Why We Continue the Complicated, Messy, Slow Work in Gender

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak about LWR in front of an audience of other non-governmental organization (NGO) workers at the United Nations. It was part of an event at the fifty-eighth session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

I was invited to talk about LWR’s Learning for Gender Integration (LGI) initiative. At LWR, we are working to address gender inequality around the world by integrating gender considerations into our program design, ensuring that men and women have equal opportunities to benefit from LWR’s work. This is exemplified in three LWR “model projects” in Uganda, Nicaragua and India. (Read some examples»).

seven women working in a field
Women in the Jamui District of Bihar, India, cultivating vegetables on their farms.

For LWR, this work is about intentionality, consistency, quality and sustainability. We ask ourselves: We can do it today, but can we do it thoroughly? Can we do it well? And can we stay the course, even long after gender has stopped being today’s hot topic or a donor’s favorite keyword? I think we can, and that’s why I welcomed the opportunity to talk about our program. We have a dedicated group of staff who recognize the importance of integrating gender into our work and who are passionate about moving this work forward.

As I prepared for my talk, I realized it had been 19 years since Hillary Clinton spoke at the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action. There, the UN adopted gender mainstreaming as a means to make a dramatic change in how we approach women’s rights and gender equity. I remember watching her speech, and as I read the text again I was a bit dismayed and yet still inspired by her words:

“Let this conference be our — and the world’s — call to action. Let us heed that call so we can create a world in which every woman is treated with respect and dignity, every boy and girl is loved and cared for equally, and every family has the hope of a strong and stable future. That is the work before you. That is the work before all of us who have a vision of the world we want to see — for our children and our grandchildren.”

Gender is part of a larger system — projects, local partners, staff, field offices, headquarters, donors, proposals, budgets, and competing priorities. Within that system, gender integration is a complicated, messy, slow, ever-threatened and seemingly illusive undertaking.

Even though we still have a long way to go, we know it’s an important undertaking. It’s meaningful. And we believe in it. We have learned to applaud our small successes because there aren’t always demonstrable results right away. Sometimes it is hard to measure and prove why sitting through trainings, and working on toolkits, and reviewing reports and coaching staff actually makes a difference.  But it’s possible, and the testimonials of the men and women farmers we work with are enough to keep us going, continually pushing.

Read more about how Lutheran World Relief is integrating gender into its programs to address inequality around the world.