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A gender lens and the role of men in mainstreaming

Posted by: Clare Brandon

March 12, 2018

‘Ending gender inequality is the key step to ending all inequality’, Toby Walmsley CSIRO Summer Vacation Scholar.

Toby Walmsley, CSIRO Summer Vacation Scholar, presents at CSIRO Black Mountain, presenting 'A Gender lens and the role of men in mainstreaming'.
Toby Walmsley, CSIRO Summer Vacation Scholar, presents at CSIRO Black Mountain, presenting ‘A Gender lens and the role of men in mainstreaming’.

This has been the key lesson out of development practice and reflection over the last four decades and ‘Gender mainstreaming’ has emerged. This was designed as a mechanism to integrate a gender perspective into all aspects of a project. This means that the gender impact of a project is considered in both its design and implementation.

What it also means is that gender mainstreaming casts an eye to the institutions themselves that implement projects. This requires that an analysis of the gender dynamics within the very institution thinking about integrating gender into their projects.

This is coupled with the observation that, even in well-resourced attempts to gender mainstream institutions across the globe, policy tends to be really good, but outcomes tend to be really poor.

This is because often institutions implement gender mainstreaming as ‘good practice’, without thinking about why it matters to their project or values. Understanding why gender matters, and what impact it has on people’s lives, is hard to do if you aren’t looking at the inequality in your own backyard.

Although this seems like a big step to take, it’s quite intuitive if you break down its consequences. How could you possibly sift through the complicated dynamics of, say, women’s land and water rights in South Asia, if women are always cleaning the tea room in your workplace? Striving for gender equality requires a significant political and social change in the communities that are being addressed, and thus requires an understanding of the impact and nature of gender at all levels. How is this even possible if gender inequality is not addressed right in front of you?

Let’s take a step back for a second. So far I’ve been using the term ‘gender’ almost interchangeably with what could be called ‘women’s issues’. This is not entirely incorrect – clearly, gender dynamics disproportionality deprive women from rights to resources globally. When we think about gender justice, then, we should be thinking about how to redress this disadvantage. But, curiously, this account doesn’t consider what role men have to play in gender dynamics, or gender transformation. If women are disadvantaged by gender dynamics, then men are clearly privileged by it – there needs to be some kind of understanding of masculinity if gender mainstreaming is to really mainstream.

Masculinity is far from a unified concept. Masculinity can express itself in different ways depending on cultural, socio-economic, or religious background (among others). Whilst this implies a large array of competition between different masculinities for dominance, the key consequences for gender mainstreaming is that there are different ways in which women are disadvantaged in comparison to men. Masculinity allows us to think about how different social contexts impact how women are deprived from having genuine freedom over their social roles, and from decision making opportunities.

The consequence of this is that thinking about gender equality requires us to think about our everyday practices, including the everyday practices of men, and how they relate to their gender.

Equality starts at the dishwasher. It starts on the office floor, and starts at the conference table. It starts when we stop thinking of ‘gender’ as the thing that women do, and start thinking about male practices and ideas that consign other identities to disadvantages social roles.

It requires men to recognise how their masculinity offers them relative advantages, and think of strategies to address that.

Gender mainstreaming requires that gender be everyone’s issue in an institution.

This, thus, requires personal strategies to confront gender where it’s closest to home – that’s the clearest way to ensure that projects confront gender inequality, and thus confront all inequality, too.

Slides Transcript

Recording from Toby’s presentation at the Black Mountain Seminar Series

This work is part of a portfolio of investments supported by the Australian Government addressing the regional challenges of water, food and energy security in South Asia.

The SDIP Phase 2 aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in the Himalayan river basins, addressing climate risk and the interests of women and girls. It seeks to:

  • strengthen practices for regional cooperation
  • generate and use critical new knowledge to enhance regional cooperation
  • improve the regional enabling environment for private sctor engagement.

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