Written in partnership with Mariama Kamara, Founder and Director, Smiling Through Light
The energy sector is traditionally male-dominated with men’s access to better education, skills training, and finance enabling them to develop businesses and access markets that women have often been excluded from as a result of gendered social norms and women’s unpaid care work. In the energy world, the role of women has often been limited to that of consumers; particularly in relation to the household sphere and cooking practices. The benefits of clean cooking fuels and technologies on women and girls is championed on global platforms; and women are being increasingly recognised as important to energy access planning processes. What benefits arise, though, when we embrace and empower women as agents of change who are actively striving for, and driving us towards, Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7)?
CSW61: Women as Agents of Change
Last month, at the UN’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), Practical Action hosted a parallel session exploring just that: Women as Agents of Change in Sustainable Energy Access Value Chains. The session, which heard from Practical Action’s Sudan and East Africa offices, Smiling through Light, Energy Research Institute Sudan, and Solar Sister, demonstrated that investing in women’s potential as entrepreneurs, technicians, policy-makers and thought-leaders is vital for achieving gender-transformative outcomes and more effective energy access approaches.
Gender Equality + Sustainable Energy Access = Opportunity for All
Across the panellists’ different experiences, from the grassroots initiative of Smiling Through Light to the global campaign of Solar Sister, a clear message could be heard: at the intersection of gender equality and sustainable energy access lies vast potential – for women’s economic empowerment, certainly, and also for sustainable development and improved wellbeing for their communities and beyond.
The keynote speech, delivered by Lydia Muchiri, Senior Gender and Energy Advisor for Practical Action East Africa, explored the Women in Energy Enterprises in Kenya project (WEEK). Delivered in partnership with Energia, this project empowers women as providers of energy across three value chains – improved cookstoves, solar products, and biomass briquettes – in the roles of producers, suppliers and ‘brand activators’. WEEK project activities support women to build their social capital, develop fundamental business skills, and improve their confidence as entrepreneurs; these women now drive behaviour change, convincing others to adopt clean energy options. Five WEEK project entrepreneurs appeared at the recent SEforAll Forum to share their experiences, demonstrating a growing appetite to hear rural women’s grassroots knowledge on global stages.
Smiling Through Light: be the change that you want to see
Smiling Through Light’s Founder and Director Mariama Kamara highlighted the centrality of women’s knowledge, empowerment and collective action to building environmentally sustainable pathways to sustainable energy access; emphasising in particular the diverse roles women play across the energy value chain from production and transportation, to distribution and end use. At the age of nine Mariama left Sierra Leone during the civil war; after later learning that energy use in Sierra Leone was still mostly limited to kerosene for lighting, with no access to clean energy services, she started Smiling Through Light in 2014. By doing so, Mariama became the change she wanted to see. Smiling Through Light now advocates for women, as primary consumers and users of clean energy products, to be integrated into the process of designing appropriate solutions and engaged throughout the value chain to improve their livelihoods.
The path to SDG7
There remain many clear opportunities to advance women’s positions across the energy access value chain, including:
Policy – Advocate for policy that goes beyond perceiving women as victims of energy poverty or mere consumers, but as potential drivers of the sector. Embrace and lobby for the critical role of smaller, distributed energy solutions in addressing rural energy poverty, and women’s unique contribution to this sector.
Finance – Recognise that women’s access to finance is often constrained by social, political and economic constraints; i.e. collateral requirements based on land or asset ownership. Dedicate specific financing, credit facilities, grants and concessional loans to women’s sustainable energy activities.
Skills – Address the significant skills and local workforce development gaps in energy access in a way that empowers more skilled women to participate across the value chain, and educates others on the value of their contributions.
Evidence – Continue to build evidence to help inform policy on why women in clean energy value chains are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact; bringing local women entrepreneurs and decision-makers’ voices and experiences to the fore.
As energy access advocates and champions of gender equality we must continue to find opportunities, like at CSW61, to demonstrate the positive impacts that women’s economic empowerment in energy access initiatives has for themselves and their families, as well as their extended communities and international development practice more broadly. We need to continue challenging damaging gendered social norms which disempower women as change-makers; and simultaneously strengthen policy coordination, knowledge sharing, financial inclusion, programmatic partnerships and research to advance women’s participation in sustainable energy development for all.
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Haladete-East is a village located 40 km North from the city of Kassala, Eastern Sudan. It is a home of over 4800 people, from which 2850 are women. This is a story of an amazing water initiative that benefited not only one family but the entire village of Haladete-East!
Access to water has always been a serious problem in Haladete-East. Because there was no water nearby, people had to walk every day nearly three hours, through deserted roads, to collect water. Their only source of water was a remote hand-pump that was unreliable. The walks to collect water were tough and because of the heavy weight, only limited amount of water could be brought back to the village. Because of this, water could only be used to absolute necessities such as cooking and drinking.
To solve the problem, Practical Action launched a project called Aqua for East. The project, funded by DFID, aimed to improve the water security for the benefit of the whole community. To do this, Practical Action needed to build a water tank that would be big enough to provide water for 4800 people!
The first step in the project was to identify a location with a steady underground water supply (through hydrological studies and water catchment surveys). This ensured that the water supply would not run dry – even during the driest times. Once the right location was selected, Practical Action build the water tank, including two different distribution stations. One station was for women and the other for men. Each station included six water taps.
What makes this project so special, is the substantial community engagement. With the help of Practical Action, people living in the village established a Water Committee that looked after the management of the water distribution, including financial management and preparations should a damage occur.
Because of the Aqua for East initiative, the life of the people living in Haladete-East is now easier, healthier, more dignified and joyful. To summarise:
1. People do not need to walk long distances to collect water anymore. They now have an easy access to clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. In addition, small scale farming and animal farming have benefited from the secured water supply.
2. The initiative has had a tremendous impact on improved hygiene. Villagers are now able to wash their hands and shower more often, to do laundry and clean their homes. Furthermore, the food is less contaminated and diet more healthier due to in-house cultivated vegetables.
3. More girls are going to school instead of collecting water. In addition, they have more time to socialise and participate in income generating activities.
Nafish O’shak, one of the villagers, said: “Before, the community health promoters used to give us strong hygiene advice, but without water we could not do what we were advised to do. Now we have sufficient water and we are very hygienic. Our clothes, food and houses are extremely clean.“
Is that a revolutionary impact or what?No Comments » | Add your comment
The gender is at the center in our new Strategic Business Plan (SBP) 2017 to 2020. In terms of gender, the main shift in the strategic period is gender mainstreaming to gender transformation.
The gender transformation process dedicates to rigorous gender analysis on capacity enhancement, institutional strengthen, research and development of gender responsive policies through meaningful participation of women and men. The transformative change process goes beyond identifying and exploring the symptoms of gender equality, socially constructed norms, attitudes, and relations of power that underline the cause of limitation of men and women.
In context of Nepal, women are confined to the domestic spheres mostly in rural areas due to socially embedded and culturally accepted gender roles and responsibilities. So, this process examines the questions and seeks to change the rigid gender norms that causes power imbalances by encouraging critical awareness. The change process of gender transformation mainly focuses to unfold the causes and consequences of existing gender values and addresses them accordingly. This change process further encourages the society to promote the position of women by challenging the unequal distribution of resources and allocation regarding the power relationships. There are four different pillars for gender transformative change, they are:
The first and foremost area that needs to be focused is capacity of women’s leadership. It helps to respond to the need and requirement of an organisation’s future strategy. The development of new policies and strengthening of existing policies from gender perspectives support women in leadership and decision making positions. Such policies support including the socially excluded, economically poor, and vulnerable in terms of disaster risk reduction and those deprived of access to information and resources. It further encourages partnering with like-minded government, non-government organisations and civil societies, additionally, the research on GESI helps to provide evidence for the areas of concentration to bring the gender transformation change in an organisation.
In context of Practical Action, Nepal office, there are two areas that need to focus. They are;
- Capacity strengthening and women’s leadership
- Focus on Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) through project activities
- Capacity building on Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) of staff and partners
- Initiate the Gender Audit through our existing projects
- Inclusive policies and partnerships
- Focus to implement of existing policies and development of new policies/ guidelines if required
- Partnership with like minded organizations to contribute on GESI areas in the implementation level
This comprehensive understanding of empowerment requires, not only the increase of women’s individual agency, but also changes to transform the structural barriers in order to shift social and cultural norms. This can be measured by examining three broad domains of transformative changes on empowerment, they are:
Agencies: Individual and institutional knowledge, skills and abilities
Relations: Complex and multi-dimensional and pervasive relationships to analyse through diversified tools and techniques
Structures: Power relationships governing collective, individual and institutional practices
These dimensions help re-frame the discourse of empower to focus on women’s individual agency to collect responsibilities and actions.
Overall, the gender transformative change impacts on institutional and individual level through gender inclusive policies keeping the women in front line positions in development interventions. This leads to rights of women along with gender related expectations. Eventually, it provides insights for gender transformative actions at organisation and programme implementation levels. Gender is so central to our new strategy. So, considering our organizational priorities, gender tansformative change is one of them.
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Practical Action is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment through all its work; through programmes, knowledge sharing, advocacy, external communications and organisational development. It ensures gender considerations in all of its four programme areas –agriculture, food security and markets; urban water, sanitation and waste; energy access and disaster risk reduction.
To stress the importance of gender analysis and develop gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) related project activities and indicators, Practical Action organised a gender sensitisation workshop on 14-15 September 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
The workshop was facilitated by Kamla Bhasin, a feminist activist and social scientist. Her work focuses on gender, education, human development and media. She is an advocate for equality between genders.
The first part of the workshop focused on the concept of gender and inclusion, masculinity and patriarchy, power relations, gender roles and work burdens, gender division of labour and gender relations on social inclusions.
The second part was concerned with gender integration in project management cycle, the role of managers including monitoring and evaluation . The workshop aimed at sensitising the concept of gender and social inclusion on contemporary issues at global, regional and local levels and enhancing the capacity of the Practical Action’s managers to mainstream GESI during the project management cycle.
More specifically, the workshop focused on lecture method. Some short movies related to gender based violence and One Billion Rising (OBR) campaign were shown.
The workshop included different types of brainstorming sessions. Male and female participants were divided into different groups and participants were asked to share their painful experience as a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’.
The entire group shared their experiences about gender when they were children. The women’s group found their life privileged before getting married and expressed that life after marriage somehow changed due to the expectation of domestic work from women. The group came up with the outcome that the family is the basic unit of society and it is probably the most patriarchal. A man (father, grandfather, brother and so on) is considered the head of the household within the family and they control women’s sexuality, production, reproduction and mobility. The family where one learns the first lessons on hierarchy, discrimination, etc., continues these patriarchal values and so does the next generation.
Changed forms of violence
There are different types of violence and the forms of violence are changing based on time, regions and countries, for example female genital mutilations are high in African countries. Similarly gender based violence, sexual exploitation and harmful traditional practices are also forms of violence. These days cybercrime and child pornography are also types of violence. Agricultural and crafts profession are on a decline and this might be the cause of new kinds of violence and engaging women in prostitution.
Masculinity and patriarchy
Masculinity is all about power and femininity is exactly the opposite of masculinity. Masculinity is social definition given to boys and men by societies. Nature makes male or female, and it gives the biological definition but society makes masculine or feminine. Patriarchy means the rule of father or the ‘patriarch’ and originally it was used to describe a specific type of ‘male dominated society’. In Asian context, it is used more generally to refer to male domination and the power relationship by which men dominate the women. As a result women are kept subordinate in a number of ways. In the context of South Asia, so called ‘Patriarchy’.
Gender is all about ideology and mindset!
Origin of patriarchy
The origin of patriarchy dates from the beginning of human history – the barbarian age, pre-civilisation. Patriarchy, a concept that we experience in our lives, explains women’s subordinate position. During that period men developed weapons and women developed tools. Then women got involved in agriculture, crafts, social relationships and their mobility became limited to the domestic sphere. Gradually, the importance of women in the hunter gatherer economy was enhanced by the significance attached to the reproductive role of women. Female sexuality was not a threat and did not have to be managed since the community depended upon it. Female reproductive power was highly valued and female power was confined to motherhood. And the male was involved in public spheres.
Gender and gender relations and the gender division of labour are also not the same everywhere. It is specific to culture, location and time.
Gender division of labour
Gender division of labour also leads to hierarchy and inequality because men and women are not valued or rewarded equally. Even these days in some countries feminists are fighting for ‘equal pay for equal work’. The allocation of certain tasks to men and women in productive processes also leads to issue of command and control over resources. Generally, women have three types of work in our societies.
1. Reproductive work (Biological reproduction and social reproduction)
2. Productive work
3. Community and social work
Even in this work there are certain roles divided between men and women. Gender division of labour leads to gender division of types of work and standard gendered labour.
“A highly effective workshop, I have ever attended”- Vishwa B. Amatya – Head of Programme, Energy
“Last two days gave us an enlightening experience. This has been an eye opener.” Archana Gurung- Communications Officer
Definitely a very fruitful time with Kamla Bhasin over the two days period. An amazing person we all fell in love with. ‘Man of quality is not afraid of equality’. We need more men to change now! “Strike, Dance and Rise Ladies”. Khommaya Thapa Pun – HR Manager
The workshop was found to be a productive way to communicate the importance of gender analysis. Overall it supported the GESI planning process while developing the GESI related project activities and indicators.No Comments » | Add your comment
Women are agents of development. Realising gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not only a goal in itself but can lead to progress across all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets. This year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW60) stressed this and welcomed commitments to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls as per the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
More than 8,100 individuals represented over 180 countries at the event, which took place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 14 to 24 March. There were a record number of 220 side events. International women rights activists took to the platform to engage policymakers in women’s issues. A benchmark was set through this year’s CSW60 as agreement was reached on the priority theme, of ‘women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development’.
Around 20 individuals from Nepal attended, representing government, non-profits, civil societies and media. Women, Children and Social Welfare Minister Chandra Prakash Mainali presented on the initiation and the achievement of Nepal on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment on behalf of the government. A proud moment for Nepal was an honor to Nepali activist Bandana Rana who received ‘Women of Distinction Award 2016’ from UNDP for her fight against gender based violence and for her contribution to women’s empowerment.
During the keynote speeches I came across these statistics about women related concerns
- The media is a powerful player in driving women’s empowerment, but globally women’s representation in the media is 27%.
- Women account for 52% of the population in the United States but only 18% of representatives in the United States government are women.
- Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), child and forced marriage and female refugees are the major concerns in the global agenda.
- 240 million people are forced to migrate off their countries and 47% are women and out of them 15% are below 20 years.
Many people understand that genital mutilation and forced sterilisation are clearly a problem that plagues the modern world, but there are subtler problems surrounding rape culture, unequal pay and representation and intolerance to transgender people.
Similarly, there was some encouraging sharing; in South Africa, women make up 60% of co-operative members. In Japan, 95% of consumer co-operative members are women. Nearly 40% of female worker co-operative members in Spain are in leadership positions, and women represent 49% of worker co-operative members overall. Uganda has seen an increase of 132% in women’s participation in agriculture co-operatives. Women’s leadership on financial co-operative boards is 65% in Tanzania. In the United Kingdom, 41% of board members of co-operative retail businesses are women.
‘Campaign to Elect a Women UN Secretary-General’ was another attraction of the Session. Since the UN’s founding, there have been 8 individuals appointed to the role of UN Secretary-General – all of them men. Participants exhorted UN delegates to select a woman as the next secretary general of the UN. There is no shortage of female candidates. It’s HIGH TIME, the time is NOW!
Technologies empower women
The session included technology initiatives to improve access to and control of technology for women and girls, especially in remote and marginalized areas. It also useful to use at strategy level to integrate Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) mechanisms across the globe. This platform gave me the opportunity to share GESI related achievements on behalf of Practical Action and personal experiences in the professional journey of addressing women’s empowerment and promoting gender equality.
Participants were interested to know more about how technology empowers women and helps to reduce poverty through changes in their livelihood. The session also examined the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goals 3 and 5. Goal 3 cites ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being and happiness for all. Goal 5 supports gender equality across the globe. The speakers shared different perspectives about the role of each goal government, civil society, the private sector and in everyday individual practice.
Happiness and gender equality in the sustainable development goals
CSW60 wrapped up with the adoption of the agreed conclusions, which recognized women’s vital role as agents of development and urged gender-responsive implementation of Agenda 2030. They called for enhancing the basis for rapid progress, including stronger laws, policies and institutions, better data and scaled-up financing. For next year CSW61, the priority theme is ‘Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work’. This will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 13 to 24 March 2017.
Overall, the CSW60 was amazing and I had the opportunity to meet high level UN dignitaries and country representatives. I participated in more than 50 major and side events. Profoundly, the sessions were intense dialogues and interactions with social workers all over the world.
Finally, every moment has been worthwhile and has made me wiser, stronger and richer in knowledge on women’s concerns. I have built friendships in networks all over the world and had an inspiring and productive time. All these all experiences, expanded networks and learning will help me to promote integrated gender and socially inclusive project development in Practical Action both regionally and globally.5 Comments » | Add your comment
One of the most important outcomes of the COP20 in Peru last year was the development of the Lima Work Program on Gender and Climate Change which establishes a plan of activities to promote gender sensitivity in climate change policy and practice. Inspired by diverse discussions around gender at the 2014 COP, the Government of Peru took the ambitious decision to develop a National Plan of Action on Gender and Climate Change (PAGCC); a unique effort among South American countries.
Over recent years, Peru has laid some solid legal foundations that should facilitate the integration of gender dimensions into the country’s development initiatives. These include passing the National Law for Equal Opportunities between Men and Women in 2007 (Ley de Igualdad de Oportunidades Entre Mujeres y Hombres), and the development of the National Plan for Gender Equality 2012-2017 (Plan Nacional de Igualdad deGénero – PLANIG) and the 2014 National Climate Change Strategy (Estrategía Nacional ante el Cambio Climático), among others.
It is acknowledged that in the development of public policies, strategies and national plans in Peru and beyond, gender equality is often overlooked and the objectives rarely respond to the specific needs of women, men, children and elderly people.  It is therefore a key objective of the PAGCC to mainstream gender across national policies and initiatives related to climate change mitigation and adaptation in Peru. Specifically, the plan focuses on the following eights areas:
- Water Resources
- Food Safety
- Solid Waste
- Disaster Risk Management.
The development of the PAGCC began in December 2014 and involves numerous government agencies and civil society groups from across the country, led by the Department of Climate Change, Desertification and Water Resources in the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations. Representatives from several of these agencies and groups were invited by Practical Action Consulting to a workshop to kick-off the CDKN-funded research project ‘Gender Equality and Climate Compatible Development: Drivers and challenges to people’s empowerment’ in April 2015.
Peru is one of the three countries, along with Kenya and India, which has been selected for the research project coordinated by Practical Action Consulting with the support of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). This research seeks to establish a deeper understanding of how and to what extent gender approaches can contribute to climate compatible development (CCD) with a special focus on urban contexts. It is hoped that the lessons and recommendations from the research will contribute to the design and implementation of CCD actions and policies on in the countries studied and beyond.
The case study in Peru provides an opportunity to explore the role of the gender approach in disaster risk reduction by examining the experiences of two Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Networks (Redes de Gestión de Riesgos, Desastres y Cambio Climático, known as GRIDES) in the Andean cities of Cajamarca and Ancash. The GRIDES provide a space where civil society representatives can engage and influence decision-makers to incorporate the issues of risk management and climate change into regional development plans
Throughout this year PAC has been invited to contribute to the development of the National Plan on several occasions, in particular by helping to strengthen understanding around the benefits of gender approaches to disaster risk reduction. As a result, the draft PAGCC cites the work of the GRIDES as an example of how gender approaches can be integrated into DRR efforts.
On 13thOctober 2015, the Ministry of Environment organised an expert workshop in Lima designed to collect expert contributions for the final draft text of the PAGCC. Among 30 participants, with the majority representing government agencies, Lili Illeva was one of only five representatives from civil society invited to attend the workshop.
Her contributions centred on gender and DRR and a key priority was to share some of the initial lessons coming out of the CDKN research. These included:
- Women living in urban and rural areas of Peru experience different socio-economic impacts as a result of climate change, especially in terms of food security. For example, women in Cajamarca told us that in rural areas they have the opportunity to grow their own food, however when they migrate to cities, if they do not find a way of generating income for just one day (which often happens as a result of disaster events), they are quickly exposed to food insecurity.
- Urban women demonstrate different strategies for adaptation and disaster response compared to urban men and rural women, especially women who have migrated to urban areas. Often the traditional knowledge they have is not relevant for urban challenges and many capacity building initiatives fail to respond to their specific needs.
- In the urban context, women are perceived to be more vulnerable than men to climate change, disasters and emergencies in particular because they are responsible for preparing food, providing water to their families and protecting children from increasing health risks.
- At the same time, urban women could be perceived as more resilient than men to disasters. For example, urban women seek out new knowledge and take into account future risks, such as potential food and water scarcity or how to protect children from new diseases.
- While recognising that in the urban context both men and women play an important role in DRR, women are particularly pro-active in the transmission of new knowledge (such as disaster evacuation plans) to family members.
- Urban women also demonstrate high levels of participation in community DRR initiatives, such as disaster simulations and post-disaster recovery.
- There is a need to develop understanding and awareness around the relationships between gender and climate compatible development (including DRR) in urban contexts, especially amongst urban populations, civil society and decision makers.
It is hoped that the outcomes of this research will continue to inform the design and implementation of the PAGCC, as well as strengthen the mainstreaming of gender in development initiatives in Peru and beyond.
The final results and recommendations from the research will be presented in a country report and policy brief to be published early 2016.
Lili Ilieva is a researcher in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction at Practical Action Consulting Latin America and member of the technical team in the CDKN-supported research project ‘Gender Equality and Climate Compatible Development: Drivers and Challenges to people’s empowerment’.
 Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, presentation at the 3rd expert workshop for the preparation of PAGCCNo Comments » | Add your comment
Today is International Women’s day, themed around the call to #MakeItHappen. Tomorrow, leaders from around the world will be meeting in New York to begin the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 20 years since the first world conference on women in Beijing. So it’s fitting that Practical Action has chosen these two days to launch our own internal gender minimum standards, which will be applied to all of the work that we do.
As an INGO with a commitment to improving material and relational wellbeing, Practical Action has to take gender seriously. If we don’t, we won’t do our job properly. We know that poverty is gendered. Women overwhelmingly and disproportionately bear the burdens of unfair economic systems and unfair access to resources.
A gendered approach means recognizing the different needs and experiences of women and men. Although we clearly need a gendered approach in all that we do, this can be uncomfortable. Gender is inherently political, even on a local scale. For NGOs that work with and for poor communities, a gendered approach can feel too prescriptive, not respectful of cultural differences. But gender inequality is as damaging a social arrangement as poverty and in general we feel no embarrassment about striving and advocating to rid societies of the latter. To use culture as an excuse for not acting on injustice would be a disservice to the people that INGOs work for. As the Nigerian feminist activist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi reminds us, culture is not a fixed force, it is made and shaped by people.
The UN’s successful #HeForShe campaign, recently launched by Emma Watson, has been a promising reminder of the importance of collective action on issues of gender justice. Some of its imperatives should be applied within the development sector. In a recent study, Emily Esplen (lead policy analyst on gender equality and women’s rights at the OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate) found that despite the rhetoric and international agreements, grassroots women’s organizations remain staggeringly under-funded and under-represented. And so it is as important as ever that those with greater leverage act now.
Practical Action is an organization that has always believed in working for the benefit of both men and women. For these reasons we are excited to embark on a more ambitious and confident phase of our gender work in which we will hold ourselves accountable to coherent and consistent standards. Standards that will bring us closer to achieving our vision of Technology Justice: a sustainable world free of poverty and injustice, in which technology is used to the benefit of all.
Practical Action is always seeking opportunities to improve our work and collaborate with others. If you would like to know more about the gender minimum standards that we will apply to our work or think we could benefit from your organization’s experience in this area, please get in touch.No Comments » | Add your comment
Last week I got an email from one of my colleagues about our office’s plan for the women’s day celebration. After I read that email I started pondering upon this year’s women’s day theme – “Make it Happen” and a question popped up in my mind – What does that “it” in “Make it Happen” mean? I wasn’t able to find an answer to it immediately until I participated in Practical Answers’ Review and Refresher Training Workshop where I met 16 women or I should say 16 empowered women out of total 22 focal persons of Practical Answers Programme whose primary job is to collect and find answers to community people’s enquiries through interaction, knowledge materials and local experts.
I was there to see the impact that Practical Answers has left on its beneficiaries but was amazed to see that this programme has not just brought positive change in its beneficiary’s life but also of those who are working to bring that change in them. Yes, I am talking about our focal persons and to be specific, the female focal persons. I had met them one year back during a similar workshop. They were very shy back then; they were hesitant to speak in front of people and only few people knew them in their villages. They had no idea about the modern day communication tools like email and internet and they were financially and socially dependent on either their father or their husband. And after one year I could see that their lives have changed completely; they have now become “Heroes” in their villages. They are outspoken and very smart compared to last year.
I talked to a few of them during that workshop and the experiences they shared with me were very interesting and inspiring.
“People used to know me as someone’s wife and daughter but now they know me as Sarita Sapkota. The happiness that you get when you are able to create your own identity in a society like ours is priceless. Practical Answers helped me create an identity that I had always dreamt of.” – These were the words of Sarita Sapkota who is working as a focal person for Practical Answers Programme at Gardi Community Library and Resource Centre (CLRC) in Madi, Chitwan in Nepal. Sarita also shared that after working as a focal person she understood the value of knowledge and information.
Saraswati Chaudhary from Janachetana CLRC in Kailali shared a similar experience. She said, “Everyone in my family used to work outside and earn but I was the only one who was limited to household chores. Hardly anyone knew me in my village but these days whenever there’s an event in my village, people invite me as a special guest. They thank me and respect me for the work that I am doing. I feel like I have achieved something in life.”
These focal persons go door-to-door to collect enquiries, form different groups and hold interaction and training programmes. They answer people’s enquiries and thus, have become a living encyclopaedia for the community people. People say that sharing knowledge creates a lasting legacy and it seems like these focal persons have actually created a legacy in their own way.
Across the world, women are joining hands in solidarity and support, sharing knowledge and empowering themselves to build an equal society and so are our focal persons.
“We have changed people’s life through knowledge sharing, we have empowered people and whilst doing so, we empowered ourselves too,” says Jyoti Ale from Sauraha CLRC. She adds,“Before working as a focal person for Practical Answers, I used to feel backward and worth nothing, but now I can proudly say that I am supporting my family financially as well as contributing to bringing positive change in people’s life.”
Practical Answers receives thousands of enquiries each year and the majority of enquirers are women. The focal persons form many Practical Answers Groups and the majority of the group members are women and that shows that women are getting empowered. They are coming out of the four walls of their kitchen and actually getting one step closer to reaching a position where men are standing right now in a country like Nepal.
My participation in Practical Answers Review Workshop gave me an answer to the question that popped up in my mind that day. For me, that “it” in “Make It Happen” means “Empowerment”. Practical Answers answers everyone’s query in real!
This year, on women’s day let’s make a resolution to Make Empowerment Happen to change women’s life, to bring them forward and end injustice and discrimination.
Happy Women’s Day!!
Food for programme development thoughts
ICTs (Information Communications Technologies) particularly mobile phone and internet penetration shows a gradual increase in Bangladesh. In the table below, it indicates, during August 2013-14, in the case of mobile phone services 8.23 million people added to the connectivity, and 458,369 people to the internet connectivity. During August 2012-13, an additional 13.82 million people were connected with mobile phone services and 683,325 thousand people to the internet. This illustrates that following the global trend, in Bangladesh, new uses and expansion of ICTs- are fast becoming an essential part of everyday life, irrespective of location, sex, class, education and profession.
Table: ICT Subscription Status in Bangladesh
|August 2014||117.577 Million||40832.387 Thousand|
|August 2013||109.349 Million||36249.018 Thousand|
|August 2012||95.528 Million||29415.693 Thousand (as July 2012)|
Source: BTRC, 2014; ( www.btrc.gov.bd; accessed on Octtober 7, 2014)
However, relevant literature suggests that ICTs expansion and usage are not equally dispersed. Until the recent past, there was more growth in urban areas than rural. However, after 2010, the phenomenon has begun to change. As a result of that, in both computer and mobile phone, we see growth in rural areas is more than 4 times for mobile phones and 6 times for computers compared with urban areas.
Potential Impact of ICTs
As I understand women empowerment is a process (rather than end) towards gender equality; thus in this piece, I will be focusing on some of the issues I found contributing towards this process for rural women in Bangladesh. The points I am going to share below have been pulled out from different research findings, observation reports and diary notes that I was part of during 2009-14.
1) Decision Making: Regarding the ability to take decisions, it has been found that to some extent women have the ability to decide what things they what to buy, particularly to make small and large purchases. More specifically, they use ICTs (mobile phones in particular) to get information on certain things before they buy. They use mobile phones to consult with doctors about what medicine to take when they fall sick. It helps to feel them that they are connected with loved ones. Husbands or father s(or other heads of the household) appreciate this activity since it minimizes their expenditure and helps to retain savings.
2) Position within family: Having the opportunity to communicate with others through mobile phones, people are very much influenced by the behaviour of other people. Through easy interaction with the wider community, men’s dominating attitude towards women is gradually changing. Research findings demonstrate that women have more freedom from male domination. Whether a wife and husband live in same home or either live outside for livelihood or any other reason, in most cases they talk to each other before taking any important decision. This is now possible because of the mobile phone. To them, women’s involvement in major family decisions has been seen as important since women no longer are dependent on men for their livelihood, now they have opportunity to earn from outside if they wish.
3) Mobility: In this area, a very interesting change is been found. The need for women’s physical visits to their parent’s home has been taken away by mobile communication. Now they visit, when they have a special purpose. In addition, the duration of their visit is also decreased. On the other hand, visiting doctors’ surgery and market place for buying/selling things, visiting UP or other government service provider offices has increased significantly. This pattern of mobility clearly indicates that people have better aware of their rights and wellbeing.
4) Economic health: When women are connected by any communication device, it encourages them to know about others. For example, while they communicate with each other, they ask about others’ lives, about their cultivated crops, the price of the salable crops, sickness of any livestock, or family members- what happened, how he or she was cured etc. Evidences indicate that these communications promote women to be owners of assets to face any unwanted situation if occurred. It is also found that rural women now prefer to have assets (a piece of land, cattle, goat etc) in their name. They see it as their fall back support. Additionally, many women shared that they got job information over a mobile phone (although the job itself is gendered), and their partners are very positive about it. In contrast with income, women save very little. The reasons are; firstly, they earn very little so hardly can save from it. Secondly, men stop providing many essential items for women such as cosmetics and toiletries when women start earning. Besides this, sometimes they need to spend for socialization and children’s demands. The fact is that men do not directly tell women not to save but do not encourage them to do so.
5) Political awareness: ICTs have great contribution in building political awareness among grassroots women. Talking over a mobile phone, most village women are to some extent informed about what Union Parishad is supposed to do and what services are available there. Even though most of the time these are unavailable or distributed considering political or other social belonging. It is noteworthy to mention that during elections women do use mobile phones to consult with their friends, relatives and like-minded people for whom to vote and information about the contestants. In few cases women also do use to network building or motivating voters if they contest in election.
6) Legal awareness: Ruralwomen are not found to be well informed about legal rights. But they do have some basic information regarding criminal activities and gender issues. It is found in discussions with different local communities that all women know violence against women is a punishable crime. They do have the right to get legal support in case of dowry or marital rights violation. Furthermore, they also stated that they know from where they may get support or whom to communicate– which justify their basic legal awareness.
The above six points are few of many such impacts that ICTs can make in uplifting women’s situation in a context like Bangladesh. I understand and have evidence of concerns associated with ICTs use (which I will cover in another write up). However, the above points may help us developing programmes around the above issues.No Comments » | Add your comment
Bangladesh is one of the South Asian countries who has achieved significant progress in many human development aspects over the last few decades. Gender equality is one of such areas where Bangladesh comes to spread hope in the regions. My recent field visit highlighted progress, so I thought I would reflect on it.
Last month I facilitated 4 workshops on gender with staff of Practical Action and its Partners, Municipality Staff and Counselors and programme beneficiaries. The workshops were held in four field offices of Practical Action namely Sathkhira, Faridpur, Rangpur and Sirajganj and I would like to reflect on my experiences of the workshop, particularly what changes I have noticed.
During 2004-09, as a gender expert in different positions with different organizations, I had to facilitate several trainings on gender and had to share research findings. For those, I had to travel different parts of Bangladesh (and beyond) to work with local NGOs, local government authorities, and community leaders including social and political activists. My experiences with these actors were not always easy. In contrast, this time it was different. I observed a few changes which are promising for the movement of gender justice in Bangladesh.
- Acceptance of gender concerns at different levels of the society has undoubtedly been established . Additionally, attitudes of community leaders and public servants to gender sensitivity have improved a lot. However, understanding of the issue still remains as challenge, where we need careful intervention.
- Before men were not facilitating space for women’s empowerment. Moreover, there were many barriers to talking about gender equality with communities which has been dramatically improved. Now, this is much more positive and ready for action.
- Facilitating any training or workshop on gender for men was very challenging. Women activists were skeptical of accepting men in the field. Surprisingly, this time, I experience major change in women’s generosity accepting men in the gender equality movement/work.
- Previously skills on gender issues were mostly found in INGO staff or staff of some big NGOs. Recent experiences indicate staff of local NGOs are now better informed about gender issues than INGOs.
A number of elements have played a critical role in bringing about these changes. Massive awareness initiatives by several organisation and taking the issue seriously from top level of the state were important factors. A group of young professionals with relevant academic backgrounds came into the development sector with more analytical insights, and last but not least several INGOs have taken the approach known as ‘working with men for achieving gender equality’ which has contributed to these changes. I think this is because of, over time, many donors, INGOs and Government agencies have taken lots of initiatives for building capacity of front line staff of the implementing (local) organizations. Whereas, capacity building for INGOs staff (beyond project activities) has been in gradual decline.
These observations are from a limited perspective, and the analysis is very rapid. However, I will stop here and hope to hear the opinions of others.5 Comments » | Add your comment