Aligning community organizations and interventions with SDG 5

Cross posted:

Even if a country has progressive legislation, policies and plans, whether gender and social equality is actually achieved depends on how far they are translated on the ground. Gender and social relations sensitivity of community organisations and interventions does matter. What does this practically mean? First, one needs to understand and address who is excluded from community organisations and interventions. Second, one needs to align community organisations and institutions towards what is required to achieve SDG 5  

A.   Understanding who is excluded from community organisations and interventions

Exclusions can be direct or indirect. An example of direct exclusion is the case of women not being allowed in traditional councils and religious committee.  An indirect form of exclusion is when a rule does not allow women into community organisation or intervention. For example, land ownership mandatory is for participation in irrigation and watershed programmes and committees and agriculture cooperatives.  As few women own land they are excluded.  Gender-based exclusions also affects men, but to a lesser extent. Fathers, for example,  are excluded from  early child hood and nutrition committees (India) and school feeding groups (Mozambique). Such "rules" and "norms" that permeate community organisations violate gender equality and targets that are part of SDG 5. Quotas alone are not adequate to change such exclusions; social norms and distribution of resources have to be changed. These are discussed in part B

Gender interlocks with other identities that lead to exclusions. Going back to the irrigation group, landless labourers who may be leasing land for cultivation or simply have a right to  a share of water resources are also excluded from irrigation groups. In Moldova and Vietnam young couples post economic liberalisation were excluded from vineyard and agriculture cooperatives as they did not have land (land was distributed to older groups). Women in sex work, HIV+ women and transwoman are often left out from women's self-help groups, and the savings and loans. Nutrition interventions and groups in a programme in Nepal left out non pregnant and lactating women, signifying that women’s nutrition did not matter other than in their capacity as mothers. I encountered an unusual type of exclusion- of women from indigenous community considered endangered. They wanted access to contraception but the government would not provide them, as their numbers were declining. That is women's reproductive decision making was controlled by the government

Another pathway of exclusion is the venue and time and of meetings, and leadership of groups. Holding meetings and training programmes in religious places excludes people of other religion as well as menstruating women and girls. Day time meetings, convenient for staff of development organisations, exclude the poorest women who go out to work. Who holds leadership position in groups also matters, with domination of privileged women leading to less participation of the marginalised.  Further, non-rotation of women leaders and the same leader holding multiple posts can further existing divides.   Thus, gender interlocks with caste, class, ethnicity pregnancy status, menstruating status, gender identity, religion, occupation, health to exclude women and at times men.

Aligning community organisations and interventions requires understanding of different identities which lead to exclusion of marginalised women, how they intersect and  strategies to address such exclusions

B.   Addressing exclusions in community organisations and interventions towards SDG 5

SDG 5.1, 5.2 and 5.3 End all discrimination against women, eliminate all forms of violence against women and End all Harmful practices:

Few violence against women (VAW) committees of government exist in South Asia, other than in special programmes. Outside state run programmes, NGOs have formed “men against violence” on women groups in Brazil, India, Bangladesh and Uganda to list a few. They have addressed wife battering, molestation, child marriage and rape and such incidences are reported to have come down in areas where these groups function. However, only few VAW groups have address the wide spectrum of violence and discrimination that women and girls (in particular marginalised ones) face. For example, while dowry harassment is challenged, the giving and taking of dowry continues and expenses related to marriage of a daughter are much higher than son in India, and increasing.  On the other hand,  in countries like  Afghanistan where bride price is the norm girls are at times sold to the highest bidder, including to men of much higher age. Ten Sudar, a federation of women's groups in Theni in India, is led by Arunthathiyars (considered the lowest sub castes amongst Dalits) and other Dalits. It has supported inter-caste marriages of adults and taken up abuse of Dalit women by people who employ them. In one village, following suicide linked to social customs, the leaders successfully urged the villages leaders to put ceilings on spending  on different social functions linked to women and girls.   Thus, ending all discrimination and forms of violence requires going beyond "visible" and "acceptable" things to challenge, to challenging the socially "unacceptable".

SDG 5.4 Recognise and value unpaid care work... promote shared responsibility within the household

National governments have mainly focused on pushing responsibility for bringing change on gender norms on women. NGOs and some UN agencies have attempted to forms "caring men/husbands’ group" and "Adolescent boys’ groups" in Brazil, Uganda, India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Men involved in such programmes, like that of Community Health and Social Justice, India have started ‘helping’ in domestic work, though not sharing the same. Further, such assistance is more done in the private space of household, and less outside. Partners report less physical, emotional and sexual violence on the part of their husbands, but few men have adopted vasectomy.   Through such programs adolescent boys help their mothers, but not to the extent of their sisters. Some brothers have stopped controlling their sisters, while other continue. It is time the responsibility of changing gender norms on unpaid work was shared between men and women, and the burden of change not foisted on women. Equally it is necessary for state to contribute to reduce care burden. For example, in UK the government supports/provides cheap after school care in schools and also accredits private providers and regulates pricing who can take care of children till parents come from work. On another front, there are examples of smokeless cooking stoves and agriculture drudgery reduction technologies. Trade-offs may be there between drudgery reduction for women farmers and job availability for women landless labourers  

5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life:

Several countries have separate quotas for women and marginalised groups in local government, but rarely together which is necessary to address intersectionality. However, quotas do not mean that women exercise power, as at times husbands or privileged men act as proxies. Further, when backed by a political party a woman in local governments cannot exercise her independent influence. In some provinces and countries considerable work has gone into empowering elected women and gender budgeting, planning and implementation at local government like in the case of Kerala in India and some districts of Bangladesh. Elected women have primarily voiced practical needs of women like access to wafer, electricity, sewage etc, but when supported by a women's rights organization strategic issues such as  violence against women. One Panchayat in Kerala declared itself as dowry free and regulates the same. Upazilla committees in one district in Bangladesh, with training from a women’s rights organisation, takes up cases of violence on women and refer to health centres if necessary.

In the economic sphere there are examples of Dalit women leasing land and doing agriculture (India), indigenous women managing forests with men (Nepal) and women's groups managing poultry and coffee value chains (Bangladesh and Rwanda,  and women processing sweet potato and cassava oil (Ghana).  However, these are few and far between.  Such support reduced such labelling and discrimination.     Women labourers have also mobilised themselves to demand higher wages. Women labourers (Dalits) in a village in Theni India refused to work for landlords nearby and started working outside till wages. They were getting paid Rs 150 per day in the village while the wages outside were Rs 200 per day for agriculture work. After two months, women's wages were increased by the local people. Straddling economic and social sphere, an UN agency supported the government of Ghana to work on economic empowerment of widows who were labelled as witches.  

Successes have been few in bringing women into traditional mixed forums, village councils and local religious institutions, or engendering the deliberations.  In Rwanda women were brought into mixed forums for decision making like cooperatives, watershed committee and micro finance groups etc through a UN agency. In the religious sphere, Muslim women in some places have formed their own Jamaats, conducting prayers, interpreting Quran in a feminist way and giving verdicts. Denmark and Pudukkottai in India are examples.

5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights: Village health committees have been formed by government and function to varying degrees in developing countries. ANC and institutional deliveries are monitored and have increased and unmet needs for contraception have come down. Yet anemia amongst girls and women is high and responsibility for contraception is on women. Safe and legal abortion services are limited. Violence against women is seen only by a few as a health issue. The health committees, where they function, address issues which are safe, and not controversial. Sexual rights of women are rarely addressed, and while that of men is taken as granted. However, when women’s health rights have worked together with thee committees a few breakthroughs have been possible.   

To sum up, legislaiton, policies and plans towards gender and social equality (SDG 5) need to be accompanied by shifts in community structures, norms and resources. Transformative and intersectionality sensitive community organisations and interventions need to be fostered on on the part of the state as well as UN agencies and NGOs. There are some examples of such interventions which could be scaled up, and others experimented. We need to ensure that the onus of change is not only on women, but shared by men; and likewise with regard to other social relations.

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