Looking inwards

by Emma Haegeman, Social Development Direct

Being accountable and modelling the change we want to see in others

In the international development sector, it is easy (and harmful) to assume that everyone is on the same page. Yet we all come with our own personal values and experiences that shape our attitudes on gender equality and social inclusion, and towards others.

Our personal attitudes, as well as our organisational cultures and processes can have a positive or negative impact on the quality of programming on the ground; we can end up causing harm by reinforcing structural inequalities if we pick and choose who we work with. Holding ourselves to account to the standards we promote to others should be the norm, however, recent discussions in the sector on race and diversity show that collectively, we have a long way to go.

Our approach to gender equality and social inclusion

ECID has committed to transformative change. We will go beyond identifying and addressing marginalised groups’ and individuals’ practical, basic needs or even the strategic empowerment of individuals, to support collective action of marginalised groups by challenging power imbalances and the structural and systemic issues causing inequalities and exclusion.

Our global gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) strategy sets out how we will meet this level of ambition and advance greater inclusion and equality for those we aim to reach. It sets out a framework to respond to higher-level global policy frameworks and commitments, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, which put people at the centre. By shining a light on who benefits from development and who is excluded, they commit us all to address that exclusion.

For some, we understand that exclusion is based on gender. For others it is based on other parameters such as ability, age, location, and ethnicity. However, for most, exclusion is based on several identities and factors. For this reason, we avoid a focus on gender equality at the expense of social inclusion (and vice versa), by taking an intersectional approach. We do not see gender as a binary concept either; gender equality applies to people of all gender identities.

Our approach to looking inward

One of our core principles is to operate in a transparent and accountable manner. This is reflected in strategic objective one of the GESI strategy which is to ‘mainstream GESI within the programme’s organisations and institutions’ by looking inward. We believe that GESI mainstreaming can only be taken so far without an organisational and programme structure and culture that is at least GESI sensitive and without the right expertise that is cultivated by appropriate management practices.

All organisations and partners involved in our programme (consortium and implementing partners operating in each of the three countries) should model the behaviour we expect to see in others regarding GESI, as well as issues related to transparency and accountability to marginalised groups.

This requires regular self-reflection and self-assessment at all levels of an organisation. This connects people intellectually and emotionally to their own realities and those of others and begins the process of personal exploration and growth that is needed to support wider relational and structural change.

One tool we use to support this ‘looking inward’ piece, is our annual GESI scans at country and global level. The participatory approach ensures that participants learn how to critically assess their own attitudes and behaviours, and to develop ideas on improving their performance on GESI within the programme and their own organisations. The scans also look at organisational processes such as recruitment, governance and management structures, and implementation of policies and strategies that safeguard and protect staff.

The first GESI scans have just happened in each of the three countries, helping develop action plans for improving performance on gender equality and social inclusion over the coming year. We also plan to use a bespoke ‘Looking in Looking Out’ toolkit developed by Positive Vibes, a Frontline AIDS partner. This toolkit includes a range of exercises to help staff reflect on their attitudes towards our target groups including women, persons with disabilities, sex workers, LGBTQI groups and people who use drugs.

It is all well and good having GESI strategies and policies in place, but if staff do not buy into them, they are unlikely to be properly implemented. ECID’s partners and staff have committed to being part of these self-assessment and reflection processes and asking themselves difficult questions.

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