Hi friends, it's been a long time since I do not share with you in this platform, but these days I came to think about how we are looking as SALT practitioners at this issue, gender, that is in everybody's agenda recently. Are we really paying enough attention or, if enough, in the right perspective?

When I came in touch with The Constellation, my main work within the response to HIV was focused on gender inequality, on how women were affected by the virus to a greater extent than men, not only because of biological issues but mainly because of the manifest power imbalance between them.

So one of my first contributions to the Self Assessment was to propose a practice on gender. A practice to help us highlight the issue of gender inequality. The evolution of CLCP has been that practices are linked to the community dream so we do not propose practices anymore: they come directly from the dream. Thus, gender comes about explictly only when the community sees it as one factor of change toward its dream.

My question here is if gender issues, being deeply imbedded in social, comunity, and even individual relationships in such a way that it defines the very system in which we operate, are sufficiently taken into account and addressed. I am convinced that the structure that sustains gender inequality goes far beyond men and women, far beyond a single practice, and I also believe that a deep understanding of the enourmous implications of inequality in our dealing with communities is very necessary.

SALT promotes equality, but where there is a deep power gap, equality can only alleviate it, not balance it. In those cases, equity is needed, forcing us to know better and more concretely the specific needs and strengths of the people involved (men, women, young or old, with or without social status/power).

A gender perspective, looking to situations through gender lenses, proposes a more attentive look to a given situation; a situation that does not take into account diversity but instead puts us, almost without us being aware of it, on a scale of power in which we seem to be obliged to stay in a position which is either above or below others.

In my opinion, this is a necessary conversation even today and I'm curious to know if anyone else thinks that is the case. How do we understand gender dynamycs? How can we deactivate it? Are we aware of its impact in and within communities? How do we think we are including this in our work?

I do not think this is only about politics of social fight but on how look at ourselves and our relationships. And of course, it is about strengths and how to contribute to reveal those strengths.

Don't you think?

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Comment by Pawan Dhall on October 25, 2019 at 12:03pm

I have just two thoughts to contribute to this discussion or any discussion on gender equality. I hope make some sense. I think when we expect certain social outcomes around our work on promoting gender equity, we often set ourselves up for disappointment. I want to emphasize on the debate between 'processes' and 'outputs' or 'outcomes' in community development work. Both are important and necessary, but giving way too much emphasis on the latter, and often in a quantitative sense, is ingrained in our thinking and actions.

The attitude of emphasizing 'targets' above all is to my mind itself a patriarchal hangover which has no time for nuanced processes involved in achieving targets and the learning to be gained from the processes. But gender, in as much as it is a social construct, is itself a 'process'. It is not static, it can evolve over time. I don't necessarily mean gender variance beyond the gender binary (though that is important too). But I mean how an individual experiences and articulates their gender over time. For instance, does a woman feel the same way about herself as an adult as she did during adolescence? Do factors like education really change anything in her self-perception? Does higher education in itself necessarily mean greater impetus towards child immunization? The answers may not be what we expect.

We need to capture these answers to understand where our processes are going wrong or right. And if we are able to capture this, then that is what we should be celebrating as a success on the way to whatever target we have set for ourselves. But we often don't do this. We miss the bus in understanding what could have been done better to promote gender equity, and the numbers don't come as expected. Or if they do, they hide more than they tell.

I say this from the experience of having managed a large, five-year, two-state project in India focussed on coalition building among PLHIV networks, queer support groups and youth groups for joint advocacy on common and specific SRHR issues. This was in 2008-13. When we started, the emphasis was on qualitative gains and a heartening emphasis on processes of coalition building, diversity and inclusion, advocacy methods and reporting based on case studies. But more than midway, the donor changed the goalposts, and by the end it was impossible to show results that could have been quantified to show cost effectiveness - as if the project was a service delivery one rather than an advocacy one!

What saddens me is that we ended up looking as if we had done a not-so-good job in the project. But what makes me happy is when I run into some of the coalition partners who now insist that the project be revived, and even more so when I see that at least in pockets the linkages developed through the project have survived. For instance, in more than one district in West Bengal, we may find an LGBT support group working in collaboration with the local PLHIV network on issues like public awareness generation work, crisis management and transgender community development. None of the project reports could capture this.  

The second thought is that we should not be discussing gender in a binary. Even as I say this I realize that as a queer activist, I too have a long way to go on this front. But I feel when we address male populations with the idea of tackling toxic masculinities and encouraging men to reduce the aggression involved in their own gender perception, we need to discuss gender from the point of view of queerness, including gender variance. The very idea that some people assigned male at birth may want to 'dress like women' or 'behave in a feminine manner' or identify as women could be a starting point for debate and discussion on why do men need to be 'ultra masculine' in dealing with women or with household responsibilities or fatherhood duties. Similarly, there can be a discussion from the point of view of people assigned female at birth who identify as men or trans masculine.

Some of these ideas are more like a wish list for me. But I'd be very happy to discuss and act more on these through collaborations.

Comment by MariJo on October 23, 2019 at 2:19am

Dear Luc and Rituu,

I am totally in agreement with what you both say. I have difficulties at times in identifying how we can better include our gender perspective in a way that is not intrusive with community dream. It is not easy because it cannot be a 'formula' that we just put in place but a way of looking, just as subtle as SALT is.

It is about us, facilitators, developing this sensibility towards what is happening not only in communities but also within ourselves. My suggestion is that having this conversation regularly, as part of our SALT lenses, is necessary if we want to accompany communities in those parts of the path that are needed in order to achieve a collective dream, be it about direct men/women imbalances or any other issue.  Nobody can accompany another unless one has previously walked that path, meaning gaining in understanding through our own experience.

As you say, Rituu, it is important to check who is missing, and we have to bear in mind that that absence might be at times quite invisible unless gender lenses are on.

Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 22, 2019 at 9:59pm

Hi MariJo,

What you raise is extremely critical for a successful community response.

Gender is not just women. Gender is a social construct on how men or women are perceived to behave. It is also about social hierarchy and power relations which are structural. Therefore we cannot see communities are homogenous or even men and women. As you say we need to expose and critically analyse the sources of gender and social inequalities. This does not mean highlighting differences in the community but be aware in our facilitation and bring this conversation in the community. If we embody the spirit of SALT, difficult conversations will happen.

Patriarchal norms are deeply embedded and can sometimes hide, underestimate or even normalize gender inequities. So question for us is who is the community? who is missing? who is not there? Who developed the dream?  Who did the self assessment? For instance in the self assessment on immunization those present in the community said that they immunize their children regularly. Then, the health worker responded that this was not the case. Many mothers missed immunization of their children.These mothers were not present in the meetings as they had to take care of the babies. Again gender as women were perceived to solely responsible for immunization of the children.

Similarly, the health worker also pointed out that indigenous population living in outskirts of the village did not get immunization. If we view communities from simplistic lens we will fail to engage the most voiceless and those not visible. 

Comment by Luc Barriere-Constantin on October 4, 2019 at 2:46pm

Hi;

Reading your post, I realize that addressing the gender issue in the groups and communities we are working with may depend of what we want to achieve. I certainly have a very simplistic idea of the Gender perspective, but I tend to think that opening up the possibility to have a fair dialogue within the groups (listening voices of Women and men on an equal basis) is already a step toward more equity.  From there, what are the questions we could raise within the groups to make them reflect on how they could deal with the existing gender imbalance? I think such reflection needs time in the various groups. But you are right, that we may need to include tips for gender reflection within the SALT development and training material so that facilitators are conscious of that aspect.

Best. 

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