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Potential of gender and development: a practitioner’s perspective

Watch this case study video of two Gender and Development practitioners who work to integrate development and gender equity.
ELLY TAYLOR: So Women’s Health West is a regional women’s health service that works in Melbourne’s western region. We are the largest specialist provider of family violence services to women and children experiencing and escaping family violence. And we also have a health promotion prevention arm that works directly to provide programmes and services to women and girls to increase gender equity.
BRONWYN TILBURY: IWDA is an explicitly feminist organisation. So our partnership model really falls out of those feminist principles, which are equality, power, sensitivity– contextual understanding. And so we believe that the women who are working within their own national context, geopolitical situation, are best placed to design their own programmes and understand what’s best to advance women’s rights in their context. And we would never presume to know better than they do. So we see our role as to support and enable that work, and that’s why we don’t do that direct implementation.
But we take their lead, and we do work to connect them with other organisations that we work with and introduce them to new models and thinking and analysis where we think it might be helpful. But we leave it up to them and their agency to determine what they take and what they leave and how they implement their own programmes.
ELLY TAYLOR: Women’s Health West has an explicit feminist mandate. We’re a not-for-profit organisation. So it can lobby and advocate government around a range of key issues for women and girls, such as abortion access, prevention of violence against women, and the prevention of practises such as female genital cutting. I think our specific role in our region is to ensure that women from diverse backgrounds have equal access to power and resources. So we have a focus on health equity and working with the most marginalised and disadvantaged women to ensure kind of increased health and well-being outcomes.
BRONWYN TILBURY: We’re working with a couple of organisations in Timor-Leste, who have just implemented some really amazing work over the last year. And it really exemplifies the kind of theory that we have about how change happens. So in Timor, they’ve just had that Suka-level actions, which is a village-level election. And our partner organisation, the Alola Foundation, has been working in coalition with a number of other women’s rights organisations in Timor to approach women’s participation from a few different angles. So they’ve been working with women candidates to build their confidence and their skills to run for elections at the village level. But they’ve also been working at a legal level to change the policies.
And now there’s a quota in place that’s been the result of a long campaign by women’s rights organisations there so that there’s now a quota, which has increased the amount of women actually running for those elections and doubled the amount of women who were elected. And then alongside that work, they were again working in coalition with other organisations to do a public campaign around the importance of women in leadership and changing people’s minds about seeing women as leaders. And so all of those different approaches work together to create the result of having doubled the amount of women elected at village level, as opposed to the last elections.
ELLY TAYLOR: So I think a key milestone for the women’s health programme and Women’s Health West specifically was the decriminalisation of abortion in Victoria in 2008. We lobbied and advocated to government and a range of key ministers to vote in favour of decriminalisation. That was successful.
We’ve also undertaken a lot of work to advocate and lobby state government around the prevention of violence against women. The state government committed to undertaking a royal commission into family violence, which was the first royal commission of its kind internationally. The outcome of that has been $1 billion worth of investment in family violence prevention, intervention, and response services to women and girls in Victoria– so another highly successful outcome.
BRONWYN TILBURY: So one of the major challenges of working in development is that a lot of the systems that we work with like to have short-term tangible outcomes. They like to produce technical solutions. They want people to be experts and to have one size fits all kind of solutions to problems. And those kinds of approaches to development often end up reproducing systems of inequality and patriarchy and colonialism, which are the sort of systems that we’re trying to dismantle.
ELLY TAYLOR: I think for us, an ongoing challenge is the misconception that as a women’s health organisation, we only work with women and girls. Our mandate is essentially to increase gender equity for women and girls. But to ensure equitable outcomes, we have to work with men and boys and work to change contemporary notions of masculinity and what it is to be a man in order to increase access for women and girls.

Gender and development practitioners experience successes and challenges, but where might we be heading and how could development and gender equity be integrated in practice?

This video features a case study looking at how two gender and development practitioners are working to integrate development and gender equity as part of both local community and international global development efforts.

In this video, our speakers talk about:

  1. How elected women doubled in number at the Timor-Leste village level election in 2016 and how a blend of local and international organisations worked in partnership and coalition at multiple levels to enable this change
  2. The first ever Royal Commission (the highest form of inquiry into a matter of public importance) on family violence conducted in the state of Victoria, Australia in 2016 and the ways in which many organisations and individuals engaged in political advocacy and lobbying to bring about the inquiry.

Challenges for gender and development practice

Compromises and challenges sit alongside successes in gender equity work.

The practitioners in the video identify the immediate appeal, but potential danger, of:

  • short term responses
  • technical solutions
  • expert and one size fits all approaches to problems.

As you watch, notice the practitioners’ critical awareness about their own roles, including how they aim to avoid reproducing systems of inequality, patriarchy and colonialism.

These systems are a legacy from the past and an ongoing context which affects practice in the present.

Your task

Watch the video and reflect on the following:

  • What are some characteristics of the approaches used by these practitioners that contributed to their success?
  • How was this influenced by who they worked with, where and how?
  • Why were their approaches effective or how do you think they could’ve been more effective?

Discuss your ideas with other learners in the comments.

To help enrich and extend the conversation, try using reply to develop threads that respond to others as well as adding your own posts.

This article is from the free online

Gender and Development

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