From the 6th to the 8th of March 2018, Integrity Action was invited by the Hewlett Foundation in Mexico City to participate in a peer-to-peer learning exchange on Gender in Transparency, Participation and Accountability (TPA). As Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Manager, I attended the event with 9 other grantee Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which work on TPA across the world. For three days, we shared our experiences, approaches, methodologies and lessons learnt around our gender equality and TPA related-work.
Peer learning exchange
Horizontal exchanges, in which organisations are meeting in person with their peers to learn and share together about practices, policies, or programmes, are becoming a wider practice in the sector. The Hewlett Foundation is implementing their new learning sub-strategy, with an emphasis on peer-to-peer learning exchange. According to them, funders often consider their grantees as best knowledge producers, but are usually not so familiar with their knowledge contents.
This event was the very first of its kind for Hewlett Foundation, and a way to gather world-wide grantee practitioners in the same room to advance the field’s understanding on how TPA policies and interventions (e.g. access to information laws, participatory budgeting processes, etc.) affect women and men differently. As practitioners, it gave us a unique opportunity to get some trusted insights from peers that operate in the same field, and often encounter similar challenges. It was also a chance to come back with some new ideas and get some of our practices validated - or, why not, disproved, by peer organisations. To encourage their grantees to share challenges and bad practices, staff of Hewlett Foundation chose not to be present in the room. This decision was highly welcomed by participants and allowed open and true conversations, with us sharing what we tend to hide to donors in our sector: our failures and unsuccessful approaches.
Learning and sharing
Integrity Action launched their GESI Strategy in 2016. I was proud to share with peers some of the material developed to allow IA to be more GESI sensitive (e.g our guidance to make trainings accessible, inclusive and engaging). I also presented the indicators developed by Integrity Action as part of the GESI Strategy, as well as the capacity building training programme that we set up for our local partners. I shared with others the challenges we sometimes face as a small team to find time for GESI. At Integrity Action, GESI Focal Points are performing this role on top of their regular position. They are not professional practitioners on GESI and are not paid for the additional workload it represents.
By listening to peers, I also had a chance to learn what was not working well for others. Here are the main points highlighted by our peers that I found the most valuable:
- Some organisations equipped with a gender equality strategy can still have an unfriendly environment for women to work-in. Mainstreaming gender at the project level does not necessarily come along with mainstreaming gender equality at the organisational level. According to some, the process of mainstreaming gender equality is much more challenging when the organisation does not practice what it preaches. This may be due to a lack of protection to women promoting gender equality in hostile environments (as it can be the case in Mexico), or to a quick loss of commitment and motivation from staff to invest efforts in a strategy not understood or supported by the management.
- Organisations speak too much on behalf of the communities they are working with. Communities – and especially women – need to speak for themselves to ensure ownership and sustainability. Our role as an organisation should be to facilitate and enable, without imposing an agenda. Some participants found that due to donors requirements or too rigid indicators, gender equality is imposed and perceived too much as an outcome, whilst it should be a process. Conducting an external research on the perception of our approach by local partners and beneficiaries could be highly valuable to Integrity Action in future.
- There is a lack of strategy behind the need to mainstream gender equality in organisations working on TPA. Although there is a common understanding that mainstreaming gender equality is a top priority, a few organisations have an official strategy, incorporated gender equality in their Theory of Change, adopted gender-sensitive budgeting or developed gender-sensitive indicators. This lack of a clear strategy often results in efforts not being optimised, which sometimes leads to them not translating into outcomes. Organisations shared that trying to achieve various goals was quite time-consuming and not always so rewarding.
The last session was dedicated to agreeing key recommendations for the Hewlett Foundation. These included:
- Intersectionality should be systematically considered. This means that interventions that tackle gender equality must take into consideration various aspects such as class, race, sexual orientation, and disability in a specific social context.
- In any project design, barriers to women’s participation should be systematically identified, so that solutions can be implemented to overcome them.
- Context and culture matter. Practices and procedure cannot always be replicated across different contexts. All the risks should be considered when engaging women and girls to avoid any damage or harm to them.
I feel extremely grateful to have been given a chance to participate in this event. Benefiting from such an experience is rare, and hearing from others’ experience is a unique opportunity. I also felt very proud to see how much Integrity Action have done in less than two years since the launch of our GESI strategy. Meeting with peers can be intimidating: it is a moment when our work will be tested. At Integrity Action, our GESI strategy has been built from scratch by dedicated and motivated staff members volunteering to include gender equality and social inclusion as an intrinsic component of every decision we make. I was delighted to realise that our work and our beliefs were mainly in line with peer organisations, and that we do have valuable lessons to share.