By Ezgi Akarsu, Programme Manager, Accountable Now
Today, people around the world are celebrating International Women’s Day (IWD), marking the achievements of women over the years and the progress we have made towards equal rights and opportunities. At the same time, this is a day to acknowledge how far we still have to go, as we continue to overcome barriers in the push for gender equality.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality is one of Accountable Now’s 12 Accountability Commitments. Our members have committed to understanding and addressing the root causes and effects of discrimination and gender inequality, empowering women and girls to live more fulfilled lives, and working across of levels of society, including with men and boys, to drive positive change towards gender equality. They have also agreed to lead by example, reflecting these commitments in their internal operations.
To inspire you, we are sharing two innovative approaches to gender equality from our members, as well as some thought-provoking data on how far we still have to go.
A non-binary approach to gender and the importance of language
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceforBetter, highlighting the importance of gender balance in order for economies and communities to thrive, and calling for a gender-balanced world.
The word balance often prompts us to think of two opposing forces that must be reconciled. However, when it comes to gender this can be a harmful approach, especially for those who do not identify clearly as either/only male or female.
Our member CARE International acknowledges that gender is not binary, and that language related to gender and sexuality is diverse and continues to evolve. They recognise that “rigid gender norms limit people of all genders and sexual orientations by creating and reinforcing assumptions and systems of privilege… about their recognition in society and the range of roles and opportunities open to them,” and that this can limit individuals whose identities and sexual orientations do not conform with norms and expectations.
As such, CARE’s gender policy, which guides the incorporation of gender in programmatic and organisational practice, refers to “all genders and ages” in order to cover individuals of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
Coming back to this year’s IWD theme, Balance for Better, we must avoid thinking of gender equality as a balance between women and men, but consider how we can reduce inequalities and power imbalances between people of all identities – those who are cisgender, transgender, and who identify beyond binaries.
Another organisation going beyond the obvious in their approach to gender is ARTICLE 19. Their cross-cutting and intersectional gender strategy, the Mx Method, focuses on women, girls and LGBTQI persons as both beneficiaries and agents of change, and incorporates feminist thinking into the organisation’s core strategy and operations, to question norms and deconstruct power structures.
The goal is “optimal inclusiveness” and ARTICLE 19 is working to reduce as many barriers to their activities and resources as possible. The Mx Method goes beyond the obvious barriers experienced by women and LGBTWI persons to explore more complex, lesser known or understood factors. The below image shows this approach in the context of women’s and LGBTQI persons’ ability to exercise freedom of expression and information.
Gender is not considered in silo, but as an intersectional issue to be considered together with other forms of identity such as race, age, ability, nationality, ethnicity or religion. As such, the Mx Method leads to progress and positive outcomes not just in terms of gender, but for other forms of identity as well.
You can read more about the Mx Method in ARTICLE 19’s accountability report, pp. 18-21.
Looking within: gender equality inside civil society organsiations
Both of the above examples and approaches cover not just the programmatic work these organisations undertake, but also their internal operations. As civil society organisations push for gender equality in the economic, political, cultural, and social spheres, it is just as important that they practice gender equality within their own organisations.
However, recent findings suggest that there is significant room for improvement. A new campaign calling on civil society organisations to match the percentage of women in their staff with the percentage of women in leadership positions today released the Fair Share Monitor. The Monitor presents data on women in leadership in 30 CSOs and shows that at least half of these organisations still have a majority of men in their Senior Management Teams and Boards. Although on average 70% of employees are women, they tend to occupy just 30% of leadership positions. Only five of the organisations surveyed had achieved a fair share of women in leadership positions.
This is despite the fact that many of these organisations have gender equality policies in place and are in principle committed to providing equal opportunities to their staff. We clearly need to consider what is preventing the translation of these values and commitments into results.
As we think about steps we can take to improve we should consider intersectionality, the impact of forms of identity beyond gender, and lesser known or understood barriers to progress. Finally, we must remember that gender is more complex than a binary, and strive for equity and equality for people of all identities as we work towards #BalanceforBetter.
Continuing the discussion
If you’d like to hear more about some of the points in this blog, ask questions, and share your thoughts with us, join our webinar on 14 March. Helene Wolf from Fair Share will talk about their Monitor’s findings and Judy Taing from ARTICLE 19 will share more about their Mx Method.