How can we effectively integrate gender practices into complex partnership work in turbulent times?
As part of the Learning from Consortia programme, we asked seven UK Aid Connect consortia what factors affect organisational capacity and uptake of gender equality and intersectional practices with partners.
Drawing from their experiences, here are five of the potential solutions to help organisations embrace gender and intersectional practices within consortia.
1. Build shared understanding and values of gender, inclusion and intersectionality
There will be variable gender expertise and capacity, in terms of understanding terminology, and how understandings and ambitions translate into programmes.
Some consortia experience a more organic development of gender-oriented practices. But others comment that there is only a “bare minimum” of practices and gender transformative approaches are yet to be realised.
During the co-creation phase, plan for cross-consortium discussions on key terminologies and/or issues such as “gender”, “identity”, “sexual orientation” and “intersectionality”. This can feed into a shared values statement that includes gender and other key elements.
Additionally, create a glossary of terms for the consortium. This can reveal opportunities for capacity building in different areas and with different partners. Time spent early on will be worth the investment and will help hold the consortium to account later on regarding the integration of gender. Value statements will also need to remain active and will need revisiting throughout the programme’s implementation.
2. Internally integrate gender into the consortium
‘Doing’ gender is not about box ticking. It is an aspect to consider at all stages of planning, implementation and monitoring and must be well integrated throughout. This is challenging when gender is not the key focus of programmes, as it can be sidelined amongst competing pressures and priorities. This places responsibility on individual consortium members to implement a gender lens in the initial framing and as an integral part of the cross-cutting themes and interventions.
This siloing can also occur when one partner is the gender ‘technical’ expert. If the whole consortium is not on board, it can become an uphill struggle for one organisation to integrate gender, rather than it being taken up throughout.
Set out a Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) strategy during co-creation and link this with the consortium’s goals. Connect the strategy to other approaches on responsible data use, monitoring, evaluation and communications.
Co-create a gender action plan with partners and country offices by supporting them to implement it and make appropriate adaptions. These discussions might include “difficult conversations” about meaning, for example, LGBTQI+ rights and safeguarding. There are guides and resources that can support “difficult conversations” on a range of issues: IOM’s LGBTI Training Package, UN WOMEN’s Violence Against Women quiz, Women in the world of work quiz, Covid-19 impacts on women and girls multimedia explainer. The action plans should be used as a reference to mainstream gender in the consortium and, where possible, linked directly to the implementation plan.
3. Hold each other to account with gender commitments
Donor pressure to prove consortium effectiveness sometimes leads to gender being overlooked. Staff face competing demands on “proving” the programme’s worth according to donor requests, where there is a minimal focus on gender. Subsequently, gender approaches are not fully explored in the co-creation phase and only picked up later. Resulting in gender becoming an “add-on” rather than well integrated, budgeted and planned for.
Clear targets and budgets are needed for all consortium members to set out their responsibility to integrate gender. These must look at behavioural and attitude change, as well as longer term shifts in power dynamics and gender equality and not only sex, age and disability disaggregated data.
In addition, donors can provide leadership by ensuring both resources and guidance that keeps gender in the frame in conceptualisation, planning, monitoring and implementation processes.
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4. Ensure clear roles and responsibilities within leadership regarding gender
Programme management plans stipulate who is leading the consortium, however, these are not always clear on who is responsible for integrating gender. This risks creating gaps integrating gender and assumptions that the lead organisation or technical gender lead agency is responsible. Two issues arise: the lead agency may not always be the most appropriate to advise on gender or the technical gender partner is not in a position of power or responsible for gender approaches being implemented across organisations.
The consortium lead organisation must be regularly willing to champion gender and wider commitments. If they are not gender focused, they should be following guidance from a gender advisor. The lead organisation and the leadership across the consortium should check that all partners budget for a gender focal point and/or a gender and social inclusion budget line. This will help bridge commitments made in project plans with implementation.
If there is a gender lead organisation, they should work from the outset alongside partners to offer support. However, their presence and support can never replace each agency’s own responsibility to integrate and implement gender sensitive or transformative approaches. To be successful, consortium leadership must echo those responsibilities and commitments and reinforce the fact that the gender technical lead is not responsible alone, but a resource to support consortium members to deliver on their gender commitments.
5. Contextualise gender work in each area
Gender and inclusion approaches will always need to be contextualised, to avoid doing harm and ensure progression of gender equality for all. This can be particularly challenging when gender issues are very sensitive and socio-cultural barriers are pertinent, not only to implement their work but to ensure staff are on board with the gender approach.
The first step is using gender analysis to inform internal and external consortium practices. There are many guides for this such as the CARE Rapid gender analysis toolkit. A political economy analysis can be used to successfully identify the context for the programme (see ODI’s Applied political economy analysis).
A GESI strategy method can be devised to look inwards and ask reflective questions to each country office and partner. This may lead to finding gaps in ownership of projects whereby a follow up process could then begin. This may also help to begin the conversation and process of contextualisation.
It is also important to think about language that is often very “Eurocentric”. To help with this we can return to point 1 on making time for building shared understanding, strategies and a glossary of terms, which all partners can recognise. Cross-cultural skills are also key. This helps to enter into a dialogue with partners to contextualise programmes and approaches whilst listening and negotiating challenging spaces.
The Learning from Consortia programme is led by Bond and The Partnering Initiative to share learning and find innovative solutions to complex development challenges. Due to the FCDO’s recently announced cuts, the programme will be closing early. Read our statement here.