Human Rights

Belief-based Social Innovation: Gender-Lens’ Next Frontier

The gender-lens movement is beginning to fund culturally led efforts to transform underlying beliefs that systematically disempower females in the first place.

 

Philanthropists and for-profit investors alike today are apt to talk of using a gender lens when screening opportunities to fund social change. When my husband and I (Emily) began our foundation—the Imago Dei Fund—in 2009, I gravitated immediately to the idea of empowering women and girls. Little did we know then that it would grow into a powerful movement changing the face of philanthropy.

At the cusp of a new round of global gender goal setting, we find ourselves asking: Where is the gender-lens movement going, which now takes as conventional wisdom that gender balance is a lynchpin of global progress? The answer lies in moving beyond redress, mitigation, and even women’s empowerment programs—though these are still sorely needed—to more directly fund culturally led efforts to re-examine and transform underlying beliefs that systematically disempower females in the first place.

We believe that private philanthropy plays a critical role in strategically supporting networks of indigenous change agents working to create this deeper shift in gender norms. We call this type of work “belief-based social innovation.” In this article we will explore global gender progress to date, barriers to change, and three promising paths for philanthropists seeking to influence beliefs at the root of harmful gender norms.

Global Gender Rebooting

Globally, 2015 has been a critical year for taking stock of our progress toward meeting key development goals related to gender. It has been twenty years since the passage of the landmark 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a comprehensive global roadmap created by 189 governments to set clear and achievable gender benchmarking goals.

This year is also significant because the global community, led by the United Nations, met in September to adopt a new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that build on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Like the MDG’s, global gender-benchmarking will be woven throughout the SDGs. “As women thrive, so will we all,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he opened the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, marking two decades of progress since the Beijing Declaration in 1995.

But report cards marking the anniversary show less-than-stellar progress on reaching gender equality. A bleak picture emerges of uneven and limited advancements, which the Secretary General summarized as “unacceptably slow.” The most shocking indicator showed that global gender-based violence rates—which the World Health Organization estimates effect one in three women—have remained unchanged over the past twenty years despite billions of dollars in private and public investments.

Gender-based violence is just one indicator, yet it is a proxy for stalled progress on multiple fronts and testimony to the difficulty of influencing gender norms. What happens behind the closed doors of huts and homes is harder to change than helping a woman open a savings account or apply for a microfinance loan. Gender violence is just one result of the power dynamics between men and women rooted in traditional norms, beliefs, and customs that govern day-to-day life, including roles in marriage, who makes decisions, who owns and controls family assets, how children are raised, whose comfort and wellbeing is prioritized, and most important, who holds power and what this power entails.

Belief—The Elephant in the Room

How can empowerment programs empower someone who is still seen by their culture and their religion as not possessing basic human agency to participate equally in their family, their community, and in all aspects of society? This is the “elephant in the room”—be it within international NGO’s, community-based organizations, religious institutions, or within the sanctuary of the home—that philanthropists need to address if we are to truly turn the tide on our world’s dismal gender record. The answer lies in threading the eye of a needle: respecting the sovereignty of other cultures and religions while also finding ways to strategically fund and empower grassroots change agents working from within their own cultural and religious contexts to transform harmful gender beliefs and norms.

As difficult as this task is, more and more philanthropists and NGOs are trying to find culturally appropriate, transformative ways to address the beliefs and social norms that are undermining humanitarian progress. Pioneers at the nexus of global development and belief include the Carter Center, the Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs, Christians for Biblical Equality, and Islamic Relief Worldwide. The 2015 Skoll World Forum, a global gathering for social entrepreneurs and their funders, tackled the theme of “belief” last spring. Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, posited to attendees at the opening session that our very capacity as human beings to create traditions requires us to continually recreate them: “What in our collective treasury of beliefs,” she asked, “needs to change and what is timeless and meant to be carried forward?”

A lot, it would seem. A 2001-2007 survey by UNICEF of household attitudes toward domestic violence in 67 countries found that roughly half of female respondents believed that violence is justified to enforce a husband’s authority in the household. In Jordan it is as high as 90 percent. In Guinea 85.6 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 45 believed that their husband is justified in using physical force in certain circumstances. In Nepal, 88 percent of men and 80 percent of women responded that a husband beating his wife is justified as part of his role leading the family.

At a focus group on domestic violence that I (Emily) attended in Cambodia, a woman says: “Here in Cambodia, the man is seen as the ‘head of the house.’ So if he doesn’t like how his wife cleans the house, or burns the dinner, he feels entitled to beat her.” And Bongiwe Sibayi, a teacher I met in South Africa, told me that: “Even young boys feel they have a right to expect girls to serve them and tell them to clean up a mess on the floor or go get water.” Around the world we hear the same refrain from women’s rights advocates: traditions still exist that socialize girls to believe that they do not have the right to decide for themselves when they will become sexually active. Sex is something that happens to them versus something they enter into consensually.

Shifting the Norm

Some global development organizations, however, like Tostan, Beyond Border’s SASA programs, and World Vision, are finding paths to change these harmful gender norms that do not see females as full human beings possessing intrinsic agency and power.

World Vision, through a program called Channels of Hope for Gender (COHG) is influencing role definition in the family and community, and helping men and women to new norms. One man newly participating in COHG asked: “But if I love my wife and my children isn’t it my role to discipline them?” He was participating in an open-minded conversation that constitutes the first step of the program, designed to create a safe space for men and women to open their minds and hearts to how they treat each other. A participant in a SASA community dialogue says that as a result of community-based dialogue around gender roles and norms, he no longer sees men publicly hitting their wives in his community and that people have started to intervene when they hear things that sound like domestic violence behind closed doors.

Such unabashed and open exchange is an important first step to real change. If you can’t talk about the way things are, you can’t fix them. Says the same man after a year of COHG conversations: “Before I went through the Channels of Hope, I used to treat my wife as my slave, and didn’t realize that it was wrong to beat her. Now we make decisions together and share the work of our household.”

Three Ways to Fund Indigenous Gender Norm Entrepreneurs

Macro change happens within the microcosm of myriad individual hearts and minds. There is no way to short-circuit this slow, human process of change. It can be challenging to fund this type of social transformation, but thankfully, there are funding vehicles that are doing this and that have great potential for scaling up. Three approaches stand out as ways that grantmakers can support organizations transforming outdated gender beliefs and norms.

1. Fund “bell-ringers,” the networks of grassroots women’s rights organizations that are today’s pioneers

Even in the most patriarchal places there are grassroots women’s organizations leading their own women’s movement. Many are fledgling organizations run by passionate, brave women who put their own lives on the line to advocate for human equality and safety for girls and women. Every social movement has its “bell-ringers” that wake people up to a problem. Think of 19th century US reformers like Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton—who fought for the abolition of slavery and the suffrage of women. It is not easy to find and fund these organizations, but one can donate to a women’s funding organization like the Global Fund for Women (GFW) that makes grants and offers technical assistance to a web of women’s rights groups around the world.

For a window into the GFW’s approach to changing harmful gender norms, meet Immaculee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “There is an alarming crisis in the Congo,” she says. “Although it is illegal, beating is very common in the schools. These are beatings so severe that recently a secondary school student was beaten to death by her teacher. I’m running a Global Fund for Women-funded campaign against violence in schools. What is most alarming is the young girls that are being raped. These girls are being coerced into having sex with their teachers by being told that they can’t stay in school or won’t pass their class if they don’t have sex with them. Or the teacher will violently have his way with the girl. Then when they do succumb to the teacher, he ignores the girl or kicks her out of class anyway so he doesn’t get caught. Many of these girls are becoming pregnant by their own teachers. They are forced to leave school and having babies as result of these rapes, even though they are children themselves. Often their families will abandon them out of shame so they have no support, leaving them to be vulnerable to more abuse or rape.”

2. Fund “gender equality mainstreamers,” the reflective, dialogue-based programs that engage religious leaders in community-driven change around gender practices.

All too often religion serves as the social sanction for a host of harmful gender practices that subjugate women and girls. Yet faith also has the seeds within it to support human equality and a commitment to shared human rights for all. Tostan (which means “breakthrough” in the West African language of Wolof), now 25 years old, adapted a model that reform-minded Chinese used in the early 20th century to put an end to the harmful practice of foot-binding on young girls, and adapted it to eliminating female genital cutting (FGC) in Senegal. The organic process involves community-based dialogue that brings all members of the community together to discern their own core values and engage in a process of social transformation. This has led to many promising changes including the eradication of FGC as a socially acceptable practice in many communities. In Senegal, Muslim imams have been instrumental in officially validating this community-wide commitment and foreswearing the practice of FGC all together.

COHG uses a model very similar to Tostan to engage religious leaders and their spouses in safe and transformative dialogue about gender, power, and faith. This program begins with a four-day guided retreat with community leaders, typically pastors, to enable participants to delve into their own lived gender norms, often leading to reflection and healing from childhood experiences watching their mothers being routinely beaten, and from severe power imbalances in their own marriages. The process then cascades into the larger community as these leaders create discussions in their homes, places of worship, and across multiple social sectors. This program continues for four years and extends into the larger community, employing a grace-filled, dialogue-based approach to shift attitudes via deeper and more open study of religious texts to surface egalitarian messages. World vision is expanding COHG to more than 90 of its national offices with the help of philanthropists.

3. Fund “institutional disruptors, the networks of indigenous social innovators who are starting new enterprises or infusing existing organizations with an ethic of shared leadership between men and women.

Inspired Individuals is a global network that supports faith-inspired social entrepreneurs—many of whom are working to change laws, policies, and attitudes around gender. One of these social entrepreneurs is Domnic Misolo, an Anglican priest turned gender activist who is helping pastors read their Bibles to shift from a patriarchal to a partnership view of marriage. “I am the second born child of a polygamist family,” he says. “My father had three wives and my mother was his second wife. As a young boy, I watched her be beaten like a child. I grew up thinking that men and women were not equal to one another. However, my eyes were opened after reading an academic journal during my seminary studies. It showed me how to read the deeper message of the Bible that sees men and women as equal before God.” Misolo went on to found an organization called the Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education “an organization that I feel is God’s calling for me.” He is doing what large Western-led NGOs cannot do: uprooting traditional beliefs that for centuries have categorized females as made to be subjugated.

Another disruptor is Consoler Wilbert, also a fellow at Inspired Individuals. She grew up as an unwanted girl in rural Tanzania and was sold for sex and exploited by multiple men by the time she reached adolescence. The social norms that helped shape her were that as a poor girl from a minority tribe she was less than human. But at a particularly low point in her life her inner voice reminded her of who she really is, inspiring her to shed these social norms and do something to change them. Wilbert founded and now runs a program serving girls like herself called New Hope for Girls, and is stepping into a leadership role within her church community. “Because I started and run an organization that is doing such good work, men in my church are now letting me attend leadership meeting,” she says. “I am so convicted by my work that I cannot help but speak my mind and have a voice, even though the men around me still expect me to serve the drinks and often warn me about the dangers of a ‘jezebel spirit,’ which is a woman who is seen as being too domineering. It bothers me, but I just let it roll off me and they are saying this less and less. They know I can get things done.”

Change agents like Misolo and Wilbert exist around the world, in large and small NGOs and within networks that are working to support their capacity and impact. They are rising up from the wreckage of harmful gender practices with a passionate determination not just to alleviate suffering, but also to transform the beliefs and ideology that sanction and normalize a dangerous imbalance of power between men and women. And they are doing this in very real and tangible ways within institutions that comprise civil society. They know their culture best, and they love it enough to dare to change it. They are doing what the World Bank and the UN cannot do—disrupting norms from the inside-out to achieve gender equality and they are unleashing ripples of change at the grassroots level that are so foundational to any macro level change. What could be a better investment?

Tread Carefully, Yet Bravely

There is a reason that philanthropists tread lightly into this culturally and religiously sensitive terrain of changing social norms. It is not our job as outsiders to come in and try to change someone else’s cultural beliefs. But if we see our role as partners in helping others to “be the change they want to see” for their own communities, we can find ways to carefully, yet intentionally, support indigenous change agents doing this long, slow, transformative work. Yes, we still need to fund basic aid and relief to girls and women victimized by gender-based crime. And yes, we need to keep funding empowerment programs to give them a hand-up. Yet even with the most effective empowerment programs, girls and women can’t win if the rules don’t change.

The real solution lies in changing the operating system that continues to disempower the human agency and dignity of girls and women in the first place. This kind of change has to arise from deep within a culture, but it can be supported from outside with careful and strategic philanthropic support, by investing in well-placed networks of change agents.

Private philanthropy can play an important role in bringing attention to the issue and supporting this type of work. Small foundations can step in and work in tandem with larger players like the World Bank and the UN to support the capacity of these networks of bell-ringers, mainstreamers, and institutional disrupters. Any NGO, small or large, can incorporate reflective, dialogue-based programs that facilitate a transformative process of taking stock of gender norms. But this requires patient capital and a knack for connecting the dots between invisible ideas and more visible problems. Thankfully, there are social innovators rising up in every corner of the world who are working to transform gendered beliefs that perpetuate vicious cycles of poverty, injustice, and violence.

As we head into post-2015 global benchmarking, let’s find new inspiration to enlist all the assets within private philanthropy to invest in the transformation of stubborn—yet mutable—beliefs and norms that are impeding global progress. Let us each do our part to think, do, and fund in a way that makes gender equality a lived reality.


WHAT IS GENDER-LENS INVESTING?

Gender-lens investing is the idea of moving beyond seeing women and girls as a separate programmatic silo in one’s giving portfolio, to evaluating gender impact across all programmatic sectors. Women Moving Millions, a philanthropic network, recently released a report titled “All In For Her,” that defines a gender-lens as “consider[ing] how gender norms affect women and girls uniquely when assessing funding opportunities.” And U.S. Trust, in its report, “Giving Through a Gender Lens: A Guide for Donors,” describes it this way: ”Men and women are often impacted differently and disproportionately by social issues such as poverty, health, domestic violence or education… When addressing social concerns, donors therefore must consider the impact that gender has on the particular issue.” 

Mainstreaming a gender lens into a foundation’s protocol gives one the license to dig around and ask those obvious yet still sometimes taboo questions: “So, I notice you don’t have any women on your board, yet your organization’s mission is leadership development at Ivy League universities… hmmm? Do you have any particular gender policies that in any way limit what women can do within your organization?”

Learning to phrase the question in a way that takes the conversation beyond the rhetoric of “empowerment” into the deeper contradictions between stated organizational goals and implicit, or tacit, gender norms can require artful probing: “So… you said you partner with local churches to provide mentoring to the trafficking victims in your program… What are the gender norms these partner churches bring to this work? Do they have any ideas or practices around gender that differentiate what women and men are able to do? Is their an ideal of spiritual equality between men and women in your culture or tradition that you can tap into to encourage men to share power with women, and help girls tune out some of the negative messages which do not see them as human agents in their own right?”

This is the very core of a gender lens: being aware of both personal and systemic gender imbalances so that we can more effectively work to re-balance and heal not just the false hierarchy of masculine over feminine, but also work to free both men and women to live as partners and allies in the home, in faith communities, in the work place, and in all parts of society.

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COMMENTS

  • Thanks for reading!  If you are interested, here is an info graphic which highlights the disturbing country by country views of women internalizing the right of their husband’s to beat them:  http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/08/23/womens-attitudes-toward-domestic-violence-by-country/

  • Katie Smith Milway's avatar

    BY Katie Smith Milway

    ON December 8, 2015 08:38 PM

    This is a terrific round up of the challenges many communities face in changing traditional mindsets that work against gender equality some promising paths to overcoming them.  I love the funder lens on this gender-lens contemplation.

  • BY Julie Norris Wilder

    ON December 9, 2015 08:27 AM

    Wow! Thank you SO MUCH. This is the best article on Gender Lens I’ve read. Even though I am a white, well educated & American, I have come to the conclusion through my own experience and watching my millennial sisters who have taken up entrepreneurship go through incredible gender-norm related issues with their husbands and male investors that are a silent epidemic & are holding women back from leading the way the know how at best and are downright abusive at worst. My conclusion is that we will not have parity until we are able to receive sovereign capital - crowdfunding is one source of that, but not a one size fits all dynamic. Women of wealth self-identifying as investors in other women & disrupting their philanthropical spending will make a huge shift. I was VERY aware that what I experienced in my own company was very much first world problems & it was sobering to think of what my sisters around the world deal with, as this article clearly outlines. My battle cry used to be saving the earth - now, supporting sovereign sisterhood is my mission. A million thanks you’s for the work you do.

  • Robin Phillips's avatar

    BY Robin Phillips

    ON December 10, 2015 04:44 PM

    This is a wonderful, articulate and insightful article on Gender Lens.  In addition to describing the problem of gender discrimination its broad impact, it provides dynamic and practical suggestions of approaches that we can begin in our lives today. Indeed, Tread carefully, yet Bravely!!!  I so appreciate the thoughtful and well stated ideas of the authors. 
    Additionally I have heard so much about World Vision’s ‘Channels of Hope for Gender’ being used in Africa.  And I have seen the impact of that training.  But this article has taken me further in my understanding.  Thank you!

  • BY Jennifer Gurecki

    ON December 12, 2015 12:01 PM

    I’m quite interested in your choice of the term “entrepreneur” to describe the women and men who work in this space. My experience in Kenya in this space is that many of the individuals who are most passionate about women’s empowerment aren’t as much entrepreneurs as they are change agents. The financial (or double/triple) bottom line doesn’t drive their work; they don’t approach this issue with a business lens. Does the use of the term “entrepreneur” help these individuals and organizations fit neatly into popular neoliberal approaches, thereby making them more appealing to investors and funders? I’d appreciate any insight you have into unpacking the use of “entrepreneur” a bit more.

  • Thank you, Jennifer, for your thoughtful comment/question.  I have had the same question and resonate greatly with your observation.  I was at a conference recently where Sally Osberg, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, spoke and made the observation that many of the incredible change agents I have interacted with domestically and abroad would never be on the map of most social entrepreneurship incubators.  She pulled out a venn diagram which mapped out the blurry overlap between what most would consider an “activist” and a “social entrepreneur” and a few other terms I am forgetting.  Let me admit that I am intentionally blurring the terms because I think it is really important to mainstream a gender analysis and discussion of invisible social norms into the social innovation/entrepreneurship space. From what I have gathered, there are some activists who would not fall into the category of social entrepreneur but there are some who do.  The distinguishing factor I think is the extent to which they are working to create replicable models with a focus on tangible, measurable impact.  What do you think?  Do you think I over-blurred the terms?

  • Thank you, Julie, for all your insightful observations.  Even our “first world” struggles for gender parity matter and connect us in solidarity with the plight of women around the world.  I love the term “sovereign capital” and “sovereign sisterhood”... did you coin those?

  • Robin, so glad to hear you are familiar with COHG!  I am curious where you have seen it’s impact?  I love how World Vision is using its global humanitarian footprint to mainstream gender balance as central to good, holistic development.  They still have a long way to go to scale it up into all of their programming but they are getting really good results and it is gaining traction.  They are also considering how to adapt it to the US which we sorely need!

  • Thank you Katie for your leadership in the social entrepreneurship space as an author, founder of an NGO, and thought leader.  Thanks too for all your input into this article.

  • Jacki Zehner's avatar

    BY Jacki Zehner

    ON December 12, 2015 12:49 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this post and sharing so much incredible information and your personal story.

  • BY Jennifer Gurecki

    ON December 12, 2015 12:52 PM

    Emily, I would agree with Sally Osberg’s observations. I think we need to be careful about bringing these individuals into the fold of the market when they haven’t necessarily chosen to be there. Americans (and arguably the Western world) have normalized and elevated the status of the entrepreneur, but this often doesn’t resonate with indigenous populations because it is the free market (think SAPs) that has significantly contributed to the problems they face. I believe that we also run a great risk of depoliticizing the issues that affect women if we think that individual entrepreneurs are the ones responsible for addressing/solving the issues created by international policy, colonization, globalization, etc. I’m not suggesting that there is inherently a problem with entrepreneurs working in this space (I would consider myself one of them); I just think it’s helpful to think about why and how we use these terms.

  • I concur with all of your sentiments but do feel like we need to create more onramps for indigenous change agents to enter the space if they seek more tools in their toolkit to create social change.  In some ways, around gender, it is helpful to depoliticize what has been such a marginalized, taboo movement.  I agree though that the social entrepreneur should not be elevated as the singular answer to complex, systemic problems.  There is still a role I believe for the large NGO that once began in a more entrepreneurial way and for the role of good old-fashioned advocacy/activism.  For those crossing these domains, it is almost like they need to be bilingual to be able to maintain the edge of the activist and the results-oriented pragmatism of the entrepreneur.

  • BY Michelle Higelin

    ON December 12, 2015 02:46 PM

    Great article. Thank you Musimbi and Emily.  We also need continued reflection on how we shift the power between men and women, and more explicitly access to resources and decision making. While women continue to be denied access to land, property, inheritance, finance and decisions affecting their lives through custom and laws, unequal power relations and bargaining power will remain and make it difficult to bring change on the scale that’s needed.  So we need to work for cultural change as well as redistribution of the world’s resources and power

  • BY Julie Norris Wilder

    ON December 12, 2015 07:18 PM

    Hi Emily, I hadn’t thought in terms of coining those phrases, I guess I did put them together and haven’t seen them used elsewhere but surely some other folks have figured this one out? Personal sovereignty (within the context of partnership models of relating) has been on my mind a great deal, particularly when it comes to achieving economic parity. I find that striving for equality & empowering women is language that falls short and often undermines the reality & message, casting us as inequal and weak when women ARE equal and incredibly strong, even if others treat us and paint us as less than or weak. The final destination & language I prefer is having our sovereignty honored and respected and reflected by others. I don’t want to be treated “like an equal” - I AM an equal and I demand my sovereignty be recognized. I’m at the beginning of a project called Sovereign Sisters and you can see how I define this here: https://sovereignsisters.wordpress.com/what-is-sovereignty/    Sovereign capital is investment without control but with deep respons-ability, which is why I like crowd-funding so much. However, even if you do have sovereign capital, a woman may still find herself dealing with gender issues with her male partner (romantic or business, invested or not). Issues that are not easily sorted through unless both parties are committed to challenging their gendered conditioning.

  • BY Julie Norris Wilder

    ON December 12, 2015 07:22 PM

    On a side note, I tried to find a facebook group to join around the topic of gender lens investing and couldn’t find one so I started one: https://www.facebook.com/groups/150091318685281/  A place to share resources and hold discussions like this. This group is private, but ask to join and I’ll welcome you in. (or let me know if this is a duplicate effort and I’ll happily join one that is already existing.)

  • Thanks Julie, I will look for the group on Facebook and ask to join.  There is a Gender Lens Investing Forum on Linked In as well.

  • Larry Comstock's avatar

    BY Larry Comstock

    ON December 14, 2015 02:32 PM

    This is an inspiring and foundational piece that needs to be read by donors and development staff alike.  There is no greater force for change than an empowered and called individual, couple or family and the authors embody all three.  What is clear is that, as the authors state, prioritizing the empowerment of women and girls is changing global philanthropy and accelerating the pace of human progress.  Thank you Emily and Musimbi - how about an annual update on that progress?

  • Sandy Grubb's avatar

    BY Sandy Grubb

    ON December 15, 2015 10:08 AM

    Thanks for this valuable presentation of where we are on the gender issue. It’s discouraging to learn there’s been little or no progress in twenty years, yet with the people and programs in place now to address deep change, we can look forward to a time soon when women and girls are treated as God intended. This sentence sums up the challenge: “Yet even with the most effective empowerment programs, girls and women can’t win if the rules don’t change.”

  • BY Mimi Haddad

    ON December 15, 2015 10:17 AM

    Thank you Emily and Musimbi! Your article brilliantly fuses two atomic particles; patriarchal ideas and their horrific consequences. Thank you! I would be interested in your perspective on creating dialogue with donor activists & foundations to 1. Bring more women on their leadership teams 2. How best to include grantees in these conversations?

  • BY Shoshon Tama-Sweet

    ON December 15, 2015 10:59 AM

    This article finally speaks to a difficult truth:  Our beliefs matter, and if we believe another person is not fully human, our materiel and systemic efforts will fall short. As long as women are viewed as having less value than men, our best development efforts will fall short. Belief in the equal value of women is a prerequisite for changing the attitudes and behaviors that harm women across the world, in all cultures.  Cultural beliefs and religious norms are amenable to change- and thoughtful, discerning, honest dialogue is vital.  Donors and foundations need to engage the difficult space of culture and belief if they want to see real impact.  Thank you Musimbi and Emily, for leading the way.  Now it is time for more foundations to step into this work and fund it at scale.

  • Musimbi Kanyoro's avatar

    BY Musimbi Kanyoro

    ON December 27, 2015 01:13 PM

    Grateful to see the comments from various readers. We need to have lots of conversations and engage more and deeper in promoting beliefs - religious, cultural, economic and political that build a better world with participation of women and men as equals in their shared humanity.  This article should provoke the much needed conversations on the intersections between gender & development, gender & religion, gender & culture,  and gender & financing.  There is dearth of attention to financing women’s human rights. I know this because I am deeply involved this sector. Gender Lens investment will grow and thrive when it builds on women and girls living out their rights in dignity. Women and girls want to be safe, to self- define their purpose in life and to participate in the design and implementation of things that shape our world. Women and girls can participate in Gender Lens investment and it should never become what is done for or to women just for the sake of financial returns on the investments.  I have been working gender issues for along time and yes, it does seem more complex than rocket science when “gender” is an object rather than a subject.

    People of faith who believe in the equality of men and women must reject and condemn violence and injustice to women and support grassroots human rights activists who risk their lives to create more just communities. We are experiencing backlash on women by the rise of fundamentalism. Religions at best are very ambivalent to gender equality and women’s rights.  More often than not religions support subordination of women. Change will come when more people of faith speak out and show their conviction gender justice by investing directly in enhancing the status of women.

  • BY Julius Mbeya

    ON December 29, 2015 12:53 AM

    Thanks Emily and Musimbi.  Clearly this is an article written from the heart and a deep belief that a world where women and men live in equality is possible.  I like the challenge posed to funders.  More often than not, the architecture of conventional funding is in itself a hindrance to realizing change on a subject so complex like gender equality.  The demand for results in a year or two limits the ability of innovators, social disrupters and local organizations to experiment, build community trust and sow the seed that will create a lasting change.  That is why the idea of gender lens investment sounds so attractive and as a partner to Imago Dei can attest that they are leading the way in not seeing women and girls as a separate programmatic silo in one’s giving portfolio but evaluating gender impact across all programmatic sectors. Working in rural set up like here in Lwala exposes you to the reality of gender imbalance. A conspiracy of tradition and religion (often grounded on misinterpreted doctrines) ensure that women are not only abused with abandon but that the abuse is justified. With time, this oppression becomes internalized and accepted as the norm such that when a 12 year old girl gets abused and impregnated, the poor child is blamed for being careless and irresponsible while the male perpetrator goes on with life like nothing has happened. The disinterest that men take in the health and wellbeing of their spouses and children is another appalling indicator of the fact that gender imbalance does not only hurt but corrupts the mind, body and soul. Investing in little initiatives like ours alongside other bell ringers, gender mainstreamers and institutional disruptors is an assurance that the fight is not in vain.  We shall overcome!

  • BY Emily Nielsen Jones

    ON December 29, 2015 04:04 AM

    Thank you Julius for chiming in and sharing this first hand experience of how harsh gender norms remain around the world and how religion is all too often a sanction for both blatant and blatant gender-based abuse.  I loved our visit with you at Lwala and see your program as an incredible example of “mainstreaming” gender equality into all levels of your organization and your outreach in the community.  I love how the “entry point” is just a good solid health delivery which attends to body, mind, and spirit and from there how you work so tactfully and strategically to address all the attitudes which create roadblocks to good health not just for women but also for men, children, families and communities.  Thank you for all the work you do at Lwala to model for the world that gender balance is good health.  All the best in 2016!

  • BY Emily Nielsen Jones

    ON December 29, 2015 04:17 AM

    Michelle, thank you for the reminder that cultural work of rebalancing power in the micro of relationships is also needed on a macro, global level in the redistribution of the world’s resources and power.  We have work to do to create a world that does not so easily accept as normal savage imbalances of power in the name of creed, culture or capitalism.

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