Why was a new Gender strategy needed now?
Amy: In late 2021, we commissioned an independent Gender Review covering our work over the previous five years. We already had a strong track record in gender and peacebuilding, but it helped to highlight areas to focus on going forward, like setting out a clearer end goal for our gender work and a more strategic process for integrating it into our peacebuilding practice. It also surfaced some challenges we’ve been reflecting on with our teams and partners - including gender work becoming increasingly donor-driven and tick-box, rigid measures of success and language not always resonating in the contexts we work in (and sometimes serving to marginalise people) and how we can rebalance and challenge power dynamics in our own work as well as wider policy and practice spaces when it comes to gender.
Evidence has shown that approaches focused on increasing the participation of diverse and marginalised groups in peacebuilding haven’t led to substantive change, and can risk burdening these groups with the responsibility to lead change without addressing the underlying factors which exclude and discriminate them in the first place. Our strategy sets out a more transformative ambition, focused on shifting these underlying factors. This is more important than ever, especially as we see a concerted effort to roll back the rights of women and diverse groups, and anti-gender movements taking root across the world. We wanted to be transparent and hold ourselves accountable to this by sharing the strategy more widely.
Conciliation Resources has committed to becoming a gender responsive and transformative organisation. What does this mean and what will Conciliation Resources be doing differently as a result?
Gabriel: At its most simple, gender responsive peacebuilding addresses the effects of gender, and other inequalities and conflict. This might include responding to exclusionary dynamics, social stigma, gender-based violence and trauma. Gender transformative peacebuilding goes a step further, shifting the underlying factors which drive gender, and other, inequalities and conflict in the first place. This can include challenging imbalances of power, shifting harmful norms, narratives and grievances and addressing unequal access to resources and decision-making.
Gender transformative practice is ultimately critical to preventing underlying causes from resurfacing and furthering conflict and inequality in the longer-term. But we also know from our peacebuilding practice just how important gender responsive changes are in the here and now for marginalised and disempowered groups in conflict-affected communities. For that reason, we see gender responsive and gender transformative peacebuilding approaches as complimentary pathways for mitigating existing inequalities and conflict drivers, whilst also setting our sights on building peaceful and inclusive societies. This is a long-term effort, which is why our new strategy is set over five years.
Amy: We’re already working more closely with our teams, partners, gender experts and wider stakeholders in South Asia, Central African Republic and Ethiopia to define what gender responsive and transformative change looks like for these contexts and develop action plans for advancing change and counteracting resistance to this type of work through contextually-led knowledge, values and tools. Over time, we want to build an evidence base of what gender responsive and transformative change looks like through different social and cultural lenses and use this to challenge our own assumptions and adapt our own methods.
The strategy introduces a 'Gender Integration Cycle' as the main vehicle to help Conciliation Resources become a more gender responsive and transformative organisation, but how does it work?
Amy: It’s designed to help us move beyond projectised and reactive approaches, to integrating gender as a core part of our wider peacebuilding goals. Essentially this means developing a mini gender strategy and action plan of sorts for each of our programmes, which can guide teams and partners in contributing towards more strategic gender work. This is the sort of long-term, flexible approach that can really add value rather than being seen as a tick-box or burden - and we’ll be advocating for more donors to support this sort of approach over time.
Gabriel: The Gender Integration Cycle involves five key steps that we support teams and partners to complete. The first three take place over a participatory three-day workshop. This means bringing together teams, partners, gender experts, civil society, local authorities, youth and elders to analyse how gender inequality and conflict are interacting in specific contexts, brainstorming gender responsive and transformative change objectives specific to the nuances of the context, and developing a tailored Gender Action Plan outlining practical, realistic actions to take and methods for engaging with likely resistance and barriers. The final two steps take place on an ongoing, annual basis, and involve accompaniment support, convening of safe learning spaces for teams and partners to understand how others are integrating gender across different contexts and themes, and using our annual outcome harvesting sessions to track progress.
We know that gender also relates to other forms of identity such as race, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation. How does the new strategy deal with this?
Gabriel: We take an intersectional approach to our gender work, meaning we use gender as a primary lens but also analyse how it interacts with other socially and culturally relevant identities. This might be age, race, sexual orientation, or in some contexts we work in things like kinship structures - to determine how different people experience conflict and marginalisation, and the power and opportunities they have to shape peace and conflict dynamics. So rather than treating gender as distinct and separate from other forms of identity, in building a gender responsive and transformative practice, we aim to uncover and address the effects and drivers of wider systems of inequality and oppression - many of which are closely interlinked.
Amy: The way we approach intersectionality in practice can differ – for example, our team and partners in Nigeria don’t use the term directly because it can be seen as technical and alienating. Instead, they invite community members and leaders to bring their full selves into circles and take steps forward or back based on different experiences. They’ve found this is a much more practical and accessible way of surfacing people’s different, and often invisible, identities and experiences, creating common ground and highlighting shared challenges which leaders are then more likely to take action on.
What are your main hopes for the new strategy?
Gabriel: Ultimately, I hope the new strategy, and the underlying practical support it offers, can empower and motivate our teams and partners to confidently design and deliver gender responsive and transformative approaches and be catalysts for positive change in the contexts they know best. I also hope it equips us to share stories of success with donors and partners, bringing more people on board.
Amy: I’d like to see it do two additional things. The first is to provide a concrete evidence base showing how gender responsive and transformative approaches strengthen peacebuilding impact across different conflict contexts, as well as what approaches look like for different contexts and themes of work (e.g. climate change, mediation, mental health), so this can be scaled up by wider practitioners and support them in advocating for this type of work. The second is to platform more locally-defined approaches to this type of work. Gender work is still largely driven, and restricted, by projectised frameworks, rigid monitoring and evaluation, visions for change and ideals developed outside of conflict contexts. We have seen through our own practice that Global Majority experts often have to adapt their contributions and approaches to fit within these spaces. We hope the learning, expertise and evidence coming out of implementing our strategy can help to flip this dynamic and start a wider conversation with international donors and practitioners on how they can adopt more conducive models, language, framings and ways of working.
Explore our new strategy, Towards an inclusive and transformative peace: our approach to gender.