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How to starve men and divide communities

May 9, 2011

Everyone knows that giving financial aid to women in developing/impoverished countries is the way to raise living standards for all, yes?  Indeed, the bestseller Half The Sky uses this notion as it’s core.  Women feed their families, men waste it on drink and drugs.

Funnily enough, aid programmes that use these gross stereotypes don’t always work that well for all genders involved.  Surprise!

Oxfam Great Britain and Concern Worldwide, in a fascinating document, have collected evidence showing that aid programmes purporting to have gender at their core actually don’t, and these programmes place ridiculous stresses on already fragile gender relations:

This acceptance of gender stereotypes not only reinforces traditional gender roles for women but also runs a risk of normalising this behaviour for men. Furthermore, most CTs [Cash Transfers] take place without any explicit analysis of gender roles and responsibilities, or an understanding of how gender relations work within different households of communities. [p12 pdf]

Fair play, starvation is avoided (although evidence shows men were loath to ask for help and did starve because they knew they were considered worthless).  And obviously many women are helped by this cash, but why waste so much money and opportunity just because of a basic lack of knowledge in gender dynamics.  Or more likely is simply considered unimportant? And in the long term, the impact on communities may not be good:

Targeting can alienate the community without real and meaningful participation and can increase division and long term vulnerability. Jealously and community division were noted in all three cases [studied]. [p16]

Gender inequality won’t be improved without the expertise available actually being used.  It won’t be improved by using gross stereotypes and ignoring men.  As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a speech a couple of days ago:

I believe that unless you change mentality and behaviour of men, it will be very difficult to change this situation

He then went on to ask that ‘women leaders from around the world and from all walks of life’ actually do the work, but hey – like giving money to women only and alienating half the sky, he’s half way there.  Right?  I’m reminded of the slogan that talks of the radical notion that women are human beings.  Any change of spreading that one round the world?

H/T The Guardian & Womankind

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