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WHO ARE WE? The Gender Learning in Action Community (GLAC) is a co-creation by people of: CIVICUS (Johannesburg, South Africa) Dorcas Aid International (Andijk, NL) IICD (The Hague, NL) Justitia et Pax (The Hague, NL) Multicultural Women Peacemakers Network (Rotterdam, NL) PSO Capacity Building in Developing Countries (The Hague, NL) TIE-Netherlands (Amsterdam, NL) Van Hall Larenstein, University of Applied Science (Wageningen, NL) WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform (The Hague, NL) Radboud University Nijmegen (Nijmegen, NL)

INTRODUCTION WHY START A GENDER LEARNING IN ACTION COMMUNITY? The importance of gender equality is acknowledged by most development organisations. Some have explicitly formulated gender policies, while others who haven’t are nonetheless committed to responding to the needs of both women and men. Yet many organisations struggle to translate ambitions for gender equality and results into specific, contextual strategies. The Gender Learning in Action Community (GLAC) came together to address this challenge: How can we translate our intentions to achieve gender equality into meaningful practice on the ground? Efforts to put gender policies into effective practice have been successful, but have also met with challenges and obstacles. We want to take the endeavour one step forward, and to learn how to get ourselves, other people and organisations inspired to work on gender equality, and how to give further substance to that work. We believe that sustainable solutions do not necessarily arise from theory but from actual practice and real life experiences. Working on gender equality requires engaging different stakeholders at the place where inequality or injustice is experienced, in order to stimulate a dialogue on gender concepts as well as strategies. In this booklet we share our experiences of learning to work on gender, in the hope of inspiring others. We have clustered our experiences and lessons in five themes. We conclude with thirteen final lessons.

HOW? We embarked on an 18-month gender learning process, based on practical action research and learning methodologies, and focusing on both individual and organisational learning. The most burning questions and dilemmas regarding the gender policy and practice of participants were put centre-stage and subjected to continuous reflection, to thus develop our knowledge and refine our actions. The process consisted of the following methods: Formulating and carrying out a gender learning proposal by participants and their partner(s).

Eleven learning events during which (1) participants shared their individual experiences and lessons learnt, (2) guest speakers were invited to speak about their gender practice, and (3) consultation sessions (‘peer supervision’) among the participants were held.

Involvement of two ‘critical friends’ from academic institutions, who supported the learning and reflection through feedback and input.

Participants wrote two reflection reports (mid-term and final) on their experiences and new insights. Individual coaching of organisations by the process coordinators between the learning events.



GENDER LEARNING-INACTION APPROACH TESSA ROORDA (PSO) SOPHIE KESSELAAR (WO=MEN DUTCH GENDER PLATFORM) ‘We are totally convinced that every person has knowledge about gender. Nevertheless, people often hesitate to access and trust this knowledge, perhaps because it is not always easy to give words to what we know. In the GLAC process, we have seen the beauty of co-created knowledge and own research. It fosters personal commitment, yields deeper understanding, and increases self-confidence. Once people start articulating what they see and know, they often start to personally commit to change. If people do that in and as a group, they create knowledge together and grow committed, both personally and collectively, to a desired goal that they formulated together. If you want to bring about change and make a difference, you have to ask yourself: what is important to me, what do I know, what is my next step? We both consider it an honour and a challenge to facilitate a gender learning process in which participants have the opportunity to co-create their own gender knowledge, and to put those insights into action and to continue learning and improving their practice.’

WHY A LEARNING APPROACH? For many organisations, a key challenge is to translate a gender policy into practice. They acknowledge the need for a gender policy and for an effective implementation to assure gender equality outcomes. Yet all too often, gender policies and mainstreaming bring in checklists, add jargon, and change formats, only to fall short of fundamentally changing the organisation’s course of action. We therefore engage in a process of individual and collective learningin-action. We are pursuing a learning approach that questions the essential principles, underlying beliefs and values on gender relations that shape an organizations’ gender policy and practices. This reflective and tailored gender learning approach helps identify and critically examine the assumptions that govern our behaviour, and to develop skills in testing our assumptions and interpretations. This helps to strengthen gender equality practices. The focus of the gender learning-in-action approach is to reflect on the effect and effectiveness of your own interventions. We seek to trigger shifts in convictions and real changes in behaviour. This requires critical reflection on one’s own practices in one’s own specific organisation. OWNERSHIP The strength of this approach is that it creates ownership and turns organisations and people into the knowledge-holders. This approach taps into the existing knowledge of people and fits with their natural learning processes. Knowledge is co-created by the people who will subsequently apply the new insights. Instead of imposing gender concepts and jargon from outside, the process seeks to provide participants with a safe and tolerant learning environment in which they can build on their own knowledge and insights. The research subject therefore concerns the ‘current state of affairs’ and the learning questions of the participants themselves. By making people the ‘owners’, solutions and created knowledge are effectively incorporated and embodied by staff members. This knowledge is therefore more effective than the knowledge created



and imparted by an external person or consultant. For many, it is a new experience to rely on internal knowledge and to consciously create new knowledge together with stakeholders. It can be hard to let go of the trust placed in externally created knowledge or external experts. It has proven powerful to come together in the organisation and with stakeholders to create and give concrete meaning to one’s own gender language.

‘This trajectory has shown the power of self-generated and co-created knowledge, and how this inspires people to practice change. Concepts and strategies only make sense once translated to specific settings and levels, and when they are related to organisational objectives, priorities and strategies.

FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS Our approach focuses on solutions and the desired results, rather than examining and focusing on the problem. Concentrating one’s attention on the problem can exacerbate the problem. Thinking in solutions, by contrast, fosters positive energy and space for people. We address questions such as: How can we improve our own practice? Who should be involved? What information do we need? Can we test new practice? What works and what does not? This approach requires and stimulates not only reflective but also relational competences: to be skilled at engaging with others. THE LEARNING PROCESS The 18-month long GLAC process proceeded according to these steps: Determining ‘the burning issue’ to effectively work on gender equality; Determining your desired results and change at the end of the learning trajectory; Determining the desired ‘new knowledge and insights’; Setting a baseline and determining how this change will be measured; Designing and performing action research; Intensive and in-depth reflection with partners and stakeholders within the organisation; Recording the outcomes of reflection sessions and lessons learnt; Translating lessons into an organisational action road map for the future.


In my role as ‘critical friend’ to this GLAC process, it is a challenge to find a proper balance in bringing in so-called external and expertise knowledge in ways that nurture, rather than foreclose, the learning process of the participants. The power of self-generated knowledge notwithstanding, I do think it is important that action research and reflection do not close off existing and critical knowledge of others. It is productive and inspiring to invent a wheel, but it might not be the best use of energy to completely reinvent the wheel. Tapping into externally existing insights at the right time can actually allow for a further deepening and sharpening of one’s own learning and knowledge.’


REVISITING GENDER CONCEPTS JAGODA PAUKOVIC (JUSTITIA ET PAX) ‘In war-affected areas such as the DR Congo, a lot of women fall victim to sexual violence. Many NGOs started to form women groups; women leadership became a topic on the development agenda. Men were ignored in this process, they were considered the bad guys. At Justitia et Pax we realised that we cannot address the problem of sexual violence without involving men. So we invite men, religious leaders and village chiefs to meetings. We do not talk about gender, as they had indicated to not be interested in such a discussion. Instead, we ask them to describe their personal experiences in the war. The men are happy to have someone listen to them. Their life stories reveal a lot about their position in society, relationship with women and other men, and the expectations regarding men. They speak about how roles of men and women are changing, and how perceptions of masculinity are changing. Together it becomes clear that these experiences are about gender. Accordingly, the personal stories of men become an entry point to address sexual violence in communities with the active participation of both men and women.’

WHICH DEFINITION? In the early stages of this GLAC, we had a discussion that is typical when beginning a gender and change process: Which definition of gender is best to use? Gender is a term heavily debated by academics and development professionals. Many definitions are offered, incorporating notions such as: men and women, culturally and socially determined, changing over time, context-specific. Mostly, the question of what definition to use is answered by adopting a rather broad and often abstract definition that covers all the aspects considered important. Without downplaying their relevance, we have noticed that the use of abstract and all-encompassing definitions can also lead to confusion and a lack of clarity. Accordingly, gender is not only a buzzword but also a fuzzword. There are many different views, definitions and approaches to gender. These reflect different visions of gender equality and the diverse experiences people and organisations have regarding gender. Ideas and interpretations of gender also vary according to the setting, to one’s (personal) perspective, and through time. On the one hand we need to clarify what is meant by gender and (in)equality between women and men, because without some shared understanding, everyone might be talking about different issues and going off into different directions. On the other hand, though we may agree to a definition of gender on paper, this does not necessarily translate into our actions. If concepts are loosely applied, they tend to obscure rather than clarify matters. Abstract definitions on paper that are not translated into actual practice and specific settings may also mask the different understandings of gender issues and approaches among different stakeholders. We might all be doing very different things on even divergent agendas, and yet all claim to be doing gender. So what to do? You need to have some idea of what you are talking about and working on, but you want to avoid ‘gender dropping’, that is, the use of jargon that does not appear to refer to specific realities, agendas or strategies. How can an elaboration of gender concepts be productive?


MAKING GENDER EXPLICIT AND SPECIFIC For many people and organisations, abstract and general concepts of gender may confuse rather than clarify what they wish to work on. It has proven powerful and productive to explore specific and contextualized meanings of gender. By examining the different positions women and men hold in society, the different opportunities and challenges they face and the assets they control, we can identify differences and inequalities that matter in their work and daily life. By discussing practical issues and revealing different perspectives and experiences of women and men, one can grasp what is at stake in gender relations. What, and according to whom, are the critical issues that merit attention? How can we get to where we want to go? By validating the experiences of gender, and thereby validating the meaning of gender and gender (in)equality in specific settings, we can generate both a practical understanding of gender as well as an agenda for change. In such explorations of gender concepts, it does not make sense to smooth over different experiences and perspectives on gender concerns; on the contrary, potential differences in views and experiences can be a fruitful basis for reflection and clarification. It will also reveal that gender relations are dynamic and contextual.

NO ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ The various approaches show that there is no ‘one size fits all’ with respect to gender equality. Gender equality takes shape when we talk about issues on the ground. A lot of discussion regarding gender issues takes place at meetings, in corridor chats, during tea breaks. They cannot be traced in reports but they reflect the reality men and women face. Revisiting concepts together is part and parcel of any gender practice. Rather than working top-down with an agreed or given definition, it makes more sense to define what the inequalities between men and women are in a given context, what the problematic aspects are, and then decide how gender concerns can be dealt with.


ANNEMARIE WESTENDORP (VAN HALL LARENSTEIN) ‘In my daily work as gender trainer for rural development professionals, I have come to observe some kind of gender fatigue. Staff do not want to attend another training in which the difference between sex and gender is explained. Managers are frustrated because gender experts tell them again and again that they do not know what gender means. Nevertheless, we are all familiar with differences between men and women. From a young age, we observe and experience such differences. Rather than debating concepts, it is important to learn to consciously take these differences into consideration and to see how they are subject to change. Whenever we work with people, we have to consider how women and men experience different realities, and have different needs and interests. Some say it is difficult to talk about gender, but in my experience, talking about the different realities of women and men is not necessarily difficult, and can in fact be fun and productive for our work. Perhaps it is time to work on gender without using that word?’


STAKEHOLDERS AND DIALOGUE JONI VAN DE SAND (WO=MEN DUTCH GENDER PLATFORM) ‘What strikes me is that, time and again, women and girls ask for men’s participation themselves. They feel empowered through projects that target them, but if the men they live and work with do not change, then who are they to live with? Men can, I would say have to, be partners in change. They are important role models for other men and boys. Involving men in gender work brings us to the heart of gender, namely that it is about relations between men and women. Men experience the implications of gender inequalities too, and not always to their benefit. Social norms often condition men not to show emotion as fathers and partners, or to take proper care of their own health. And the image of the man as breadwinner for the family can squeeze men, especially in situations of poverty and unemployment. If we emphasise the benefits of gender equality for men and involve them, we can transform society structurally.’

Engaging in a dialogue about what gender means in daily life may be more important than reading about it in theory. Development organisations sometimes shy away from discussing how gender influences the lives of the communities they work with, and they might also be reluctant to discuss gender in their own organisations. Engaging stakeholders is the key to success, and is an important part of the process of change. Involving the right people from the community and one’s own organisation can broaden ownership and support, can be an incentive for others to join, and can open doors to key players with formal or informal influence and decisionmaking powers. A productive dialogue requires the inclusion of a variety of voices: different authorities, men, youth, and obviously also women. How to engage stakeholders in a dialogue about gender and in processes of change?

KEY STAKEHOLDERS Local authorities and religious leaders are key stakeholders in gender dialogues and processes of change. Local authorities can be village council members and other political leaders, as well as business people and managers, doctors, athletes, police and army officials, or others with status in their community. Given the vital role religion plays in social, economic and political life, it is important to include and work with religious leaders and institutions. Men are stakeholders in positions of formal authority, but also in the private sphere, as husbands, intimate partners, sons, fathers, and so on. To understand gender relations and to work on change for the betterment of all community members, we cannot bypass men and masculinity. Both women and men can be role models that inspire others. Some participants have specifically looked into ways to engage men in gender change.

FACILITATING FEMALE LEADERSHIP In some settings, it is not the norm for women to have room to express themselves. Bringing women together to share their experiences ensures that their voices are heard. It can also pave the way for women to organise themselves. This makes it important for


development organisations and their partners to reach out to and to support women’s organisations, groups and women leaders in communities. GLAC participants have learnt that women in difficult circumstances are very well able to reflect on their situation, and can quickly identify common concerns and formulate proposals to improve their own situation.

FACILITATING DIALOGUE IN A PROCESS OF CHANGE The role of a facilitator is crucial. Someone who is both well-informed and respected by the community can inspire others to join. In contexts where gender equality is a sensitive issue, empathy and good preparations are essential for success. It is important to be strategic about who to invite to join in gender dialogues, and to consider what their role is. Some organisations initially invited local authorities and men as guests. It however proved more effective to include them as participants, who actively contribute to the discussion and reflect on their own ideas and behaviour. Inviting local authorities and gaining their support requires one to respect social hierarchy in terms of a communication protocol; that is, who is introduced and who speaks first. GLAC participants have experimented with different methods and tools to facilitate dialogue in their organisations and with local communities. Some GLAC participants strategically choose not to use the word “gender”, especially in settings where it is an unfamiliar term or has a negative connotation. Instead, facilitators ask participants to describe and discuss the different roles, expectations and decision-making competences that men and women have and take up. Sharing life experiences helps people recognise gender in their own and other people’s lives. It also makes clear that gender relations and roles are not fixed, but can and do change over time. Sharing experiences of gender and of change can form a basis for further reflection on where to go, and for strategising on who to involve in what role in order to get there.


FARIDA VAN BOMMEL-PATTISAHUSIWA (MULTICULTURAL WOMEN PEACEMAKERS NETWORK) ‘In the Moluccas, men have more to say than women in every aspect of life. Religion is the cornerstone of society; priests, pastors and imams are respected by the community. When they say something, the largest section of the population will listen. It was therefore obvious to us that we needed to involve religious leaders. But which ones? Together with our local partners, we selected men and women peace activists with extensive networks, and with open mind-sets towards women’s participation. We involve them in all our activities. In our inter-faith dialogues, we bring women together from different ages and religious backgrounds. They share their experiences to help change the mind-sets of women themselves. The women experience it as very positive that men are listening and participating in a public discussion on women’s issues. Women stimulate each other to talk, and men witness women being vocal in public. As a result, women have been invited to become member of the village church council.’


ROLES AND RELATIONSHIPS ATTILA DARAY  (DORCAS AID INTERNATIONAL) ‘When we started a discussion with partner organizations about how to mainstream gender into our projects, we got some challenging reactions: “Why do we want to get involved in such issues as feminism? Why do we want to wipe out all the differences between man and woman?” We felt insecure in the face of these reactions, and did not feel well equipped. How far should or could we push the discussion about gender? Engaging people in discussions which they think are not interesting is a well-trained profession and requires good facilitation. It is a sort of art! We should not assume that all our staff is gender sensitive, or immediately convinced of gender mainstreaming. Engaging project officers and other stakeholders takes much longer than we imagined. I mean, really engaging them to achieve change, not only at the level of paper plans. Anybody can include a result or two on gender. We want to adopt a new way of gender sensitive thinking and acting, not only planning and reporting in this way.’

GLAC participants acknowledge the importance of gender equality concerns and decide to make their work contribute to gender equality. However, they do not work in isolation but most of the time with, and in support of, a wide range of partners in developing countries. This requires them to figure out their role and to think about their scope of influence in prioritising gender issues. What responsibilities do Northern-based organisations have, and what roles can they play in getting gender concerns on the agenda, and in translating these into practice?

OWNERSHIP A recurring position is that ‘we’, GLAC participants, are not the ones to decide what gender issues need to be addressed. It is commonly said that ‘we do not want to impose our ideas of what needs to be done on gender’. Obviously, respect for ownership and intentions to align policies to local priorities are key, and the role of Northern-based organisations to bring about gender change has its limits. Yet arguments that gender is a donor-driven agenda do not do justice to the efforts and demands of Southern-based women and their organisations and movements. Gender equality is a concern of many women all over the world. The question then becomes, whose ownership counts and with whose agendas does a development agency align?

ROLES AND CHOICES Some GLAC participants want their partners to decide on the strength of the gender sensitiveness of their work. One of the GLAC participants left it to the partner organisation to choose for, what they termed, a gender neutral, gender specific or gender redistributive approach, as long as the project is not gender blind. The partner can decide on the extent to which it attempts to transform the existing distribution of power and resources in favour of a more balanced relationship between women and men, or to target both women and men and address their needs within the existing gender division. The Dutch organisation takes a minimal position, and seeks to do no harm and to not frustrate gender equality objectives.


Other GLAC participants translate the choice for a gender policy to how they relate to their partners. One argued that in order to realise the organisations’ gender objectives, which are explicated through close consultation with partners, it is necessary that their partner and intermediary organisations either have explicit ideas and take a position on gender issues, or are open and willing to further develop those in collaboration. Moreover, considering how norms and gender bias can make women’s concerns less visible and can weaken women’s representation, they find it appropriate to introduce gender aspects in discussions on projects and to actively recruit women participants for training courses.

BRIDGING, CONNECTING AND DIALOGUE It is one thing to pose the right questions; the other is to pose them to the right people. Different GLAC participants explicitly seek to bring together different voices. On account of not wanting to define the gender agenda unilaterally, they choose to create space for dialogue, learning and reflection among different types of stakeholders on how gender is perceived. So they do see a role for themselves in initiating a gender dialogue and in stimulating a gender analysis. They also see a role in deliberately bringing together more conservative and more feminist voices. Through a careful selection of stakeholders and proper facilitation of the process, such a dialogue can create space and build bridges required for gender equality.

THE INTERNAL ORGANISATION Translating gender objectives into meaningful practice is a twolevel game. Most organisations first direct their energies on their work with partners and at the programme level. But when GLAC participants started working on gender with their partners, they also started asking questions about their own organisation. Or, were asked by partners about the gender dynamics in their own organisation. A key challenge is how to inspire and engage colleagues to work on gender equality. GLAC participants created space in existing meetings and platforms to discuss organisational gender aspects, or organised new moments for staff to get together and reflect on the internal organisational dynamics.


INEKE JANSEN (TIE-NETHERLANDS) ‘In this learning trajectory, we had extensive discussions with partners from five different countries, some maybe more conservative and others with a more explicitly feminist agenda. We did not impose a specific understanding of gender concerns, nor a predefined feminist agenda on our partners; that is not the kind of relationship we have with the organisations we work with. Nevertheless, we did take the initiative to put women and gender issues on the table, and we did explicitly choose to bring together different stakeholders in a dialogue. This is exactly the kind of role we can play as a Dutch organisation: making connections between mainstream and feminist actors and creating a safe environment in which dialogue and shared learning on gender equality concerns can take place. This creates a strong basis for a shared gender agenda and clear strategising towards our gender goals. Our discussions and work with the unions in different countries also inspires and pushes us to think about the role that gender plays in our own organisation. We increasingly realise that we also need to look at ourselves; that we need to reflect on and review our own practice.’


STRATEGISING FOR CHANGE OLIVIER NYIRUBUGARA (IICD) ‘When we started with this radio project in Burkina Faso, we were focused on developing radio programmes on gender issues and we specifically targeted women. This approach did not trigger the active participation of women, and appeared to create tensions in the communities instead. We therefore shifted to what we call an integrated gender approach, which focuses on issues that are relevant in the everyday lives of the communities and that are of interest to both women and men. The content for the radio programme is generated by the communities, and the perspective of both sexes are explicitly addressed in the broadcasts. Key was also the support for community-based listeners clubs. This revised approach has contributed to women being informed and encouraging them to voice their opinions publicly. Men have also become accustomed to hearing women’s views. Interestingly, this approach has generated rich discussions in the communities. It is perhaps not so much the radio programme itself that has made a difference, but the community-level activities and discussions that it sparks has helped to remove gender barriers.’

Strategising for gender equality and change requires insight into both the current state of affairs and the desired future. Therefore, the implementation of a gender policy cannot be a one-off exercise, but is a staged process. Where are we today, where do we want to be in the future, and what can and should we do tomorrow to get there. This also means that implementation requires continuous reflection, learning and attention; it is a cycle that never ends! After shared gender analysis, which in itself is part of a change process, and after the identification of the specific gender objectives for the organisation and its operational context, one needs to figure out what can be done to make a next step towards gender equality. What strategies can contribute to the gender objectives? Neither problems nor objectives are a given; let alone the strategies to get from a problem to an objective. Strategising for gender can be approached from multiple and complementary perspectives.

COMBINING PROCEDURES WITH SUBSTANCE There is a tendency to gear gender equality ambitions to reviewing the procedures, guidelines, templates and formats used in organisational decision-making and administrative processes. These are so-called procedural policy initiatives, which focus on the form of a policy. This makes sense, as gender concerns need to become part and parcel of the hardware of the organisation and its work. Yet there is also a risk that gender is then turned into something technical, like a checklist that needs to be ticked off. Procedural policy initiatives need to be combined with more substantive initiatives, which define the ambitions of change with respect to observed inequalities. What needs to become clear, rather than simply be assumed, is how policy instruments can contribute to substantive practical gender equality aims.

STAND-ALONE VERSUS INTEGRATED APPROACHES Different approaches can bring about different kinds of change. Stand-alone interventions are targeted at (specific groups of) women, and explicitly seek to contribute to their empowerment. Integrated approaches seek to integrate the needs and interests


of women and men in all decision-making in all phases of policy processes, in order to contribute to gender equality. Integrated and stand-alone interventions can both have their place in a comprehensive mainstreaming strategy for gender equality. They both have their strengths and pitfalls. Stand-alone interventions have the advantage of focusing on empowerment and women’s interests, but can be perceived as having a too narrow womenonly and anti-men character. Some participants have decided to complement their separate and women-focused projects with a broader approach to gender, cross-cutting all their organisation’s work. However, integrated approaches require careful and explicit attention for gender aspects; for without that attention, they have proven vulnerable to gender ‘away-streaming’ and the dilution of gender concerns. An important part of mainstreaming approaches within organisations is to review and reformulate priorities set at programme or sector level. It is at this point that the specific and contextual meaning of gender can be translated to agendas for change and incorporated in the organisation’s core business.

SOFT DIMENSIONS OF CHANGE All GLAC participants are seeking ways to change the practice of their organisation in such a way that gender concerns become part and parcel of their work. The question is how to make gender part of the organisational tissue, as a structural part of thinking and acting. Translating policy into practice requires more than the formulation of procedures, formats and checklists, but needs to engage with the soft dimensions of organisational practices and culture. This makes reflection on one’s own organisational practices, in both the technical and soft dimensions, pivotal to an organisational gender strategy for change. The soft dimensions imply a focus on critical learning, and on facilitating interaction between people in the organisation. It means considering power dynamics, feelings and emotions and resistance, and requires each person to assess their scope of influence. A gender learning approach can help people and the organisation move forward.


SIFISO DUBE (CIVICUS) ‘It is easy to assume that the promotion of civic and human rights will also address gender rights. This is not the case, however. That is why it is important to explicitly mainstream gender equality as a fundamental human right; which also means that it is important for organisations to have a gender policy. But then that policy needs to be put into practice, too. I often see the ‘naked emperor’ syndrome; meaning that we have a gender policy on internet, but rather than actually wearing the garment we walk around naked. Peer-to-peer learning has provided time and space to reflect on the organisation’s own practices and to share knowledge on good practices. We want to hear from staff and member organisations and to involve them in the envisioned future. This process of involving staff and members is important. Also, in the peer-to-peer learning process the priorities of an organisation are tabled and interrogated. Gender policies need to be intertwined with other organisational policies for them to receive constant attention and to realise the desired future of gender equality.’

FINAL LESSONS Our common ‘burning question’ was how to translate gender equality policy intentions into practice and meaningful change on the ground? We highlight 13 lessons:

GENDER LEARNING-IN-ACTION APPROACH 1. Co-created, ‘homemade’ knowledge makes a stronger contribution to changing practices than procured external knowledge (i.e. consultant). 2. Rely more on own internal knowledge and on creating knowledge together with stakeholders. If this knowledge is paired with the accumulated body of (academic) gender knowledge at the right time in the learning process, it will help deepen own internal knowledge. 3. A gender learning approach that focuses on solutions and the desired result, instead of digging into the problem, fosters positive energy and commitment.

REVISITING GENDER CONCEPTS 4. It is important to substantiate gender concepts in a practical, context-specific way. 5. The experiences and practices of individuals and organisations provide a strong base for elaborating what gender means in specific settings, what changes are desired, and what steps can be taken.

STAKEHOLDERS AND DIALOGUE 6. Local authorities, religious leaders and institutions, and younger generations are important stakeholders in dialogues for change. Stimulating such dialogues requires a skilled and respected facilitator, a careful selection of stakeholders, and an approach that engages them as active participants.


7. Structural change cannot take place without involving men and addressing masculinities. Men are partners to women and can be role models to other men and boys. 8. Women are well able to reflect on their lives and circumstances, and to collectively identify commonalities in their position and propose action to improve their own situation. Organisations can play a deliberate role in stimulating female leadership, and in creating space for women and women’s organisations to share experiences and raise their voice.

ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES 9. Northern-based development organisations cannot unilaterally define problems and agendas on gender. They do however have a role in initiating gender dialogue, and in bringing together different voices (female and male, young and old, conservative and feminist). 10. Putting gender into practice is a two-level game, which on the one hand concerns the programmes in the communities and countries where they work, and on the other hand concerns the formal and informal practices of (Northern-based) organisation themselves.

STRATEGISING FOR CHANGE 11. Gender equality does not come about automatically. If there is no explicit gender policy and no consciously elaborated strategy for change, it is not likely that change will happen on the ground. 12. When strategising for gender change, one needs to move beyond the technical aspects of procedures and checklists. These are important, but need to be complemented by substantive strategies as well as an engagement with the soft dimensions of organisational change. 13. Structurally embedding gender concerns in how an organisation thinks and acts is not a one-off exercise but a multi-phase process. It requires permanent reflection on where one is, and what next steps are needed and can be taken.


LIST OF PARTICIPANTS PSO / WO=MEN DUTCH GENDER PLATFORM / VAN-HALL LARENSTEIN / RADBOUD UNIVERSITY NIJMEGEN Annemarie Westendorp, Anouka van Eerdewijk, Gerard Wieffer, Joni van de Sand, Sophie Kesselaar, Tessa Roorda IICD Klara Pigmans, Miep Lenoir, Olivier Nyirubugara, Saskia Harmsen, Woutine van Beek PAG LA YIRI Suzanne Ware, Aisha Cisse, Josiane Thiombiano, Jean-Pierre Boussim, Francelline Sawadogo, Souleymane Zare MULTICULTURAL WOMEN PEACE-MAKERS NETWORK (MWPN) Doris Alfafara, Farida van Bommel-Pattisahusiwa, Kim Brice, Stephanie Mbanzendore, Stichting Habagat Phillipines, Women for Peace in the Moluccas, Burundi Women Peacemakers for Development, Uncover to Discover DORCAS AID INTERNATIONAL Marije Bijvoet, Jorge Merino, Petra Kuipers, Dirk-Jan Otte, Mary Rose Mariano, Johan van Dam, June Munala, Kephas Simon, Agnes Bitungwa, Anita Bendantabonu, Philip Mapunda, Stella Sogizwa, Shahada Nikula, Humphrey Chilewa, David Mlaki, Agnes Pattantyus, Klara Denes, Gabriela Petrariu, Attila Daray, CE Union Pro Christo Et Ecclesia Salaj, Diakonia Foundation DORCAS field office Tanzania, DORCAS field office South-Sudan, DORCAS field office Romania, Magugu Lutheran Parish (Tanzania), Development Initiatives Paddle (South Sudan) JUSTITIA ET PAX Jagoda Paukovic, Nathalie van Schagen, Sebastiaan van der Zwaan, Klaas Jaap Breetveld, Groupe d’Associations de Défense des Droits de l’Homme et de la Paix (GADHOP), Great Lakes Human Rights Program (GLHRP), and Commission Diocésaine Justice et Paix (CJDP) Uvira TRANSNATIONALS INFORMATION EXCHANGE (TIE-NETHERLANDS) Anne-Marie Zaat, Ineke Jansen, Atawasul Morocco, CEADEL Guatemala, Colectiva de Mujeres Hondureñas (CODEMUH), Coalición pro Justicia en las Maquiladoras (CJM), Red de Mujeres Sindicalistas (RMS) CIVICUS Sifiso Dube, Mariatu Fonnah, Judith Seda, Estelle Baker, Lucy Mathieson, Cathryn Archibald, Afaf Marie, Rania Alaa Actions for Genuine Democratic Alternatives (AGENDA), Egyptian Association for Community Participation (EACPE), Zambia Council

COLOPHON This publication on the Gender Learning-in-Action approach, facilitated by PSO and WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform, was prepared by: Anouka van Eerdewijk, Sophie Kesselaar, Tessa Roorda, Joni van de Sand and Annemarie Westendorp.

For more information contact WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform:, www. Facebook: Dutch Gender Platform Twitter: genderplatform

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