Here's how organizations can achieve equality, gender experts tell UN forum

Members of the Gender Practitioners Collective after their session at the United Nations Church Center. Photo by: Amy Lieberman / Devex

Gender experts at leading international development and humanitarian organizations are cutting across professional boundaries to show how institutions can foster gender equality internally — and ultimately improve development outcomes.

The experts from organizations including World Vision, Plan International, ACDI-VOCA, Land O’Lakes International Development and Mercy Corps have created a set of eight core recommendations — or “Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality” — which they say can make a difference in building a safer, more diverse and more transparent workplace.

Gender mainstreaming is the process of considering the needs and experiences of both women and men in programming and policies to help attain equality.

As a result, the recommendations can also help towards meeting all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals, including SDG 5, which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030, the experts say.

And implementing them is not as expensive — or complicated — as it might initially appear, they told Devex.

“We have found that when we go out to talk about gender mainstreaming the approach so often is, ‘I want to do it and see gender mainstreaming, but I don't know how to do it.’ And the standards should provide a useful starting place for a framework, where they can figure out how to do it. I think that is very valuable,” said Marcia Odell, senior director for strategy implementation and gender equality at Plan International USA.

Odell and four other United States-based gender experts from the collective Gender Practitioners Collaborative presented the standards at the United Nations Church Center on Wednesday. They spoke on the sidelines of the ongoing U.N. High-Level Political Forum on SDGs, where senior government representatives and civil society members are gathered in New York through July 19 for a second check-up on the SDGs.

The standards offer concrete but flexible measures that development and humanitarian organizations can use in the implementation of the SDGs, the gender experts said.

“The framework we have set up in the standards makes it scalable to an organization’s size and a project’s size and we did that on purpose.”

— Meredith Saggers, senior manager of monitoring, evaluation and learning at Land O’Lakes International Development

They include recommendations for institutions to: Adopt a gender equality policy; develop organizational culture and capacity for gender equality; conduct and utilize gender analyses; allocate budget resources for gender equality; utilize sex- and age- disaggregated data; develop gender equality indicators; perform risk and “do no harm” assessments; and establish accountability mechanisms in the workspace.

“The framework we have set up in the standards makes it scalable to an organization’s size and a project’s size and we did that on purpose,” said Meredith Saggers, senior manager of monitoring, evaluation and learning at development NGO Land O’Lakes International Development.

“All of us are different sizes and we have different abilities to fund portions of this. So your minimum standard might look different depending on who you are and what your funding is. It could be very expensive if you are going to budget a lot of money for capacity building, etc., but done in a more minimal way, you are still [moving] towards achieving these standards.”

All of Gender Practitioners Collaborative’s 14 organizations — which also include CARE and Save the Children — are at different stages in achieving the standards. They also vary in how many staff they have working on gender mainstreaming — a focus, the experts explained during the Wednesday afternoon session, which goes beyond gender, and taps into all forms of inequality that could exist within an organization and its programs.

Attendees at the session — from small NGOs to large institutions such as the Pan American Health Organization — were divided into groups to brainstorm what they guessed the eight standards might be. Many of the initial suggestions — such as equal pay and gender parity across the organization — reflected the ultimate goal of the standards, gender equality, rather than the means by which it could be achieved.

The collaborative formed as an ad hoc effort in 2014, as a way of seeing if people working in parallel positions but for sometimes competing organizations could “break down barriers and talk about mainstreaming,” said Jenn Williamson, senior director for gender and social inclusion at the international development NGO ACDI/VOCA. Work on the standards followed the subsequent year, as discussions shifted to each organization’s existing policies.

“It was designed to be an opportunity to work behind closed doors and be honest about where we are facing challenges in gender mainstreaming to support each other and gender advisers. Often, you don’t get to have that frank and honest open discussion,” Williamson said.

After multiple consultations and surveys of more than 800 people at both U.S.-based NGOs and networks representing the “global South,” the group formally released the standards on International Women’s Day, March 8. Ten organizations have so far signed on, and, while funding for the group is minimal, work will continue over the next few years to share their recommendations. Organizations including the U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have expressed interest.

“It’s an amazing example of how organizations can collaborate across borders to advance something bigger outside the organization,” said Kelly Fish, a senior gender advisor at Mercy Corps.

“One of our objectives is socializing them and helping to demystify what we mean when we talk about mainstreaming gender equality.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.