With the generous funding support of the Security and Sustainability research theme at Royal Holloway, University of London, we were able to convene a group of early career researchers on Wednesday 27 May 2015 to share insights into the policy and practice of gender and development in a variety of settings.
As the organisers for this event, we were eager to explore the gap between research, policy and practice in gender and development. The presenters offered thoughtful reflections and suggestions about how best this gap might be bridged. What follows are our perspectives about the most salient points of the day.
There were three presentations on very different themes that, for me, highlighted some common barriers to gender transformative change.
Firstly, Paola Piscitelli presented research on the practices of Mukheristas, informal cross border traders in Mozambique and South Africa. Her findings showed that even though 70% of Mukheristas are female, the organisation formed to champion their rights is run by men who do not address the challenges the traders encounter as they traverse gendered spaces of economic exchange.
Secondly, research by Megan O’Donnell on domestic violence shelters in Morocco revealed that shelter staff often lack the necessary training to deal with women and children who have been battered. Staff sometimes ‘discipline’ shelter guests for leaving their difficult situations rather than ‘empowering’ them through education and psychological support to build a new life on their own, and in safety.
Thirdly, research by Ronda Zelezny-Green explored the impact of a mobile learning intervention in a girls’ secondary school in Kenya. She highlighted that time to study, rather than a lack of resources available, was the biggest barrier the girls faced to learning during after-school hours. The girls experienced time pressures due to the prevailing gendered division of labour in the home; consequently, despite the success of the tech intervention to facilitate book access, the time available to the girls remain unchanged.
The three presentations showed evidence of development projects which provided a specific service or intervention targeted at women and girls, but which failed to truly transform gender relations: something which is necessary for sustainable development and empowerment. To bring about sustainable change to gender relations, ‘gender and development’ would benefit from closer engagement with feminist theory and practice. Mary Cobbett
The contributions from the presenters, guest speakers and participants alike represented a diverse array of different areas and interests that fall within the themes of geography and gender studies. Although the workshop had a good turnout, it was disappointing that the cohort was entirely female. This does not come as a surprise as it is often similar at other gender-based events where the term ‘gender’ has become synonymous with ‘women and girls’. Nevertheless, this needs attention; after all, if we are striving for gender equality then this can only be achieved when there are contributions and reflections from all sides of the table.
This was a key point that was touched upon by Dr Erin Sanders-McDonagh. She explained that research focused on women and girls is of utmost importance in the fight for gender equality, but men and boys are also a key component of gender and development. If we want to change dominant discourses of masculinities, we must address and focus on the very people that embody it. Thus, we can all reflect on how we can be more inclusive of all genders in our research, as opposed to neglecting and under-representing certain groups. Naomi Graham
Seven guest speakers gave presentations on various gender subjects. They covered a variety of subjects including domestic violence, women’s empowerment and female genital cutting (FGC). Even though the attendees had knowledge about the subjects presented, there were different research approaches and backgrounds in different geographical areas. The mixed background of the attendees supported invigorating knowledge sharing and open discussions during breaks and after the conclusion of the event. Mina Nakai
Presenter Lucy Walker from the Orchid Project illustrated a long-term approach to gender work by sharing her experiences of engaging both women and men to help end FGC. Walker shared how participatory and critical engagement with local communities is as necessary as work with gender policy and practice to effect more sustainable impact and transformative change. Ronda Zelezny-Green
The overarching theme that came out of the presentations was that if we truly want to support women and girls’ issues globally, this cannot be done without addressing the men and boys in their lives, too. Gender should be viewed as a critical component of sustainability for all development projects, and such a positioning has strong links to notions of equality and empowerment for all. Because there is not yet consistent use of research findings to thoroughly integrate gender considerations into the design of interventions and policies that aim to improve people’s lives at present, there remains much work to be done.
Mary Cobbett, Naomi Graham, Mina Nakai and Ronda Zelezny-Green
PhD Students, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway
Ronda is also part of the Royal Holloway ICT4D Centre