No 'one-size-fits-all' solution for mainstreaming gender in development

Kelly Cronen, director of gender practice, Chemonics International. Photo by: Chemonics

One of the main challenges of mainstreaming gender issues into development programs is dealing with country-specific contexts.

According to Kelly Cronen, Chemonics’ director of gender practice and a former anti-trafficking adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development, there’s just “no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.”

“What the gender issues may be for women in Jordan may be completely different from what women are facing in Afghanistan,” she said in an interview with Devex. “Responses need to be tailored to each country context.”

Cronen gave the example of how Jordan — in theory a progressive Muslim nation — has only three women shelters, while deeply conservative but “donor-driven” Afghanistan has many more.

Here are a few excerpts from our conversation with the Chemonics expert on gender and human trafficking issues.

What are main challenges for mainstreaming gender in development programs?

One of the things we’re trying to overcome is these cultural, societal norms that have put women in restrictive … roles. But when implementing partners are trying to change that, they themselves have a hard time .. breaking out of traditional gender norms. It’s a big learning [experience] for all partners involved to rethink exactly what it means to mainstream gender. Once you go into more more specific issue and country contexts … the big challenge is that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. What the gender issues may be for women in Jordan may be completely different from what women are facing in Afghanistan. Responses need to be tailored to each country context.

Can you share examples of when you had to do some tailor-fitting yourself?

One of the things I was really shocked to see in Jordan was that there are only three shelters for women in the whole country … and the culture is very restrictive [toward] shelters for women facing violence, trafficking or other forms of gender-based violence. But in Afghanistan, there were more than 15 shelters … it’s much easier to operate a shelter and there is government support. You would think of Jordan as a progressive Middle Eastern country, but it turns out it is more difficult to support women’s shelters there than in Afghanistan. I was completely prepared to assume the opposite … and sometimes I wonder if Afghanistan is so donor-driven that it’s all the international donors that have been influential in setting up the shelters there, and therefore shaping the community response to these issues and what resources the community has to address them.

What would you highlight from projects and strategies you developed during your work against trafficking of women and girls?

I think there’s a tendency in the anti-trafficking community to say that awareness raising is the main component of prevention, and we often miss the boat on things like what are the push-and-pull factors that make people enter trafficking. The push factors are obviously any vulnerabilities that make them susceptible, like economic hardship, trouble at home, unstable family life — there need to be more programs that address that.

The pull factor is also overlooked … One of the things that’s always been in my soap box is that there aren’t adequate refugee protection mechanisms available to victims of trafficking. A lot of times, the system automatically assumes that destination countries are doing a proper job of identifying victims of trafficking, providing them any type of assistance they need in the country before sending them home, but what I found in Albania was that it’s not the case there. [Often] when victims are picked up, it’s much easier to assume that they’re illegal migrants, that they’ve broken migration laws, so they’re forcibly deported back home. Jordan has a huge number of potential trafficking victims, but they’re sent to prison instead of a shelter, and if they go to a police station they’re not given a translator.

The destination countries are not set up to identify the victims of trafficking. I saw a lot of victims [of forced repatriation] … that if they wanted to press charges against their trafficker, there were no adequate mechanisms to protect them [even] if they are no longer safe in their home country. For me that’s a huge gap.

Want to learn more? Check out She Builds and tweet us using #SheBuilds.

She Builds is a month-long conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with Chemonics, Creative Associates, JBS International, the Millennium Challenge Corp., United Nations Office for Project Services and U.K. Department for International Development.

About the author

  • Sharmila Parmanand

    Sharmila is currently an instructor at the University of Vermont. She has a master’s degree in gender and development and has supervised and conducted research projects on human trafficking and related issues. She has also worked as a debate and public-speaking consultant in more than 20 countries.

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