At the beginning of October, Sonke, on behalf of the MenEngage Africa network, and the UNFPA Africa regional office co-hosted a three-day long meeting bringing together MenEngage Africa partners and delegates from UNFPA country offices.
Because communication between organisations and donors is often limited to written reporting, and that the goals of donors and recipients are sometimes not perfectly aligned, this meeting offered a special opportunity for MenEngage partners to get to know their allies at their countries’ UNFPA offices, and to re-align their positions into one sychronised agenda.
Despite many existing programming initiatives not having the explicit focus of creating gender equality, they all should, at the very least, do no harm by perpetuating rigid gender norms – as should all development programmes. Gender norms and their rigidity or flexibility are instrumental in determining how much power people have to access their rights and to make independent decisions about their lives.
This means that all programmes working to address social inequalities must be aware that programming and its results play out in different ways in the lives of men, women and intersex people, and in the lives of homosexual and heterosexual people.
It was with this acknowledgement that Sonke trained UNFPA delegates and their partners on incorporating gender transformative approaches across their programming.
The training, from October 1 – 3 in Johannesburg, saw over 70 delegates from UNFPA and MenEngage partners, from 17 countries in the region and beyond, meet to discuss the future of engaging men and boys in their work.
A key message of the training was the shift towards programming that not only attempts to mitigate harmful effects of gender norms but actually transforms those norms.
In addition, implementing programmes that work with men and women together – a gender synchronised approach – instead of separately, was presented as having the potential to effect greater positive transformation of gender norms. Synchronised programming acknowledges that gender is relational, not just about women, or just about men. In synchronised programmes, men and women together can explore the opportunities for relating to one another in more positive ways.
Unintended negative consequences of working with one sex alone are often mitigated when working with men and women together. For example, newly-confident girls who have been through a programme to improve their self-esteem may be seen by boys as a threat to them and to the power they enjoy. Thus these (hypothetical) girls, in demonstrating self-love and confidence, may unwittingly invite abuse upon themselves just by upsetting the power structure. If boys were included in the programme, gender relations could be addressed head-on as a factor that influences self-esteem and confidence.
The training ensured that the UNFPA delegates understood the real need to engage men and boys on gender equality, and were re-aligned with the methodologies and desired outcomes of the organisations they fund and support.
The event also provided space for a MenEngage Africa regional meeting, to provide progress updates and and agree on future priorities for work in the region on engaging men for gender equality. The meeting was followed by a two-day regional consultation on the UNAIDS Agenda for women, girls, gender equality and HIV. The consultation was hosted by Sonke, UNFPA, the ATHENA network and HEARD.
Gender Integration Continuum
Sonke often makes use of the Interagency Gender Working Group’s (IGWG) materials for gender programming training and capacity building. The IGWG developed the Gender Integration Continuum, a nifty visual tool for presenting the range of ways organizations incorporate or ignore issues of gender equality. Here’s their Conceptual Framework, taken from their website: www.igwg.org
The IGWG promotes critical exploration of gender and its implications on RH at every stage of the program cycle. The IGWG has identified a continuum of strategies, ranging from those that unfortunately exploit gender inequalities in the pursuit of reproductive health (RH) and demographic goals, to those that accommodate gender differences and, finally, to those that seek to transform rigid gender roles, norms, and relations to promote equity. The IGWG/Gender GLP actively discourages interventions that reinforce and exploit existing gender inequalities in pursuit of health outcomes. Rather, we work to promote transformative interventions that encourage critical awareness of gender roles; improving the relative position of women; challenging the imbalance of power, and improving access to resources. It is the IGWG’s conviction that focusing on transformative interventions has a positive impact on gender equity and on reproductive health and HIV.