Nothing is gender neutral

By Alicia Quezada[1]

I have been working in the development field for more than 15 years now and I have always seen “gender equity” as an approach to promote or as a “component” we should always include in our initiatives. Back in my early twenties, I published four books on gender stereotypes in Peruvian television and I used to consider “gender” as an isolated theme. However, some years have passed and I have realised that gender realities are there, whether or not we “promote” or “include” them. Because whatever we do, we affect gender relations. Is this common knowledge? I am not entirely sure that most of us are aware of this, although it could sound quite obvious.

Recently, in Practical Action Consulting Latin America we carried out a research project together with the Institute of Development Studies, commissioned by and supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), to provide evidence on the advantages and challenges of gender awareness in climate compatible development[2] strategies in urban settings, with a focus on Peru, India and Kenya. This research was transformational for me because I learned that no development intervention is gender neutral. This means that any development effort implies a gender approach whether it is explicit or not. Nothing is gender neutral. Any action, plan, project or programme takes place within a gender reality and people in charge of these actions will either preserve or change the status quo; there is no avoiding this.

So, as civil servants, development practitioners, academics, entrepreneurs, or whatever role we play, if we really want to contribute to development processes in the areas and countries where we work, we should always ask ourselves,  ‘Am I going to preserve existing gender inequalities with this intervention or am I going to contribute to real change?

As part of the CDKN-funded research we used four categories in order to analyse the gender approaches used in three climate compatible development interventions:

  • gender blind: when gender aspects are not considered in the design;
  • gender awareness: when gender issues are considered in the narrative but not in the action;
  • gender sensitive: when gender indicators serve to monitor change towards gender equality; and
  • gender transformative: when it addresses the underlying causes of gender inequality and effectively works for changing them

These gender approaches are not mutually exclusive and can be used at different stages or simultaneously. In all three countries we learned that climate change interventions could have been much more powerful if they had adopted a gender transformative approach instead of gender blind. No matter the country, this conclusion was the same and I guess it could apply everywhere. Drawing on the cases from Peru, India and Kenya, the global synthesis report 10 things to know: Gender equality and achieving climate goals explores key issues to consider so that interventions do not preserve gender inequalities but rather they promote gender transformation.

Gender equity is development and nothing is gender-neutral. Gender equity is not a women’s issue nor is it a question of governance. It is up to all of us.

[1] Alicia Quezada is Manager of Practical Action Consulting Latin America and holds a MSc in Development Management from The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.

[2] According to CDKN, Climate compatible development is about transforming development pathways to face the climate problem head on. It moves beyond the traditional separation of adaptation, mitigation and development strategies. Climate compatible development processes adopt strategies and goals that integrate the threats and opportunities of a changing climate to lower CO₂ emissions, build resilience and promote development simultaneously.

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