Applying a "gender lens" to your work

Different genders are socially conditioned to occupy different roles. They face different expectations and challenges. These biases are often subtle or invisible. Often, they’re not intentional or malicious. Regardless, treating all people equally does not necessarily result in equal outcomes. In order to be fair, your organisation must be prepared to treat different genders differently; to remove barriers and to encourage inclusion. You can start this process by applying a “gender lens” to your activities.

If you wear glasses, then you understand how difficult it is to see things clearly without them. The road signs along the freeway, the words in a book, the emails on a computer screen – all the information is there, but without your glasses, it might as well be invisible to you.

If you don’t wear glasses, then think what it’s like to try to see underwater without goggles or a mask.

Looking at the world without a gender lens can be a bit like swimming without goggles, or reading without glasses.

We live in a world where the default settings have been set by heteronormative men and for heteronormative men. The default gender-related assumptions that underlie our thinking are likely to remain invisible or blurry, and therefore they can mislead us, even without our realising it, unless we bring them to attention, question them specifically, and look objectively at precisely what lies before us.

It’s not just men who have blurry vision when it comes to gender. Both men and women are socially conditioned to see things a certain way.

Using a gender lens when analysing, planning, and making decisions means carefully and deliberately examining all the implications of our work in terms of gender.

A gender-wise program is one that considers the different needs and circumstances of people of all genders within the target beneficiary group.

The concept of gender applies to both men and women. It refers to our different socially constructed roles, our behaviours, our activities, the way we relate, share resources, make decisions, plan for the future and participate in our community. It is different from “sex”, which merely defines us in a biological and physiological way. (Adapted from a definition by the Australian Women Donors Network)

Is this only about girls and women?

The 2015 European Foundation Centre report Grantmaking with a Gender Lens responds specifically to the question, “When you talk about gender, do you mean just women?”

It says: “No. We mean looking at the different issues arising out of our experiences of being women or men or those identifying differently.

“Effective gender analysis requires engaging with and assessing impacts for people from across the gender spectrum, in diverse circumstances and with a wide range of other social characteristics.”

What we really want to get away from, however, is the situation where words like "standard" or "natural" or "neutral" really mean "heteronormative male". For example, it might be considered unremarkable for a board or council to be composed of seven men and one woman, but noteworthy for it to consist of seven women and one man, and newsworthy for it to include transgender people.

As a result of this “unremarkable really equates to male” bias, you are more likely to need to deliberately examine your program’s effects on and openness to other groups, including to women and girls. As the largest population of the excluded, and given its roots in the feminist movement, gender lens analysis tends to emphasise understanding policies and programs primarily in terms of their effects on females.

Why does it matter?

There are two excellent reasons why not-for-profits should apply a gender lens to their work.

First, doing so will mean your work is fairer (because all potential beneficiaries are considered and included) and more effective (because your activities will be better targeted).

Second, not-for-profits are increasingly being asked by funders, and by the public at large, to demonstrate that they have taken account of the persistent biases in society – in what they are, and in what they do. In time, your funding might depend on getting it right.

Anti-discrimination efforts may begin with women, but should not end there. Women are not, of course, the only disadvantaged or marginalised group in our society. Organisations must also ask themselves whether there are barriers to participation affecting other groups – Indigenous people, people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, people in poverty and LGBTQI people, for example – along similar lines.

In what follows, our examples address the specific issues of women and girls. We hope you will be able to use these examples to suggest ways in which you might address other areas where our dominant culture renders discrimination invisible.

Equality versus equity: what’s the difference?

Imagine a running race between a cheetah, a leopard, an elephant, a dog and a beetle. All are in good health. The starter’s gun fires, and they all take off at exactly the same time. They’ve all got an equal opportunity to win the race, right?

No, clearly not.

A report by Girls Incorporated titled What’s Equal? Figuring Out What Works for Girls in Co-ed Settings (1993) urges organisations to examine their work in terms of:

  1. Equity of access
  2. Equity of treatment
  3. Equity of outcome.

The report says: "Levelling the playing field is more than simply opening more doors for girls and giving equal treatment to girls and boys; it is transforming the way we look at gender as it relates to girls' and boys' development.

“Equity of access means that a program provides women and girls equal opportunity with men and boys to participate in programs and activities. Programs will not necessarily achieve equity of access simply by opening the door to both genders.”

Similarly, opening up the running race to five different species with different qualities is hardly a fair race – and that’s not even taking into consideration the socially conditioned biases and differences that come into play when we’re talking about humans instead of animals.

In seeking to uncover structural biases embedded within its work, a not-for-profit organisation needs to take time for thoughtful reflection.

Gender lens checklists

It is impossible to prescribe all the questions your organisation should ask itself in order to gain a better appreciation of the gender implications of your work. However, you can use the following areas as a starting point and tailor the questions to your own circumstances and aims.

Not all of the following questions have right and wrong answers. There may be very good reasons why your programs are not reaching women and girls in equal numbers (you may be running a men’s health clinic, for example). In any case, it’s still important that you ask the questions.

Culture

Does your organisation serve all genders by:

  • Holding board meetings, retreats, staff meetings etc at times when people of all genders are able to participate fully?
  • Offering family-friendly benefits, such as family leave, job-sharing, family violence leave, and child care?
  • Training board and staff members to recognise and address discrimination, equity and language bias regarding gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation? Do your policies adequately and appropriately address sexual harassment, domestic violence, discrimination, and protections for those expressing grievances?
  • Seeking appropriate gender-related expertise or collaborations?
  • Taking into account the ways in which racial, ethnic and cultural dynamics affect the interests and needs of specific groups of women and girls?

Governance

Does your organisation include women and girls as active decision-makers by:

  • Ensuring they are adequately represented in staff and board leadership positions?
  • Encouraging their participation in strategic planning, program planning, staff development and evaluation?
  • Demonstrating a commitment to women and girls in both budgeting and expenditures? For example, do you provide equitable and appropriate compensation with the opportunity for professional growth?

Projects and programs

In its work in the community, does your organisation consider gender equity when developing a program by:

  • Planning and implementing programs that encourage active participation, leadership and non-traditional roles for women and girls?
  • Accounting for the needs, interests and experiences of women and girls in program activities, from promotion and outreach to training materials and curriculum?
  • Providing the support structures (e.g., childcare, transport, domestic violence screening, counselling) required by women and girls to enrol and be successful within specific programs, linking effectively with organisations and services as necessary?
  • Supporting and preparing women and girls to maximise their current social and economic wellbeing?
  • Encouraging women and girls to participate by providing support and feedback, and requiring outcomes that are meaningful to women and girls?
  • Using language (in promotions, advertisements and other published material) that will encourage (or at least not discourage) women and girls to participate?
  • Using images that depict all genders in appropriate ways?
  • Advertising and promoting your work in places that will ensure you reach all genders?
  • Timing your activities to ensure that all genders are able to participate? E.g. if you hold meetings in the evening, does that limit participation by people with parenting responsibilities? If you hold meetings during the day, does that preclude people who work?
  • Holding your activities in locations that are accessible to people of all genders? Are they safe, appealing and welcoming to people of all genders?
  • Catering for particular groups of people who need extra help in accessing or getting the most out of your program because they are starting from a lower or different base of knowledge or experience?
  • Providing a setting and an environment in which all genders feel comfortable voicing their opinions?
  • Identifying any other possible barriers to participation by women or girls? Are there any barriers to men, boys or people with non-binary gender identities participating? How can they be minimised or eliminated?

Outcomes and evaluation

  • Do you expect different outcomes from your work for different genders, or the same outcomes? If intervention X leads to outcome Y for men, is the same true for women or people with non-binary gender identities?
  • How will you evaluate the impact of your project or program on men and on different genders? How will you report on it?

Gender lens reporting for grant applications and reports

As a grantseeker, you may encounter questions on application forms and progress reports/acquittals that ask you specifically about how you are applying a gender lens to your work.

Here are some tips to help you answer those questions appropriately:

Demonstrating you understand what a gender lens is, and how you are applying it

You may be asked to demonstrate ways in which you have addressed the needs of people of different genders in the design and management of your initiative. The above checklist provides a good starting point in considering what you may need to do, but you will need to tailor your thinking to your specific program. All genders can usually be included equally if you employ creativity in your process and you bring to the surface hidden barriers to participation or inclusion.

Demonstrating you will monitor the results of your actions

You may be asked to show how you will measure (or have measured) the gender reach of your project/program. The simplest way for you and your funders to measure whether your organisation's efforts have been successful is to consider the gender of the people who have accessed, delivered, or participated in / benefited from your initiative. You can collect this information by conducting simple actions such as including gender identification in your registration form or survey.

Note: There may be a deliberate reason why you aren’t aiming for equal gender reach (e.g. working with people who have a sex-specific illness, or men’s mental health) You need to be prepared to clearly articulate these reasons to your funder.

Demonstrating you have thought about what worked (and what did not):

Gender-wise funders appreciate information about what worked to create a project/program that has provided equal access regardless of gender. The best funders also want to know about what did not work. You won't always have solid evidence but if asked why you succeeded or failed to reach gender equality, you should make an attempt at identifying the influences. These might include structural influences (e.g. the initiative was held in a place not favoured by one gender or another, the language wasn’t right, no childcare options were provided, etc), as well as the influence of unconscious bias. As humans, we are heavily biased towards things that are familiar to us and can be easily made to feel uncomfortable by things that feel out of whack. As our brains seek to get things back to rights, we can unknowingly create barriers to the unfamiliar. This is not unusual and it's usually not malicious, but it can affect whether or not we are being truly inclusive. Again, a good place to start in identifying barriers is the checklist above, but it's important to carefully scrutinise the design and management of every aspect of your program. Overcoming unconscious bias takes careful and creative thinking, so set aside time in any review to examine your activities carefully.

Demonstrating your commitment to continual improvement

Unless you’ve achieved gender equality in your project reach, your funder may want to know how you plan to address the imbalance in future projects. They may want you to identify potential changes to your program that would ensure your work reaches women and girls more equitably in the future. This information can be used to inform the design and implementation of your program next time, and by the funder to feed into similar projects that can learn from your experience.

For more help framing your answers to gender lens questions, check out the Funding Centre's Answers Bank.

Reporting on projects designed specifically to address gender inequality

The above guidelines apply to all initiatives, regardless of their purpose, but some programs aim specifically to address gender inequality, or do so as an unintentional addition. Reporting on these types of projects should be more in-depth and robust.

Note: There are many different ways of measuring girls’/women’s empowerment, as it is multi-dimensional. It's likely that organisations directly addressing gender inequality will have a good understanding of how to report their results. These tips are aimed at providing some examples for organisations looking for guidance when reporting on partial or unexpected outcomes that address gender inequality.

  • You will need to devise a way to evaluate and measure how your project has addressed gender inequality. This may incorporate participants' views of their own empowerment, rather than relying on an accepted norm or outcome. You can read more about evaluation methods in our 'Measuring what Matters' book.
  • In reporting on the effects of your initiative in reducing gender inequality, you may look at the personal level (e.g. higher-self esteem, greater access to personal capital), relational level (e.g. influence in the community, ability to control time devoted to care responsibilities), or environmental (e.g. breaking stereotypes, quality of health/legal services). These levels and corresponding characteristics are outlined in detail in Oxfam’s ‘How to’ Guide to Measuring Women’s Empowerment.
  • You may want to outline the dimension in which your program is working (e.g. economic, legal, psychological, etc). Your program may work specifically within one dimension, or incorporate a number of dimensions.

Sources
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Gender-wise Guidelines for Grant-seekers, by the Australian Women Donors Network, 2013

What’s Equal? Figuring Out What Works for Girls in Co-ed Settings, by Girls Incorporated, 1993, cited in Gender Matters: Funding Effective Programs for Women and Girls by Molly Mead, 2001

The Gender-Wise Toolkit for Grant-Makers, by Julie Reilly and Georgia Mathews for the Australian Women Donors Network, 2015

Clear Sighted: A Guide to Using a Gender Lens, by Chicago Women in Philanthropy, 2008

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