Our Gender Transformative Approach: Tackling The Root Causes Of Gender Inequality

Blogpost by Alex Munive, Plan International Head of Gender Equality and Inclusion.
24 January 2019

Back in 2017 we in Plan International decided to adopt a gender transformative approach so that all, and I mean all our programme and influence work would make significant contributions to gender equality. Nowhere in today’s world, girls and boys, women and men are treated equally and only through a gender transformative approach will we be able to tackle this. Gender inequality affects us all but is particularly unfair to girls and women. Being a girl or a woman most often means being valued less, having fewer opportunities and less pay for the same job, and facing stronger barriers to rights and more gender-based violence than their male peers. Although boys and men often benefit from this inequality, they also experience a fair share of negative consequences. Society traditionally imposes strict expectations upon them, such as showing strength and hiding feelings. These expectations get in the way of building healthy relationships and often lead them to high-risk behaviours. A gender transformative approach aspires to change this reality. It tackles the root causes of gender inequality and reshapes unequal power relations.

How to practically address root causes in projects or policies? Should we focus on equal opportunities or equal outcomes for girls? How exactly do we go about creating lasting change? These are among the questions I get asked frequently by staff and partners across the world. My typical answer is that our gender transformative approach for programming and influencing is our solution. I underline, however, that gender transformation is a gradual and complex journey yet an incredibly rewarding one. It is not a straightforward or simple path that can be taken alone or made with a simple checklist. We must invest time and energy in a concerted way to reach our shared destination, and involve the many partners throughout the different interrelated stations along the way. We all have a role to play in getting there. We must continuously reflect and explore new ways of working while remaining open to engage with different actors, partners and organisations.

A gender transformative approach aspires to change this reality. It tackles the root causes of gender inequality and reshapes unequal power relations.

To facilitate and articulate a clear vision of what and how to implement a gender transformative approach we have identified six essential elements which are interconnected and mutually reinforcing:

  1. It is paramount to understand and address how gender norms influence children throughout their life-course, from birth to adulthood;
  2. We need to strengthen girls’ and young women’s agency over the decisions that affect them, as well as to build their knowledge, confidence, skills and access to and control over resources;
  3. For a truly gender transformative approach we need to work with and support boys, young men and men to embrace positive masculinities and to promote gender equality, while also achieving meaningful results for them;
  4. A one size fits all solution simply does not work. We need to consider girls, boys, young women and young men in all their diversity when identifying and responding to their needs and interests;
  5. We need to both improve the conditions (daily needs) but most importantly focus our work in improving the social position (value or status) of girls and young women;
  6. To ensure a sustainable outcome we need to foster an enabling environment (including with policies) where all stakeholders work together to support children and youth on their journey towards gender equality.
Girl smiling while playing

Our approach encourages critical reflection, questioning and challenging of gender norms. It also challenges the distribution of resources and roles based on a person’s gender. It aims to foster an enabling policy, budgetary and institutional framework for gender equality, that adequately protects girls’ and women’s rights, tackles the barriers they face and meets their particular needs. It requires working at all levels (as individual, within family and relationships, as communities, institutions and societies) and across a person’s life course. On top of that, it involves active listening and continuous engagement with power holders, with girls, boys, women, and men, and people of other gender identities. Of course, such a process  complex, highly context-specific and time consuming, but gender equality cannot be achieved by just one intervention, project or programme alone. Gender transformation can help us to accelerate change and tackle the root causes of gender inequality.

Our organisation’s commitment to ensuring that all our work contributes to gender equality and girls’ rights was a real turning point. Imagine if more organisations would make the same strategic choice. Collectively we can maximise our impact on gender equality.

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