Lessons of climbing
Why now?
Where do we want to go?
How will be get to our destination?
Who are we going to take with us?
How will we sustain ourselves?
How will we know that we are on the right track?
Getting lost and finding the way

2020 vision is the most perfect of eyesight. The fact that everyone is after this ideal vision is underscored by the fact that a Google search of the term throws up over 700,0000 references on the Internet. Like us, the whole world is looking for something better over the next ten years!

In a vision exercise at the 2010 Board Meeting in which the Board and staff members wrote down where they would like GL to be ten years from now, the following were some of the responses:

  • An independent, strong, vibrant, principled self- sustaining organisation guiding Southern Africa to a free, democratic region based on equity for all.
  • A leading African NGO and globally renowned centre of excellence on gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women for development.
  • An organisation that is represented in all the countries of Southern Africa and reaches out to all the corners and villages where the majority of women are found.
  • A champion of justice internally and externally.
  • An organisation with deeper roots, so that our foundation will stay solid and carry us into the next twenty years with the strength to weather any external or internal storm.
  • An organisation with two wings: one not for profit and the other generating revenue to help sustain the organisation.
  • Pioneering change and venturing into new areas, such as a TV station owned by and for women.
  • A voice of the voiceless, especially women who constitute the majority of those globally who are denied a voice.

Lessons of climbing

GL is like the mountain climber who, after walking up a steep peak, stops to survey the scene below. In nine years, the organisation has grown from two staff and a budget of R250  000 to 40 staff and a budget in 2009/2010 of close to R30 million. The lessons of climbing are real. When you look up to a steep mountain it often looks impossible. The only way you conquer it is by moving one step at a time. At moments muscles will be stretched and they will hurt: no climb is ever achieved without this. You may even need a piggy back and if you are lucky there will be friends and helpers along the way. When you reach the top of the first peak there is the satisfaction of looking down; gaining perspective. The beauty of the scene from higher up is that you see the big picture, not the rocks and the weeds along the way. But as every good climber knows, no climb is ever complete. Just when you think you have reached the top, you will see several more peaks waiting to be conquered. Not until you get to Mount Everest can you ever say that you have reached the pinnacle!

Why now?

Next year, GL will celebrate its tenth birthday. In preparation for that, we plan to have our second five year organisational evaluation, together with several programme reviews required by key donors in 2010. We also plan to launch a major longitudinal study of all the beneficiaries of our work. And we plan to hold stakeholder workshops in all the fourteen SADC countries that we work in to gain a better understanding of what we have done well, and what we need to improve.

Across the region and globally, 2010 is also a significant year for several reasons:

  • It marks the 15th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
  • It marks the tenth anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015 and is a key benchmarking year for these.
  • It is an important benchmarking year for the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, whose 28 targets are also to be achieved by 2015. Coincidentally, 2010 is the thirtieth anniversary of the regional organisation.
  • 2010 marks the first year of the African Decade on Women.
  • It is the year that the Soccer World cup comes to Africa (specifically to South Africa) for the first time.

Where do we want to go?

Vision and mission: At the 2010 Board meeting, Board and staff members reviewed GL’s vision and found the ideal of a region in which women and men are able to participate equally in their public and private lives to be relevant. However, following the adoption of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in August 2008, we felt it necessary to be more explicit about this instrument in framing our work as well as providing monitoring and evaluation tools. This is reflected in the amended vision and mission that make specific reference t the Protocol and its targets.

Ideology: At the Board meeting we also agreed on the need for GL to define more clearly its ideology, mindful that there are many different strands of feminist discourse. We noted that while some of the more radical women’s organisations feel that GL is not radical enough, we are often viewed by our media colleagues (especially because we have been critical of sexist advertising) as bra-burning feminists. Such varying perceptions of GL should prompt us to be more definitive about whom we are.

While the GL ideology paper is still under preparation, and will form the first in a series of policy briefs on key gender issues that we confront in our work, the main agreed elements of our ideological stance are:

  • While we understand feminism to mean believing in the equality of women we recognise that the term in this region is narrowly interpreted and in some instances alienates people, especially at the local level where we seek to concentrate our efforts.
  • The danger of any kind of labelling is that you get locked in. As an advocacy and lobby group we need to be able to move in many circles without compromising our principles. GL is especially clear that our work needs to involve women and men. All our statistics show that each year 30 to 40 percent of those who participate in our work are men. This is one of GL’s strengths that we seek to build on.
  • GL understands gender equality to comprise two essential components: empowering women who in every respect (social, political and economic) have been relegated to second class citizens to claim their rights; as well as changing the attitudes of men and helping them to understand that this is not a zero sum game. Unlocking the human potential of half the region’s population can only be a win-win solution.
  • We fully subscribe to the Gender and Development (GAD) as opposed to the Women in Development (WID) approach. In other words we do not subscribe to programmes or projects that lead to once off, superficial gains for women but fail to question the underlying structural inequalities between women and men.
  • We are mindful that equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of outcomes. Our region like many others abounds in good Constitutions, policies and laws that have made little objective difference to the lives of women. In particular the dual existence of customary law alongside modern codified laws and statutes is often contradictory and undermines the rights of women. These contradictions need to be addressed head on. For too long culture has been used as a smokescreen to undermine the rights of women even by some of the most progressive entities in the region. We take a rights based approach that respects diversity and culture but also recongises that culture is dynamic and that no right is absolute. The right to ones cultural and religious beliefs must be balanced against the equality of all peoples, women and men, as enshrined in international, regional and national instruments.
  • While we recognise that women have many short term practical needs, these must always be seen as building blocks for addressing strategic gender needs. For example, providing women with seeds to grow crops when they do not own land, have access to credit or markets, will not achieve the long term goals of gender equality. A programme to provide seeds should be cast within the broader framework of equal ownership of the means of production without which women will never be truly empowered.
  • Shared power and responsibility is much more effective than demagogic rule. Whether in the political arena, in the work place or in the home, there is ample evidence to show that unbridled power is never a healthy state of affairs. GL believes firmly that democracy in our region can only be real if it starts in the home. A quote from a male local councillor in our study,  At the Coalface, Gender and Local Government  to the effect that “gender equality stops at my front door” is a stark reminder that we still have a long way to go.

Geographical scope

The 2010 Board meeting agreed that while there have been many suggestions that GL should spread its wings to East and West Africa, we need to retain and strengthen our base in Southern Africa which as a region has now expended to include 15 countries that speak English, French and Portuguese, as well as hundreds of local languages.

Reasons cited include:

  • Southern Africa enjoys rare political coherence, even though there are many differences between countries.
  • Failing states in other parts of the continent make venturing out high risk. Already GL has faced challenges with two failing states in Southern Africa (Zimbabwe and Madagascar).
  • The GL Board took a position in 2007 to strive for depth over breadth, geographically and in its programme work. This strategy is on course and needs to be consolidated further before new ventures or directions are considered.

The GL satellite and field offices have demonstrated the value of having representation on the ground. They are able to take up complex programmes, like the gender violence indicators, or the work with local government, and to ensure effective back up and follow up. Over the next ten years there is need to consolidate these efforts further. For example:

  • The Francophone operation which covers Mauritius, Seychelles, DRC and Madagascar should explore local funding opportunities.
  • Some field offices, for example Zimbabwe may need to be upgraded to satellite offices both for political reasons and because several regional entities still operate from Harare.
  • With Malawi holding local government elections in 2010, and the excellent relations that GL has with the NGO Coordinating Council through the Alliance, there is need to consider a field office in Malawi.
  • Now that local government work has started in Mozambique and GL has a resident Board member in Maputo,   there is need to consider establishing a field office in Mozambique

How are we going to get to our destination?

The SADC Gender Protocol Roadmap: GL campaigned for this instrument and it now provides a valuable umbrella for all our work. The Protocol keeps GL’s programmes on track and aligned to the 28 targets. Through the annual Barometer produced by the Alliance, we track how the 28 targets are being met by SADC states. We also integrate relevant targets into our three programmes. A key check point for us will be 2015. We need to be prepared to answer the question: What happens after 2015? What if the targets have not all been met? There will be need to regroup, reposition, and redefine the next steps.

The Media: Gender and media remains a key niche for Gender Links. While the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network has taken up advocacy work, GL remains the powerhouse of research, training tools and links behind the gender and media movement. In particular, the Gender and Media Progress Study (GMPS) that will be launched in 2010 as a follow up to the 2003 Gender and Media Baseline Study will provide key data with which to reinvigorate and reposition the work.

GL should seek to use the considerable research that has been gathered over time to develop country profiles covering media performance, regulatory authorities, training institutions and citizen involvement. GL should also develop specific profiles of media houses using the Glass Ceiling, GMPS, and situation analyses conducted for policy work.

With the theme Media for Change: Taking Stock agreed for the 2010 Gender and Media Summit, GL should seek a more holistic approach to media work that brings together media, regulators, training institutions and citizens.

Strengthening the Opinion and Commentary Service
Key directions for the future include:

  • Stronger relations with media editors
  • Distribution through Editors’ Forums
  • Use of New media such as Facebook and Twitter for disseminating the service more broadly.
  • Cultivating relations with community media.
  • Adding to the French language service Portuguese and other languages
  • Links with international bodies to widen the reach of the service.
  • Include people with disabilities e.g. blind people.
  • Exploring income generation options, for example thematic journals

Forging more effective partnerships through the Gender and Media Diversity Centre (GMDC)
Key growth areas include:

  • Strengthening governance through a clear delineation of members (partners) and the advisory group.
  • Reciprocal e links with institutions; Links with institutions for online publications (open source education soft ware); open source networking
  • Clear Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) and partnerships.
  • Strengthening the internship programme as a way of cementing ties with media training institutions.
  • Encouraging students to research gender and media issues; publicising and canvassing their work.
  • Forming a network of gender educators.
  • Making materials more widely available to institutions and libraries.
  • Following the Gender in Media Education audit, collaboration on capacity building initiatives; shaping curriculum; introduction of Gender and Media courses; collaboration on projects e.g. gender and media literacy.
  • Broadening GMDC seminars and ensuring that these are hosted by a variety of partner institutions.
  • Improving packaging of materials and programmes.

Governance: The decline in women’s political representation in elections held in Botswana and Namibia in 2009 is a clear signal that there is need to resuscitate the 50/50 campaign. GL through the Gender Protocol Alliance needs to push for this to become a reality. There is need for evaluative approaches to help us understand how this has come about and to inform strategies for elections taking place in 2010 in Mauritius, Tanzania and Zambia.

Local work should continue but focus much more at Council than at district level since often the fruits of this work do not get fed back to the ground. There is need to build on the very successful first Gender Justice and Local Government Summit with 106 best practise submissions, many from local government, to select promising Councils to work with directly on sustained gender mainstreaming programmes at the local level, using a Monitoring and Evaluation pack similar to that developed for gender policy work in newsrooms.

GL should also seek to strengthen the links between field officers and local government associations. Where possible field officers should be based in the offices on the local associations and work with their gender focal person, building capacity that will help to sustain the work. Already, GL shares offices with local government associations in Botswana and Zambia, and there are prospects of a similar arrangement in Zimbabwe. During the Gender Justice and Local Government Summit several more pledges and draft MOUs were considered to strengthen partnerships with local associations.

GL’s planned longitudinal study of beneficiaries, including women who have been trained in the elections programme from 2004/2005 and 2009/2010, should be used to refine capacity building strategies further. GL should also draw from the lessons of the think tank meeting held with Hivos and Akina Mama wa Afrika in December 2010: Support to women leaders: Lessons Learned and Strategies for the Future. This shows that there is need for much more creative thinking on how to support women in leadership, building on the on-the-job approach that GL developed with the City of Johannesburg and is now taking forward with various Councils around the region.

Gender Justice: The most contested terrain among gender NGOs, GL has successfully defined its niche in this area by moving from campaigns to action plans and now pioneering pilot projects in the three countries where GL has offices (South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius) to develop gender violence indicators. This work has the potential to be cascaded across the region, especially in countries where GL has project sites.

However as currently constituted the gender justice portfolio is a misnomer in that currently it focuses exclusively on gender violence. Gender justice is much broader and should include economic justice, and area of work that is not well covered in the SADC region. GL has worked closely with GEMSA in the campaign for the recognition of care work, a good example of an economic justice initiative. It has also promoted the economic provisions of the Protocol through Business Unusual media training seminars linked to the Protocol. The Gender and Soccer 2010 campaign (Score a goal for Gender Equality: Halve Gender Violence by 2015) is an example of a campaign that has the twin goals of empowering women economically as well as strengthening advocacy on ending gender violence. It provides a useful precedent for broadening the conceptual scope of the gender justice portfolio to make the point that women’s rights are not likely to be achieved if they focus narrowly on ending violations and not on the twin imperative of empowering women to be able to claim their rights.

Making the links
While GL’s programmes often appear like four silos they are in fact a spider’s web that intertwines very closely. For example, the gender, elections and media training straddles the media and governance programmes; it has been the subject of GMDC debates; has led to the development of the gender and leadership score cards; provided several articles for the Opinion and Commentary Service and featured in several GMDC journals. The SADC Gender Protocol Alliance work features in all our programmes. Going forward there is need to ensure even closer synergies between our programmes. Internally this is being facilitated through all core programmes being placed under the Deputy Director, who serves as the Director of Programmes.

Stepping backwards in order to step forwards
In all its programme work GL has developed a unique way of working that moves from research and baseline studies, to advocacy (using the media) to policies and action plans; to on-the-job training and capacity building as part of backstopping these action plans; to summits that bring together, affirm and award best practices back to conducting research that measures progress. A vast number of strategies and policies have now been developed in the media, governance and justice work. Like the parable of the sewer, GL has “sown the seeds” far and wide. Some have fallen on fertile ground, others on rocky soil. There is need to step back and re- strategise, nourishing those seeds that are growing well and working out strategies for those that fell on rocky soil. This is the essence of what needs to happen in all three programme areas, where we need in some cases to step backwards in order to step forwards.

From problem to solution
Internally there is need for a more solution oriented approach by all staff who tend to defer often to senior management and refer to minor, solvable problems as crises when they are not. A crisis is defined as death, disaster, destruction. Having insufficient evaluation forms, not knowing a person’s email address etc is not a crisis. For every problem there is a solution. This starts with changing the language we use, being proactive; taking a moment to stop and think; exercising Judgment; knowing what decisions you can make and making them; knowing what decisions you cannot make and not making them; thinking through all the steps required in a particular activity, making lists; avoiding blame and taking time to reflect on all major activities, particularly within the unit most directly involved.

Who are we going to take with us?

GL is an organisation built on partnerships. Before we had offices and project sites in other countries we operated entirely through partners and associates. With our new offices, national level partnerships have been strengthened. Each year in preparation for the Board meeting GL compiles a list of and evaluates its partners. Partners are also invited to evaluate Gender Links.   The table below summarises partners and value they add.

Question Media Governance Justice Alliance
Who are the partners? Training institutions; GEMSA chapters; Media houses; Regulatory authorities; GMDC partners, Media NGOS â € “ e.g. MISA, MMPA. National gender machineries (Gender ministries and formal structures, Attorney General (Mauritius; Botswana); Min of Health; Local government ministries; local government associations;   NGOs working with local government & other governance   areas (WiPSU, etc) National, gender machineries, Local and regional NGOs working in GBV e.g. SOS femme;WLSA offices;   Research councils in Mauritius and RSA; religious organisations; community groups (Orange farm) ; UNIFEM Faith Based organizations; GEMSA chapters; SADC Secretariat; 40 regional NGOs on 6 thematic   areas; FEMNET, National gender machineries; individual experts, UNIFEM
What value do they add Visibility to GL work; promoting gender equality in and through the media;   facilitate our entry for training of media professionals;   entry for media policies Government ministries e.g. Gender machineries, local gvt min & local authorities:   are powerful, have structures to reach our targets, make decisions â € “ therefore influence implementation of policies, strategies and plans GL helps to develop. Give in kind support to GL- e.g. office space, venues, leverage our work through increasing   the outreach Established NGOs   bring experience, enhance credibility & weight of in-country projects;
Religious organizations in Mauritius -help increase outreach; understand the link between religion and GBV;
Established NGOs bring experience, enhance credibility & weight of in-country projects; brings expertise that GL does not have e.g. economic justice; sexual reproduction. Health; knowledge creation;
Individuals â € “ bring expertise and experience; FEMNET â € “ access to regional & intâ € ™l platforms

Assessing partnerships

While GL has benefited enormously from partnerships, not all have been beneficial. In many instances GL has carried most of the work load and then at times been accused of hijacking initiatives by partners who have not carried their share of the load. We have become wiser in drawing up and insisting on MOUs with partners. But there is need to be more systematic about these, as well as greater willingness to pull out of partnerships that are not working.

How will we sustain ourselves?

Sustaining the people

Recruitment: We need to widen our selection process e.g. regional and international advertising so we can reach other parts of Africa. We need to improve interview processes e.g. more panels (first panel GL staff already in the area; second panel: management.) We must check references including last job.

Staff development: Training needs have already been identified, now we have to make time for training including completing it. Some training should be optional. Other courses should be compulsory for all e.g.   the SADC Protocol.

Wellness: We should allow a settling in period especially for new external staff   to familiarise themselves with the job for example one to one meetings with existing staff; assist in activities (learning on- the- job); and time to set up home. Everybody should be given the opportunity each year to contribute ideas for wellness and ensure that activities are diverse enough to include everybody. We should also ensure that everybody receives the same due consideration e.g. in case of bereavement / illness.

Early warning signs: Each unit should elect a representative to the wellness committee that should meet monthly and discuss any cases of stress or distress that should immediately be drawn to the attention of respective managers, as well as the ED if appropriate.

Financial sustainability

Fund raising: There is need for a multi prong strategy that includes:

  • A senior management task team to strengthen fund raising efforts.
  • Capacity building in proposal writing and building fund raising/cost recovery/cost sharing into the KPIs of all senior managers.
  • With the establishment of satellite offices and field offices, exploring the possibility of raising funds at national level.
  • Sharing costs with partners ~ e.g. universities hosting GL workshops e.g. Mauritius.

Self sustaining activities: In the long term, GL should look to develop a whole business entity, ceded off the current key work of GL, but is still informed by the GL mission. This can proceed in various stages as follows:


  • Publications promotion â € “ space within existing bookshops/outlets
  • Advisory Services.
  • Getting GL accredited as a training institution.
  • Marketing GL Intellectual property e.g. systems, proposal writing skills, M&E
  • A brochure and advertising through the Internet.

Medium term

  • Radio (on-line radio station).
  • Own bookshop (commercial spin).
  • Own publications.
  • Like minded publications from other partners, research material

Long term

  • Own radio station, fully fledged, maybe even satellite.
  • Own television station.

How will we know that we are on the right track?

In 2009/2010 GL, with the support of DFID’s Governance and Transparency Fund, made considerable efforts to strengthen its Monitoring and Evaluation. In particular, we started to move from an overriding concern with getting the work done to asking the more important value-for-money question: has the work made a difference. From 1 May 2010 GL will have a full time manager of the Monitoring and Evaluation as well as advisory services portfolio to oversee the work of the systems administrator.

Planning and reporting systems
We are now administering a large number of forms that assess who participates in our work; their attitudes to gender; what they know about the SADC Protocol, how they evaluate training received; how they evaluate our publications; and various score cards of how they view progress and processes on core issues. We have learned from a number of mistakes with regard to designing forms, and linking administrative information to the various forms so that they can be disaggregated by sex, age, locality etc.

Using information effectively
GL’s major challenge is to design ways of analysing and making use of the data gathered. We need to watching for clues and trends – before it’s too late – and feed  these into the more qualitative/ longitudinal studies. We also need to look at information across programmes and identify markers (e.g. quarterly)  to see what the information we have tells us so that we can make changes where necessary. A case in point is the cyber dialogues where we found after the fact that although this programme is designed to empower women in the use of ICTs the majority of participants are in fact men. This is a signal that we need to strengthen mobilisation and capacity building among women before we run cyber dialogues.

How to collect qualitative information

Ten years of GL

GL is still weak on collecting qualitative information. We need a systematic way of gathering all the testimonial evidence that we receive regarding our work. We also need to interrogate the case studies that we receive through the justice and media summits each year and use these to better inform our work.

Outcomes and impact studies
Ten years since GL’s inception we are now in a position to at least ask about the outcome if not the impact of our work. A major undertaking in 2010 will be the longitudinal study of all the beneficiaries of our work. This should be designed in such a way that this information is gathered more systematically going forward and that studies of this nature can be periodically repeated. While research concerning what has changed in society, for example the Gender and Media Progress Study cannot be attributed to GL alone, it is very important to engage with the results of these studies in relation to our own work as ultimately these are the “change” questions that we need to be able to answer.

Planning for the publication we plan to launch on our tenth birthday in March 2011 needs to begin early in 2010. It should have a close fit to our external evaluation, the longitudinal study of beneficiaries, and include quantitative as well as qualitative aspects. In particular, following in the vein of the “Learning Journey” (annual staff reflections of what they have learned on-the-job) this publication needs to include a great deal of self-reflection and learning.

Getting lost and finding the way

We have in the past and will in the future make mistakes. This is as inevitable as light and day. The issue is not whether we make mistakes, but whether we learn from them. A hiker who gets lost has to exercise every faculty: physical, emotional, and intellectual. Those who find their way most quickly are those who recognise that they are lost and are solution-oriented. GL needs to develop a stronger culture of using Monitoring and Evaluation to recognise when we are off course and to self correct. Documenting lessons learned should be a standard part of any major project, reports to donors and annual reports to the Board. Like the hiker who finds their way and never takes that particular wrong turn again, the lessons we learn from our mistakes will be the most valuable and the ones that ultimately take GL to the greater heights we envision.