GL@15: Change brewed in a feminist cooking pot

GL@15: Change brewed in a feminist cooking pot

Date: July 11, 2016
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Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action in 1995, all nations have pledged themselves to programmes for women’s advancement. The nations of Southern Africa are no different: all except two have signed up to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2008. Phrases such as “gender mainstreaming” and “women’s empowerment’ slip lightly off the tongues of presidents and ministers. Governments have established laws and policies on gender equality, and established Ministries of Gender to implement these policies. But it is not that simple. In many areas gender gaps have remained stubbornly large.

Why is this? My explanation is that many of these policies have evaporated in an African patriarchal cooking pot.[1] One aspect of this cooking pot is the so-called “lack of political will”. This begins when government leaders sign international conventions and declarations to ensure political respectability on human rights, and ensure that donor grants and loans continue to flow into the country. Often such gestures lack any real commitment to challenge the pervasive patriarchy of traditional society and its system of governance.

A government bureaucracy charged with implementing gender policies is not simply an administrative machine which follows policy directives in a mechanical matter. A government bureaucracy has its own culture and value system which includes a traditional system of patriarchy – male domination of positions and decisions for the continuation of male privilege both within the bureaucracy and in the larger society. This means, in practice, that gender activists – both within these bureaucracies and in the wider society – may have a hard time trying to push a government bureaucracy to take meaningful action. Some examples include:

  • Reducing the concept of women’s empowerment from women’s increased control over their own lives and participation in public decision making, to a concept of women’s improved welfare and access to resources;
  • Reducing the concept of equal rights for women to a concept of women being more fairly accommodated within the existing patriarchal structural inequality;
  • Reducing the well defined term ‘gender equality’ (be eliminating gender gaps) to a vaguer concept of ‘gender equity’.
  • Selecting for employment within the bureaucracy women who are not gender activists, and are instead amenable to women’s accommodation within a patriarchal system, rather than within a system of equal rights;
  • Failing to identify gender issues in a situation analysis, or otherwise identifying gender issues that never translate into program goals to address these issues;
  • Identifying gender goals which never translate into gender objectives;
  • Failing to identify gender objectives, but claiming that all activities are conducted in a ‘gender sensitive way’.
  • Making a separate gender element within a programme, instead of mainstreaming attention to gender issues in all aspects of the project;
  • Appointing a gender specialist to a programme who has no seniority nor position to influence program planning, implementation or evaluation;
  • Using ”‘window dressing” techniques, such as putting gender oriented words into all project documents to give a false impression of a gender oriented programme.

Strategies for change brewed in a feminist pot include:

  • Alliances of women’s organizations concerned with activism to work together to recognise the patriarchal resistance of many implementing agencies towards gender policies;
  • Concerted collection action, including international networking, to analyze the workings of the patriarchal pot, and to work together on developing alternative strategies aimed at breaking the patriarchal pot;
  • Obtaining external funding for civil society organizations for the implementation of key gender equality programs;
  • Put proposals to international NGOs for funding for gender equality programmes;
  • Finding allies within government bureaucracies to gradually breakdown patriarchal resistance to gender equality programmes;
  • Work with sympathetic elements within government to develop a cadre of femocrats (female feminist bureaucrats) to work at the highest levels to break down the culture of the patriarchal pot.
  • Working with government to implement selected programs which are considered to be sufficiently gender focused;
  • Write shadow reports, from the perspective of the women’s movement, on government reports of progress in implementing international commitments;
  • Producing regular sex-disaggregated reports to monitor progress towards gender equality;
  • Dialogue with government on areas of unsatisfactory progress towards gender equality, and make demands for definite progress.

Written by Sara Hlupekile Longwe, GL Board Member