Sharing our thinking on a Strategic Vision for Gender Equality

Our early thinking with Civil Society Organisations

A couple of weeks ago, members of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Gender Equality Team and I joined Lord Bates to meet Civil Society Organisations to discuss our early thoughts for a new DFID ‘Strategic Vision for Gender Equality’. I’d like to express our enormous thanks to Bond and the Gender and Development Network for planning and organising a really meaningful discussion, packed with in-depth thinking, analysis and challenge, and our thanks to CAFOD for hosting. This was one of a number of valuable discussions DFID is having with the sector on the new vision.

Internally displaced women and girls gather around water taps as they fill containers at the Dalori camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria, Friday 3 March 2017

We are revising our Strategic Vision now, because the world has moved on since we published it in in 2011 and we want to stay at the top of the game. We’re going to build on what we already know– that our original focus on girls’ education, on women’s economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and ending violence against girls and women are right, and will continue. But we want to be strategic, to make sure that our approach is fit for purpose for today’s context (including the Sustainable Development Goals), challenges (including our increasing focus on conflict and humanitarian crises), and that it is rooted in the latest thinking and evidence in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for girls and for women.

Our discussion in July was wide and thought provoking. A number of areas ‘jumped out’, many of which chime with our direction of travel. The team and I have been reflecting on some of these:

  • Overall, we heard a very clear theme of integration — we can’t achieve the transformation in gender equality we seek by working in silos. It can’t be business as usual and we need to bring together and amplify the collective impact of our endeavours. So the new vision needs to spell out ‘how’ we will deliver, as much as what we’ll focus on. This includes a clear understanding of the interconnectedness of the focus areas (or ‘pillars’) and how they play out throughout the lives that girls and women lead. It includes a clear focus on mainstreaming — in much the same way that Sustainable Development Goal five focuses on key areas of transformation for girls and women, but crucially gender equality is mainstreamed throughout the rest of the goals — we want our new strategic vision to highlight some particular and transformative focus areas whilst mainstreaming gender equality throughout DFID’s programmes and policies. We heard concern that we aren’t focusing sufficiently on environmental sustainability, on water and sanitation and on a number of other specific sectors. We hear you — these are part of our essential mainstreaming work — and we need to work out how to articulate this with impact in the new vision.
  • Intersectionality’ (can anyone offer ways of simply and powerfully describing this?!). No women and girls have the same lived experience, we need to include how those multiple layers of discrimination interact, again within the lives girls and women lead and produce the worst forms of exclusion, for example on the basis of disability, ethnicity, location. We need to think through how we can bring most effectively to bear the operational principles that underpin our leave no one commitment: to understand, to include, and to empower.
  • There’s a clear theme of integration across government, ensuring policy coherence, and to making sure that we are leveraging all of our diplomatic, business, defence and development heft to achieve the best and the most effective outcomes. We also heard a strong message from Lord Bates about the vital role he saw women’s rights and gender equality playing in the countries he visits and the importance of showing that our work on gender equality lies at the heart of the most effective development we can bring about.
  • There were repeated calls for all of us to be bold and to be brave , that we won’t get the transformation we all seek without those qualities. We agree and I found the call really motivating.
  • There was strong support for a proposed additional focus on women’s political empowerment — at all levels from the grass roots to national government, supporting women’s participation and leadership across all sectors. Women’s full and equal participation in political decision-making is critical to gender parity and central to a fully functioning democratic system, and the importance of women’s rights movements. And I heard strong support for increasing action in conflict and humanitarian crises. This is, after all where DFID is increasingly working, and where women and girls face some of the most acute challenges.
  • I also heard support for but also some concern about our thoughts on framing this as a vision for gender equality, rather than a vision for girls and women. I’d like to assure everyone that this does not in any way mean a dilution on our focus on the rights and needs of women and girls, nor any dilution of our efforts on violence against women and girls, but reflects the fact that we can’t support change for girls and women without addressing power relations and the opinions and expectations of men and boys.

So, we have a huge but an exciting time ahead of us to capture all we’re learning, and to arrive at a short but powerful vision that frames our direction, and has real and lasting impact. As I said on Thursday — this won’t be perfect — it’ll be a start, not an end and part if our success will be that it adapts to changes over time — including evidence. But it will be the very best that we can make it. And to get there, I‘ll be relying on your continued engagement through your ideas and your challenge.

Thank you for your time and keep the ideas, encouragement and challenge coming.

Gerard Howe, Head of Inclusive Societies Department, DFID