The power of dialogue in accelerating gender equality

February 2017

Blog

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to transform the world for the better by 2030 and Gender Equality (SDG5), is without a doubt integral to achieving all these ambitions.

But progress in achieving gender parity is still slow. At the end of 2016, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report estimated that, at the current pace, it would take another 170 years for the gender gap to be closed. This calls for immediate action. Everyone, from individuals and households to organisations and policy makers, needs to commit to accelerating gender equality and ensure that half of the world’s population gets an equal chance to realise their full potential. In addition to being a moral imperative, gender equality is bound to have a great impact on economies.

According to FAO studies, if women had the same access to production resources as men, they could increase their farm yields by 20–30%. This could reduce the number of people suffering from hunger by 12–17% globally. Ivory Coast research showed that rising women’s income by $10 has the same positive effects on children’s health and nutrition as a $110 increase in men’s income.

So how do we go about achieving such an ambitious goal? As this year’s International Women’s Day theme urges us, we all need to be #BeBoldForChange. If we all do our bit, in an action-oriented, pragmatic way, starting small but thinking big, we can move closer to achieving gender equality.

At SNV, in our work with rural families, we start by looking at needs: what do low-income farmers need? And more importantly, what do households – husband and wife – need? How are resources and benefits divided between them?

Households are actually microenterprises, yet often men and women work separately, hardly ever planning together. This comes at a huge cost, with women still getting the short end of the stick. At the same time, men face challenges in changing their behaviour since peer pressure is high in settings where norms and values are deeply ingrained. That’s why, under our Balancing Benefit approach we work to initiate household dialogue, encouraging collaboration between men and women. Household dialogue focuses on what both the husband and the wife need, their joint plan towards their vision and the action they can take together to reach that vision. In this way, both husband and wife are ‘bold for change’.

Household dialogue: a game changer in gender equality

In Butajira, Ethiopia, the ‘Gender and Youth Empowerment in Horticulture Markets’ project funded by Comic Relief used the Participatory Action Learning for Sustainability (PALS) methodology developed by Linda Mayoux to trigger such household dialogues. Thus, men and women alike become ‘gender champions’.

PALS comprises several tools among which the ‘Gender Balance Tree’. This tool explicitly addresses the relationships between men and women in the household. Key questions include: ‘Who does what on the field?’, ‘Who does what in the household?’, ‘Who spends the money and on what?’, ‘Who makes the decisions?’. By completing the ‘Gender Balance Tree’, men clearly saw that their wives were highly involved in a variety of household chores, while their household part of the ‘tree’ remained empty. It made them realise they might be able to help their spouse by for example fetching water, thus enabling women to engage more in income-generating activities. Women, from their side, admitted they left many decisions up to their husbands.

Life-changing experiences

Determined to improve her family’s life, Shemega Usliman convinced her husband she should participate in SNV’s programme. As a result, she has been sharing the tools with him at home and started spreading the word among the 50-women group she joins at the mosque every Friday for prayer. With the knowledge she gained during the workshops, Shemega wants to get more involved in farming at household level and integrate some of the practices she learnt to increase their production of coffee. With the extra money earned, Shemega hopes to buy a water pump and not have to pay to borrow one from the neighbours anymore.

Another gender champion, Yasin Sani, testified: “I expected a training on irrigation and cooperative management. What I got however was a life-changing experience. I learnt that I can manage my time, quit my addiction to chat and work better with my wife. My wife was impressed with the way I shared the work at home and both I and she are very sad the workshop is over. But I will share the tools with the community as I am the living example that change is possible”.

Towards impact at scale

Working on gender implies working on relationships: intra-household, between households, between communities. Therefore, these champions would share the tools and their plans for change. Two months after the first workshop the champions had shared what they had learnt with about 500 people. While some of their peers were not interested in adopting the approach, they admitted they were impressed by the changes they saw, for instance by the husband washing clothes now. This is a start, a small one, but a start rooted in what people need, taking into account both women’s and men’s needs.  

Through the Balancing Benefits approach, thousands of women have been empowered to take an active role in all their family's business decisions and processes. With our programmes we aim to increase women’s share of the family's income, enhance women’s entry and success in businesses and influence business environments to enhance equity of opportunity.

So let’s all #BeBoldForChange every day and work together to make gender equality a reality in our lifetime.

Expert

Sarah de Smet

Global Coordinator - Gender