Gender Equality Week is an opportunity to reconfirm our commitment to advancing gender equality and to raise awareness of the work that still needs to be done. To mark this important week, CanWaCH organized a three-part webinar series throughout the month of September to highlight some of the most pertinent and challenging issues being faced and, in particular, concrete opportunities to address and overcome them. Over the course of three weeks, 300 people registered for the series to learn from experts and share best practices around a variety of issues from gender-transformative humanitarian interventions, unpaid care work and technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). Here’s a summary of what we heard.
Recordings of the sessions are available on CanWaCH’s website. If you’re interested in learning more about a session or getting in touch with a speaker, please contact Deborah Dahan at [email protected].
What We Heard Report: Integrating Gender Equality and Gender Transformative Approaches to Humanitarian Action
On September 13, CanWaCH brought together gender equality (GE) experts in advancing whose work focuses on providing guidance on gender-transformative (GT) programming in humanitarian contexts. Together they shared practical tools and recommendations on how to better integrate GE into humanitarian interventions and made the case for why humanitarian response, both domestic and international, needs to be gender transformative.
Gender inequalities are often exacerbated during crises. Failing to consider GE in humanitarian response increases the risk of overlooking the needs of those who are most vulnerable to the impact of crises, which runs the risk of perpetuating further harm. As a result, humanitarian interventions need to go beyond immediate, practical needs and look at addressing strategic needs to better support women and girls’ agency and empowerment, ensuring that aid has a sustainable impact.
Using GT approaches provides an opportunity to address existing inequalities and harmful practices. It also promotes women’s and girls’ agency and decision-making power. When disruptions or crises happen, gender roles and power dynamics can change. This can be an opportunity to create a targeted programmatic focus that facilitates, centres, and supports women’s empowerment. As crises move to the rebuilding phase, platforms are opening up for discussion around laws and government systems. This creates an opportunity to ensure that historically excluded voices are invited to the table to actively participate in decision-making. It also ensures that issues around inequalities and shifting norms are raised, and that the capacities and skills of the community affected by crises are recognized and integrated into the response and long-term planning.
It is essential to work at all levels: from the individual level to strengthen social and economic assets and safety nets, to the community level to tackle gender norms, attitudes, and practices that may be harmful, and to the institutional/government level to ensure that there are laws, policies, services, and budgets in place that promote GE and inclusion. Programs should also work along the development-humanitarian-peacebuilding nexus in order to intentionally promote an integrated approach that looks at both short-term and long-term needs. This is particularly important when it comes to funding, planning, and identification of stakeholders/partners. This allows for the planning of gender transformative interventions right from the beginning of interventions and as part of a continuum. Further, we need to ensure that an intersectional lens is used through the meaningful inclusion of community members not only prior to and during disaster events but also as part of the recovery process. Research and data collection is another essential piece to ensure a better integration of GE in humanitarian interventions. One of the panelists gave an in-depth presentation on the opportunities and challenges in the use of data for the integration of gender in humanitarian action which is available here.
Meaningful integration of GE into programming also means looking at the reality of challenges. Some of those challenges include limited budgets, donor priorities that do not necessarily see gender equality as a lifesaving action, shorter funding cycles that are not inclusive of the longer timelines to track GT change, limited capacity of organizations, and limited availability of GE experts. In addition, crises and disasters around the world are putting a strain on global finances, adding to the sense of competing priorities/scarcity which is true even more so for very specific gender-transformative interventions.
In Canada, GE is less understood and prioritized in disaster relief interventions as the focus continues to remain on practical needs. This conversation hasn’t really happened at the government level or been adopted as a domestic systematic approach as we’ve seen happening during the COVID-19 response. Despite bolstering the policy frameworks and intentions around the importance of better integrating GE in disaster relief interventions, there’s still a lack of consistency across the country. One reason for this is that emergency responses are dictated by mandates that do not prioritize GE. Domestically, we have an opportunity to increase the ambition and budget, invest in GE advisors/experts, and provide more training in order to ensure at minimum a GE lens is included in the Canadian humanitarian response.
On September 20, CanWaCH convened a global panel of experts to unpack the impacts of unpaid care work on women and girls’ access to education, and further explore the intersections that exist between SDG 5, gender equality, and SDG 4, inclusive and quality education for all.
Gender inequalities within the care economy are prevalent, with women and girls disproportionately shouldering the burden of care in both the formal and informal sectors. While the distribution of care work varies across life cycles and has shifted over time periods, it is essential to acknowledge the influence of gender norms in shaping the roles and responsibilities of women and girls. For example, social stigmas may discourage men from taking on care responsibilities due to concerns about how they will be viewed by peers. This results in significant barriers for women and girls to participate in political, employment, social, and educational opportunities.
Care responsibilities intersect with women’s and girls’ ability to access education in a variety of ways. There are different external and internal barriers, such as the role of duty bearers in promoting care work as primarily women and girls’ responsibility and in ensuring that more resources are allocated towards boys’ education which often excludes or limits girls from these education opportunities. Other barriers include poverty and economic hardships which may lead families to pull girls out of school to find employment as domestic workers. Additionally, the lack of access to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services leading to unplanned pregnancies was also mentioned as a barrier to education linked to care responsibilities. When women have to juggle care work and education, the nature of the institution, the flexibility of programs, and the facilities provided such as nursing and breastfeeding facilities, or institutional policies that allow women to resume their education after they drop out or get pregnant all contribute to access and retention.
Among the key strategies to address these issues, panelists looked at ways to create enabling environments to transform the gender norms that affect women’s disproportionate share in care responsibilities. This includes working with moral duty bearers and men to change mindsets around women’s access to education as well as their access to non-traditional sectors such as non-traditional trade. The importance of representation was also a key focus during the discussion, emphasizing the influence of positive examples and role models. It was stressed that when girls are exposed to women who pursued education and held roles outside the traditional caregiving sphere, it helps them envision a future beyond early marriage and motherhood. Further, the power of examples can also help combat the stigmas that men encounter when considering their own role and involvement in caregiving.
Strategies to address these issues have to be multidimensional and cross-sectoral. Therefore more work is needed not just at the community level but also at the institutional level to create a multi-dimensional approach to combat the negative impacts of the care economy for women and girls. When women have no choice but to be responsible for care work, institutions can provide mechanisms to support women to continue their education such as by providing childcare services and breastfeeding facilities.
In addition, this discussion highlighted the need to advocate for the recognition of care work and of the skills gained through this work by educational institutions and employers. To that end, data collection can be essential to assign an economic value to women’s care work as it can support efforts to talk about the impact and value of care work and the scale of its contribution to the economy.
On September 27, CanWaCH brought together experts to discuss strategies, tools, and best practices to address and prevent TFGBV. Throughout the session, panelists shared diverse perspectives on how to work towards closing the gender digital divide and prioritizing women’s agency in online spaces while ensuring their protection.
While the digital space has become a game-changer in terms of advancing gender equality and empowerment, it also creates new ways for women, girls, and gender-diverse people to experience multiple forms of violence and exclusion. TFGBV is a unique challenge due to its scope and the anonymity of abusers – which creates impunity and the potential for abuse to persist online indefinitely. In addition, abuse happening online tends to be misunderstood and misinterpreted as not as damaging as physical violence, which impacts the ability of survivors to report.
The constantly evolving digital landscape also affects how service providers can assist GBV survivors as they now must incorporate technology into risk assessments and safety planning. For example, shelters must address threats like doxing (the action or process of searching for and publishing private or identifying information about a particular individual/place on the internet), which puts the safety of residents and the shelter’s ability to operate at risk. Further, new questions have to be raised to keep survivors safe such as considering whether survivors’ social media and bank accounts are secure from abusers and if passwords need changing to ensure safety, or looking at the use of tracking devices that continue the violence by allowing perpetrators to stalk and harass them.
Access to online spaces is crucial, including for accessing essential information. When working with communities who have been lacking access to digital technologies, it is important to have conversations that promote access and the positive use of digital tools, while also raising awareness and ensuring that safeguards against potential risks are taught. That is where the ideas of digital self-care and learning how to build agency over our digital life becomes crucial. It is also important to acknowledge the reality of TFGBV survivors who don’t want to go back to online platforms when they’ve experienced abuse and harassment on them. By not providing a safe digital space for them and thereby encouraging them to leave that space, we’re further isolating survivors instead of holding abusers, tools, or platforms accountable.
TFGBV and GBV cannot be considered separate issues: TFGBV is a form of GBV and is a direct result of what is happening offline, and that is now being replicated using new tools and platforms. To effectively address TFGBV, it’s crucial to examine the broader systemic context of GBV and recognize that the root causes of both online and offline violence are the same. It is the same systems of oppression, the same patriarchal norms, power dynamics and understandings around gender and gender diversity that uphold a society where this violence against women can thrive. As a result, solutions to combat this violence have to be addressed throughout the GBV continuum. For example, since GBV often begins online but escalates offline, digital technology and engaging in online spaces must be incorporated into GBV-related programming, education and advocacy efforts.
This also allows for more reflection on how online spaces can be utilized for GBV prevention, education, and support for survivors through online communities. The online space has also become a platform to empower marginalized communities to mobilize and enhance their capacity to address violence and abuse, giving them back agency and power over their lives.
Panelists shared many recommendations to address and prevent TFGBV. This ranged from the need to continue education around digital literacy and awareness raising on TFGBV and the impact of tech on gender equality to the need to address the root causes of both online and offline violence such as power dynamics that particularly affect women and girls. Panelists also highlighted the need for a multi-sectoral approach. Governments, CSOs, and the private sector need to work together if there is going to be significant change in this space. At the policy level, we need to advocate for policies that acknowledge and recognize TFGBV not only as a part of the GBV-continuum but also that its impact is just as severe and damaging as physical violence. Private tech companies need to prioritize the safety of the end users when developing new tools and consider the unique needs of women, gender diverse and racialized communities who experience the most violence and hate in digital spaces. As we work to prevent GBV at a systemic level, we also need to support survivors today by ensuring that service providers have the necessary knowledge on how to best support survivors of TFGBV or where to get this information. For example, providers need to know how to best preserve digital evidence, how to clear digital footprints, how to clear a browser history when survivors reach out for support, etc. In addition, panelists emphasized the importance of creating safe community spaces for survivors to access support, including an end to blaming the survivor for what they’ve experienced.