Rescuing diversity from the gender trap!

Often I am asked to plan, train or evaluate programs from a gender lens. The organisation’s gender policy and guidelines are given to me, and I am asked to keep these in mind while carrying out my tasks. Unfortunately, many policies and guidelines (often generated by donors) focus on gender relations in isolation, and do not take into account that they interlock with other power relations like race, caste, class, abilities, sexual orientation or gender identity to marginalise women.

Further, there are some indicators on which inequalities based on some other identity are starker than gender differences.  For example, ethnic and caste differences in access to education are starker than gender differences. Boys from fishing communities in coastal Tamil Nadu fare worse than girls with regard to access to education, as they have to go fishing with their fathers to support family livelihoods.

At the country level, catering to the donors, the government and smaller NGOs prepare baselines, plans, monitoring systems and end-lines which are ‘sex disaggregated’ but not disaggregated by the other variables. Some interventions in tribal areas in India assume, for example, that the dominant community women are the norm, for planning purposes, and that the women’s family will have land, that they can rest during pregnancy ‘if educated’, that they are totally powerless, etc. However, there may be other problems like the presence of early marriage.

At the international level, gender-specific planning/monitoring/evaluation frameworks and the like take into account changing gender-related beliefs, norms, laws, policies, resources, etc.; but these are only possible to achieve after addressing laws, policies, and norms upholding racial or caste or homophobic-based values (March, et al, 1999).  The UN decade for Women, separate MDG on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Beijing +20 processes, and gender planning, training & evaluations tools have created awareness on gender issues, but attention to a social relations perspective needs strengthening.   Thus, attention to gender, equity and diversity is required for furthering well-being, rights, and a human revolution.

What are the ways forward to rescue gender equity and diversity from the gender trap?

  • Include in Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals specific targets which disaggregate ‘women’ and ‘men’ further.
  • Alternatively, have a separate goal on equity which tracks reduction in income inequalities and religious inequalities, as well one inequality specific to each country.
  • Evolve tools/framework for planning, monitoring and evaluation which address the intersection of gender with other social relations.
  • Support not just national Gender Statistics but Gender and Equity/Diversity indicators and statistics.
  • Evolve gender and equity/diversity training, planning and evaluation frameworks building upon Kabeer (1994), Murthy (2014).
  • Include diverse groups of women in organisations and boards, with a bias towards the marginalised identities.
  • Organise gender, equity and diversity trainings for the development community.

By Ranjani.K.Murthy



March, Candida; Smyth, Inés A.; Mukhopadhyay, Maitrayee (1999). A guide to gender-analysis frameworks. Oxfam.

Kabeer N, 1994 Reversed Realities Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought (1994) Verso, London, UK.

Murthy, 2015, Towards Socialist Feminist Theory of Change

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