Gender Action Mainstreaming for Empowerment to Change

institutional change

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Designing and delivering financial services in ways which promote gender justice will require institutional change at all levels. All staff must not only promote gender equity, but 'walk the talk' in their own behaviour in the field and with each other.

These changes are now an established part of good business practice. Many of the changes are an issue of vision and behaviour rather than cost. Others require some initial effort and funding but in the longer term increase rather than detract from financial sustainability and profitability.

beyond blueprints: different types of FSP

There are currently a range of different organizational models ranging from community-based self-managed savings and credit, NGOs and specialist microfinance institutions (MFIs) to agricultural banks and commercial banks that are increasingly reaching out to rural areas.

Some service providers mainly or exclusively target women and/or have a written or informal gender policy. The variations among organizational models can significantly influence gender outcomes and have implications for the most effective ways in which gender can be mainstreamed.

Achieving gender equality and empowerment goals depends not on expanding financial services per se, but on the specific types of financial services that are delivered in different contexts to women from different backgrounds and by different types of institutions or programmes. It requires effective methodologies for product design, structural and cultural changes in organisations providing financial services at all levels, appropriate linkage with non-financial services of different types and mainstreaming gender in policies at the macro-level.

Nevertheless gender mainstreaming and promotion of gender justice are not issues only for NGOs or 'social' MFIs, but for all types of FSP, including commercial banks. There are measures which can be taken in all types of FSP to increase the contribution of financial services to gender equality and women’s empowerment.

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elements of a gender policy

In all types of institution, the most cost-effective means of maximizing contributions to gender equality and empowerment is to develop an institutional structure and culture that is women-friendly and empowering, and that manifests these traits in all interactions with clients.

Organizational gender and empowerment mainstreaming requires:

  • vision, mission and programme promotion to include an explicit focus on empowerment and gender equity.

  • equal opportunities policies for staff as a human rights issue, to set an appropriate example for programme participants and to increase
    programme effectiveness in reaching and empowering women.

  • gender and empowerment awareness for men and women staff to include an empowerment perspective throughout the programme interactions with programme participants including the whole process of micro-finance delivery, all routine training and advice for both women and men and complementary services and all group activities.

  • concrete incentives for women's empowerment in programme implementation including incentives for women themselves, for male participants and male and female staff.

  • integration of empowerment indicators into existing programme Management Information Systems
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Strategies for commercial banks and commercial MFIs

Many of these strategies cost little, such as recruitment, promotion, and sexual harassment policies.

Mainstream banks are sometimes way ahead of nongovernmental organizations in implementing staff gender policies (examples include Barclays in Kenya – dating back to the 1980s – and Khushali Bank in Pakistan).  Commercial banks increasingly have gender or equal opportunity policies to encourage and retain skilled female staff. Some offer childcare facilities and have implemented proactive promotion policies for female staff to attain greater diversity in the organization and better develop new market niches. 

The promotion of diversity, of which gender is one dimension, is a key element of best business practice in the West. In many social settings, increasing the number of female staff is essential to increasing the numbers of female clients.

Although a gender policy may entail some costs (for parental leave, better transport for female staff to increase security for example), the cost is likely to be compensated by higher levels of staff commitment, efficiency and retention. Unhappy and harassed staff members are inefficient and change jobs frequently, and training new staff is costly.

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strategies for ngos and social mfis

For NGOs and social MFIs there are other further possibilities which would increase their contribution to gender transormation as part of an inclusive financial sector.

  • Nonfinancial services focusing on women's empowerment and gender transformation
  • Building on group organisation for collective action to support women's rights and bring men into the process of change
  • Engaging in gender advocacy with other organisations in the sector.

There is however a need for gender assessment even in women-only NGOs and MFIs. And a need to look at strategies not only for working with women, but also working with men.

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challenges and innovation for GAMEchange network

Changing gender relations in institutions requires personal change as well as changes in organisational cultures and structures and integration into operational policies. Although the recent focus on ethical finance, poverty targeting, SPM and Consumer protection offer important opportunities to mainstreaming gender, there is also a danger that gender becomes subsumed as just one more cross-cutting issue along with environment and HIV/AIDS rather than an integral part of good business practice.

GAMEchange Network partners have been developing a community-led gender mainstreaming methodology combining elements of the gender mainstreaming process from the On Track with gender process, and particularly Oxfam Novib's Gender Mainstreaming and Leadership Trajectory with some simplified visioning and planning tools from the GALS methodology in order to ground gender policy in community realities.

Importantly changing gender relations must be fun, rather than a chore imposed by external agencies with a big stick! GALS@Scale methodology includes ways of using participatory drama and songs as well as visioning in order to interest and engage men as well as women in the change.

Promoting widepsread intitutional change across the financial sector will however require support from the MFI networks, donors and government - in fulfilment of their own organisations gender mandates.

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