the implications of this for our research, our engagement with partners and how we operate as an institute.

The 2019 initiative took us from an expression of commitment in the manifesto to adding a policy to the framework for guiding decisions across IIED.

With this gender equality policy, we've signalled an aspiration to improve and learn. But to be able to evaluate progress, we had to be clear about our starting point.

Reviewing our ambition

This prompted another piece of work in 2019 – a gender equality ambition review – carried out by an external consultant over about three months to assess, in blunt terms, our baseline. 

The results were revealing but not surprising: levels of understanding about gender equality varied across the organisation – a specialism for some, others still beginners. Evidence of gender equality ambition in research projects ranged from apparently gender blind to transformative; researchers' confidence in knowing how to do gender analyses, design research and evaluate success was not consistent.

A plan of action

This review, combined with the policy, sent a clear message that a top priority for the coming year is to build staff capability and create informal opportunities for sharing knowledge and exchanging experiences. For starters, we are planning a series of brown bag lunches to promote learning internally on a variety of topics.

We've strengthened our gender induction session so that all new staff get a fuller picture of our vision and ambition and how this expectation should manifest itself in practice – in research design, in how we communicate research, work with partners and in how we create a fair and positive workplace for women and men regardless of their background, age, race, ethnicity or religion.

We're generating ideas for specific pieces of research whose findings will inform projects across the organisation. Projects that will challenge our thinking and remind us that gender means studying both women and men and their interactions in society – looking more deeply at what stops women being empowered, even if that means a project studying how men's attitudes and confidence are changing. 

Findings, for example, from an IIED and Embassy of Ireland project in Tanzania on the links between gender-based violence, climate change and effective delivery of health services, found that when men experience economic losses and cannot support their gender roles, they become violent towards women and children.

Where there is a reverse of women being violent against men due to resource-based conflicts, men find it difficult to report violence cases to police and some end up committing suicide.  

We're fortunate that in the past year, more staff with gender expertise have come on board to join the growing number of gender equality champions, bringing new energy. But actually, it wasn't luck: managers have recognised that we need this skill and experience in the institute and have made it a part of more researcher job descriptions and therefore a requirement for success in recruitment. 

All these actions we hope will build institutional confidence. It goes without saying, that tackling increasing inequalities is a complex and sensitive process, made even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We are just one part of making change happen, but we want that part to be significant, open to learning and ready to challenge the status quo. 

About the author

Rosalind Goodrich (rosalind.goodrich@iied.org) is head of research communications at IIED

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