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Addressing Rural Gender Issues: A Framework for Leadership and Mobilisation

7. Gender Mainstreaming in Programme Planning
It follows from the above analysis that any rural development programme must, as part of its basic process of planning and implementation, leave space for the participation and mobilization of women. This means leaving space for the process of empowerment, by which women can work within the programme for the recognition and analysis of gender issues, and their collective action to address these issues.

This is what we mean by gender mainstreaming within a development programme. Gender issues should not be treated as a separate issue, nor should 'gender orientation' be treated merely as a style of implementation. On the contrary, the identification of gender issues, and the formulation of objectives and strategies to address these issues, must be central and intrinsic within the development plan.

A development plan should typically present itself as a rational argument, pursued by logical connections along the following sequence:

Elements of a Strategic Development Plan

Situation Analysis
Policy Imperatives
Problem Identification
Formulation of Goals
Intervention Strategies
Implementation Strategies
Implementation Sequence
Management System
System of Monitoring and Evaluation

In this sequence, it is common for a programme's interest in gender issues to be either entirely missing from the above sequence, or otherwise to fade away as the programme document proceeds from Situation Analysis in the direction of Implementation and Management. Therefore, it is important that gender orientation should be found at the beginning of a development plan, and that this interest should be properly and rationally maintained throughout the planning and implementing sequence, without fading away or suddenly disappearing. (In terms of the above Women's Empowerment Framework, one type of 'fade-away' can be seen in a programme plan where goals are clearly concerned with increasing women's control over resources, but the subsequent objectives are strangely 'watered down', and are concerned only with distribution of welfare benefits to women, or with providing women with increased access to resources).

We shall now look at the first seven elements of the above logical sequence of a development plan, with a view to explicating the planning sequence, and at the same time seeing how gender issues go missing, or otherwise fade away.

Situation Analysis refers to the initial review of the situation in the area that is of interest to the plan, particularly to mention the various problem situations that might need to be addressed by the plan. In any rural development situation, we should expect the analysis to include the various gender issues that stand in the way of equitable development, and which perhaps equally impede the development process. In practice, gender issues may disappear from a programme plan at this stage, if the situational analysis provides little or no information on gender gaps and the discriminatory practices which underlie them. It is a good general rule that gender gaps should be revealed by the routine gender disaggregation of all socio-economic data.

Policy Imperatives refer to those aspects of the policy environment that are relevant when deciding what to do about the given situation. In the area of gender, a development programme is subject to the principles and goals accepted by all parties in international agreements and conventions (notably the 1995 UN Beijing Declaration and Platform, and the 1979 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women). National governments and development agencies also have their own gender policies, which to some extent reflect and contextualise the international agreements to which they are party. But in practice it is common for a development plan to outline general development principles, but to overlook gender principles.

Problem Identification. In terms of formal planning logic, no situation can be said to present a problem unless there are policy principles that dictate which aspects of the situation are unacceptable. It is these unacceptable aspects that present the problems on which action must be taken. Despite this formal logic, many problems are identified as 'obvious', and may indeed be so. But the 'obvious' aspects of problem identification tend to be notably missing in the area of gender. Whereas many ordinary problems are 'obvious' without recourse to looking at the policy, gender issues tend to get overlooked, along with the gender policy itself. Gender issues may be overlooked as being 'political' in plans that take a technical or purely economic perspective. They may be overlooked where the vocabulary is gender neutral, in terms of 'people', 'farmers', 'target group', 'beneficiaries', and so on, which provide an easy formula for gender blind treatment of development issues. Most of all, gender issues are likely to be overlooked by male planners who are definitely not interested in recognizing or addressing issues of gender inequality. For the identification of (glaring!) gender issues, it may be necessary to wave the gender policy in the planners' faces before the existence of gender issues can be admitted.

Formulation of Goals should follow naturally from problem identification, where a goal may be summarized as an expressed intention to address a problem, perhaps with a statement of intended quantified outcomes, to be achieved in a specified time. In terms of gender issues, the goal should simply state the intention to address and eliminate the gender issue, for instance by ending a discriminatory practice, and by closing a gender gap.

Intervention Strategies. The logic in moving from goal to intervention strategy is that the chosen intervention, in order to be effective, must tackle one or more of the underlying causes of the given problem. But with poor planning, the intervention is merely considered to be a 'good thing to do', without any established causal connection with the original problem. In the case of gender issues, we should expect that an intervention strategy must be effective by addressing the underlying causes of the gender issue, and feasible in terms of previous experience, and in terms of anticipating, countering or bypassing patriarchal opposition. Strategies of information, communication and mobilization can never be good strategies 'in themselves', but need to be justified in terms of achieving goals, and addressing underlying causes (e.g. Is lack of information actually a root cause of the problem being addressed? Or is it merely a symptom of a larger underlying problem?). For gender orientation, strategies need to be justified by their contribution to the process of women's empowerment, as a means towards addressing gender issues. (Conversely, women should not be the passive recipients of information, distributed from an information center which imagines it knows best. Such processes may be disempowering).

Implementation Strategies. It is often useful to distinguish between the higher level intervention strategy and the lower level implementation strategies. There may be many different alternative strategies for the implementation of any given intervention strategy. For example, the goal of access to agricultural information may be achieved by the intervention strategy of increasing women's literacy. Increasing women's literacy may be achieved by various alternative implementation strategies, such as increased formal schooling for girls, adult literacy classes, each one teach one, etc. For gender orientation, the appropriateness of an information strategy needs to be assessed partly by its effectiveness in distributing information, and partly by its effectiveness in promoting the larger process of women's empowerment.

Objectives are the expression of the more specific and more detailed intention of implementation purpose, especially in terms of activities and intended outcomes. Very often an implementation strategy is not properly identified or even justified, but may be deduced by its being implicit within a list of objectives. In the area of gender, programme objectives typically do not show any intention to address gender issues. If a planner or project manager is challenged on why the goals and objectives are gender blind, it is common (in this author's experience) to get the response that 'our project is very gender oriented, because our staff are all very gender aware, and our implementation is gender sensitive'. Such an answer, which is infuriating and useless, may arise from ignorance or dishonesty. The plain truth of the matter is that the gender orientation of programmes is about recognizing and addressing gender issues. The intention to do so must be clearly made explicit in the goals and objectives, and in the description of the implementation process. Even then, it is very difficult to push implementing agencies to actually do the job, because they prefer an easy life, and do not wish to get implicated in upsetting the existing patriarchal social order.

A gender oriented objective may be an outcome objective, concerned with closing gender gaps, or ending a discriminatory practice. Or a gender-oriented objective may be a process objective, concerned with the activities and social process by which the outcome is to be achieved. The process of women's empowerment is just as important as the resulting outcomes in closing gender gaps. Even if women's collective action fails to make much progress in closing a gender gap, women of the community have learnt much from the process of collective mobilization around gender issues. This may be even more important than the material results, because even if they failed this time, they may have learned enough to succeed next time! Empowerment is a cumulative process!

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