Gender and Resilience: From Theory to Practice
How do gender inequalities manifest themselves across different contexts?
This paper presents a synthesis of four case studies documenting strategies towards building gender equality through resilience projects. It draws on the experience of NGOs involved in the implementation of the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) projects: Mercy Corps (Uganda), ActionAid (Myanmar), Concern (Sudan/Chad) and Christian Aid and King’s College London (Burkina Faso). The analysis also reflects on discussions held during a "writeshop" that brought together NGO practitioners, donor representatives and researchers, to examine different approaches to integrate gender and social equality as part of efforts to build communities’ resilience to climate change and disasters.
The papers seeks to document how gender inequalities manifest themselves in all four contexts affected by climate change; how gender is conceptualized in project theories of change (ToCs); the operationalization of objectives to tackle gender inequalities; internal and external obstacles to the implementation of gender-sensitive activities; and drivers that help NGOs transform gender relations and build resilience. The four case studies describe how disasters and climate change affect gender groups in different ways and also underscore the patriarchal social norms that disproportionately restrict women and girls’ equal access to rights and resources. The resulting inequalities are likely to undermine women and girls’ resilience, and ultimately that of their households and communities – an assumption that underpins projects’ ToCs. Hence, projects that aim to enhance people’s resilience capacities have to recognize social diversities, inequalities and their intersectionality. If they fail to do so, they risk further marginalizing and undermining the capacities of those who lack access to decision-making or experience discrimination.
Based on lessons from NGOs’ experience, and challenges they face in the particular contexts where they operate, this papers aims to inform practitioners on how to draw on promising practices to make resilience projects inclusive and equitable. It also provides a set of recommendations to point out areas where further research is required to increase understanding of resilience to climate extremes and longer-term changes, and to suggest how donors and funding can best support efforts to build communities’ resilience.
A conceptual framework on gender and resilience
Projects are never neutral in the way they are designed or in their social impact, as they reflect, among others things, the implementing organization’s values and priorities. Projects assumed to follow neutral approaches usually fail to address the specific needs of gender groups and the constraints they face, leading to their concerns being overlooked and the potential to increase existing inequalities. Gender responsiveness in projects is therefore essential.
Adopting a gender approach requires projects to recognize social differences, roles, expectations and needs accorded to women and men and between people within these gender categories. This means going beyond the women–men binary to look at the intersection between and interaction of different social identities (e.g. gender, status, ethnicity, class, age, religion, disability). The aim here is to gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of people’s vulnerability to climate extremes and longer-term climate change as well as their resilience capacities.
If practical gender needs are met, the lives of women (or men) will improve without challenging women’s subordinate position in society. If strategic interests are met, on the other hand, the existing relationship of unequal power between men and women will transform. Therefore, strategies that further address specific needs and interests help compensate for historical and social disadvantages that prevent women, girls and other marginalized groups from otherwise accessing equal opportunities and enjoying equal rights. Accessing these assets is part of developing women and/or marginalized people’s absorptive, anticipatory and adaptive capacities in order to build their resilience to climate change and disasters. In other words, NGOs that promote gender equity are concerned to foster the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of societies’ members as a precondition for, and an indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.