Change begins at home. Adapted from an article published by Bernadette Crawford in Concern’s November 2021 edition of “Knowledge Matters,” here’s how Concern has been addressing gender equality in its own offices around the world.
Gender inequality is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality in the world. It denies women their voices and devalues their work. In society, from the household to communities to national and global levels, it makes their positions unequal to men’s.
Despite some important progress to change this in recent years, not a single country has yet to achieve full gender parity. Around the world, women are still more likely than men to live in extreme poverty and experience gender-based violence thanks to these harmful and historical social norms. Such inequalities are often exacerbated by emergencies, exposing women and girls to risks and vulnerabilities. As a result of these issues, it’s critical for emergency responses and development programs to address the gendered dimensions of crises and promote overall gender equality — and gender transformation.
Gender equality at Concern: Change begins at home
Concern has long recognized the importance of equality in all its forms — and especially equality along gender lines — as a necessary tool for ending extreme poverty.
Since 2013, Concern’s focus on gender equality has moved towards gender-transformative programs. These initiatives work to shift social norms and support men and boys as allies for gender equality and key players in advancing respect for women and rejecting violence both at home and in their wider communities. Rather than working around existing gender differences and imbalances, gender-transformative work critically examines and challenges long held norms and dynamics, and strengthens systems that foster true equality.
To provide a high level of support in this area, we’ve partnered in the past with Promundo, an internationally known organization that specializes in Engaging Men and Boys as a key component of gender equality.
A new step forward
Concern updates its strategic plan, goals, and objectives every five years, meaning that we’ve worked through two strategic plans with this gender-transformative approach at the center of our focus in each country where we operate and every community we serve.
The early days of this new focus — particularly in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Mozambique — gave us a chance to test out these theories and back up the results with well-rounded data. Similar work followed in Rwanda and Liberia. To scale up this work, however, and make it a part of Concern’s DNA in each country where we operate, we needed to engage a longer-term partner to work with us in 24 countries.
Concern partnered with Sonke Gender Justice beginning in 2017. Based in South Africa and working across the continent, Sonke has a dedicated team of trainers who have supported Concern’s teams and partners for the last five years in a multi-phased approach that now operates in all countries except for North Korea. When COVID-19 imposed travel restrictions on both Sonke and Concern staff, we pivoted to online gender-transformation workshops throughout 2020 and 2021.
Gender-transformative programs in practice
So far, the primary focus for Concern’s gender transformative programs has been working with couples to strengthen healthy communication, reject violence against women, and promote gender equality at home. For example, the We Are One program in Liberia, initiated in 2013, challenges the underlying gender norms and practices that perpetuate inequality between men and women in the country.
At the heart of this dialogue-based approach are two key questions:
- What does it mean to be a man or woman in society?
- How do the expectations tied to these meanings harm not only those around us, but also ourselves?
In Liberia, community leaders have endorsed these programs. Similarly, in Sierra Leone, a project called Living Peace has expanded beyond couple’s dialogues to engage with traditional leaders, wider communities, and teenagers — who form a critical group to engage on women’s rights and GBV in order to break an intergenerational cycle.
Gender equality during an emergency response
Gender-based violence is an especially high concern in emergency situations, which leave women and girls more vulnerable. The risks of experiencing violence in a crisis are often exacerbated by factors like emotional stress, economic strain, and shifting roles and responsibilities among family members. The majority of emergency-related GBV cases involve women or girls with an individual they already know (as opposed to a stranger).
While all emergencies are associated with an increased risk of GBV, this has been especially true over the last two years of COVID-19. Physical distancing and movement restrictions have left women and girls facing an increased risk of violence at the hands of family members, intimate partners, or other people living in their homes. The job losses, economic strain, interruption of normal routines, and ongoing stress over health all tied to COVID-19 have only made matters worse. This highlights the importance of centering gender at all of Concern’s work so that we can ensure support is available to those who need it most.
The big issue that once again clearly comes through is that gender is not about women; it’s about women and men. It’s about understanding the prevailing power dynamics, social and inequitable gender norms, and finding transformative approaches to address these in a way that brings about positive changes for women and girls, but also for men and boys.
Gender equality: Concern’s approach
The United Nations identifies gender equality as Goal #5 of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals to hit by 2030. To reach this, our approach at Concern is to address the root causes of gender disparity. Many of these causes are similar to the factors that perpetuate global poverty and hunger.