A call to prioritize gender in development

A version of this post originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Reposted with permission.

A call to prioritize gender in development

The most effective 21st century international development organizations will be those that ask — and come up with workable answers to — the right questions about gender. The right answers are ones that boldly empower women and girls, engage men and boys as partners and don’t shy away from approaches that disrupt business as usual. The organizations that get gender right will be the ones that truly transform lives.

On June 16, 2014, more than 200 gender experts, funders, policymakers and development organizations will convene for the inaugural Gender 360 Summit in Washington, DC, to explore approaches for empowering women and girls and prioritize gender equality in our work. It is an opportunity for the international development community to examine the roadblocks, reflect on what we are doing well and where we are failing, and push ourselves to do better.

What have we learned about gender inequalities in different social, cultural and geographic settings? Beyond investing resources, what role can funders and their implementing partners play in elevating the importance of integrating gender considerations into all their work? What are the indicators of success and how do we measure them? These are just a few of the questions that need actionable responses.

Gender is not just about women and girls. Understanding gender means understanding the differences, in particular the economic, social, political and cultural attributes, constraints and opportunities that are associated with being female and male, and in some places, a third (or other) gender. It also means understanding how the social and economic forces unleashed by modernization (and abetted by development programs) affect women, men, boys and girls and the interactive relationship among them.

We know what gender inequality looks like. In almost all parts of the world, women have less access to resources and opportunities. They are subjected to exploitation, violence and abuse. They lack access to decision-making processes that shape their societies and their own lives — and all too often, inequality is entrenched in both traditional and formal law.

The good news is that while social definitions of what it means to be a female or a male can be deeply entrenched, they can also change over time.

In 2012, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) introduced a new policy on gender equality and female empowerment. The year before, the Millennium Challenge Corporation published its policy on integrating gender and social considerations into all programs, including infrastructure investments that previously had been mistakenly characterized as gender neutral. These policies were groundbreaking in that they have helped to reorient development resources and foreign policy toward a deeper understanding of what women and girls’ empowerment and gender equality really mean and how to integrate these objectives into development programs.

Of course, it is easier to talk about gender integration than to actually do it. As a starting point, organizations need to take a hard look at their own leadership, structures and practices. We must lead by example and model the behavior we demand from others. Mainstreaming gender requires commitment and resources from all levels of an organization’s leadership.

Recognizing the importance of advancing gender issues is one of the great lessons from the 20th century about what fuels prosperity. The time is now to make gender transformation a reality in our work and change the lives of women, girls, men and boys for the better.

Join the FHI 360 Gender 360 Summit conversation by using #Gender360Summit on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or Instagram.

Read about FHI 360’s Gender Integration Framework.

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