08 March 2022
Category : Opinion
Sonia and Peggy work in the area of Public Administration and Social Affairs (APAS) at FIIAPP. Part of their work consists of promoting specific equality policies in the world. They also strive to integrate a gender perspective in each of the norms, laws and social policies they promote. A few days ago, in the coffee space in the office, they reflected on the concept of EQUALITY, in its external but also internal dimension, making self-criticism and pointing out the pending challenges in the organisation
We are two professionals working in international cooperation and we are two parents. Not always in this order. In fact, almost always the other way around. We both work at the FIIAPP, and one of our functions is to encourage actions that promote greater equality between women and men. We are working to ensure that the adoption of the gender approach in our institution is not merely rhetorical and that we move on to effective implementation. In the FIIAPP, there are many of us.
Although we are women, our awareness of this issue has been progressive and parallel to the fact that, on a personal level, we have been suffering more explicitly from these disadvantages and inequalities, and we have realised that the causes that provoke them are not so easy to confront and transform. Because these causes are so little visible, pernicious, anchored in everyday life, so deeply rooted in social and organisational culture that it is difficult to move the lines.
On the occasion of 8 March, we challenged each other on the gender approach. We wanted to provoke a face-to-face meeting, a vis a vis, without intermediation, and without it being a 5-minute coffee between two colleagues and friends who, taking advantage of a break, make a disclaimer. It is necessary to verbalise, it is necessary to make visible, it is necessary to share and it is necessary to stop and think. That is what we invite you to do.
According to the RAE, to focus means to direct attention or interest towards an issue or problem. What we try to do with our work: to focus public policies towards gender equality. The RAE also says that it is to bring the image of an object produced in the focus of a lens into sharp focus. Therefore, we have to equip ourselves with special lenses that allow us to analyse in order to understand the system in which women and men are embedded.
Sonia: At what point did being a feminist become meaningful to you? I mean when have you become more aware of the inequalities that women have to face?
Peggy: I was born in France. I grew up in a rural, mountainous, humble environment, and was lucky enough to ride the worn-out social lift, to take advantage of the welfare system and to exemplify the misnamed meritocracy. But my journey was an exception, and I saw that what Pierre Bourdieu had identified in the 1960s as the social and cultural reproduction of inequalities was still a reality. In this sense, my prisms for reading inequality had always been economic, social and cultural. I had not yet put on the gender lens. The turning point came with motherhood. Motherhood puts the issue of care at the centre of your life, as it does at other moments throughout the life cycle. And with it, two other issues that generate invisible inequalities: the question of the use of time and the question of mental workload. These inequalities manifest themselves most strongly in the domestic sphere, but end up having repercussions in the work sphere as well. Adaptation of the timetable, greater productivity, minimisation (or invisibilisation) of the space for care, management of the work and family agenda… saturated minds, tired bodies… From that moment on, I began to approach and read many situations through the lens of gender, and of the differentiated treatment and impacts between women and men. I think that when my daughter was born, my feminism was born too.
Related to this, do you think that gender equality is still a political or party political choice? It is striking that in democratic societies it is questioned whether fighting discriminatory treatment, lack of opportunities or violence against women should be a public objective that falls under the responsibility of any state.
Sonia: Indeed, the equality of women and men is a universal principle enshrined in the constitutions of contemporary democracies and in the most important international human rights texts. But gender inequality, to a greater or lesser extent, persists today all over the world and numerous empirical evidences show that these inequalities, moreover, are obstructing the progress and social and economic development of countries. A state must be on the side of rights. Therefore, gender equality policies should be state policies. It is true that in recent times conservative forces have popularised the expression “gender ideology”, based on misrepresentation and misinformation, and shielded by a discourse in defence of children and the family. But we are not talking about dogmatic issues: what the gender approach does is to provide us with certain analytical tools to better understand social reality. It provides us, as we said before, with lenses or glasses without which it is difficult to analyse the differentiated impact of any event on men and women, and to adopt measures that take into account the specificities of women.
We are certainly moving forward, but fast enough, how do you see it in your particular area of work, and would you like to go faster?
Peggy: Obviously in the APAS area we have a more favourable scenario to address gender gaps. By supporting social policies (equality, employment, social protection and care, health, education) we act on the mechanisms that resolve equality issues. On the other hand, by accompanying the modernisation of the state, public innovation, or multilevel governance, we can work on the design of an inclusive institutional framework that takes into account specific needs linked to equality gaps in institutions and territories. But the other areas of the FIIAPP also accompany the equality agenda: gender budgeting, the fight against climate change, productive development, inclusive justice, attention to women victims of trafficking, etc. In recent years, I believe there have been important advances. Several programmes have developed mainstreaming strategies and toolboxes, including EUROsociAL+, EUROclima, El PAcCTO, Bridging the Gap, Convivir sin discriminación or COPOLAD, to name a few.
However, we still have a long way to go. In some internal reflections we have discussed some challenges. The first of these is the need for a mainstreaming strategy. The second is training, for all staff. The third challenge, although perhaps the first because of its importance, is the need to clearly define the space we want to give to equality in the institution: do we want it to be a strategic principle of action for the FIIAPP? can we demand that all programmes incorporate this perspective and be accountable for their actions to improve equality? can equality be a conditionality in our dialogue with partner countries? and with our public administrations? Depending on where we place our compass, we will be able to address gender equality in greater or lesser depth.
One issue that is much debated is whether to opt for gender mainstreaming or for specific actions. From your experience in EUROsociAL, which is the most relevant strategy?
Sonia: I would say both, and I’ll explain. Gender mainstreaming aims to analyse the differentiated impacts on men and women. It is a transformative approach that focuses on relational differences, challenging both genders. This implies extending the approach to all sectors of public policy, including all state actors. However, we should not neglect specific actions aimed at women. To do so would mean weakening the institutional framework for women, i.e. the mechanisms for the advancement of women, and neglecting policies to promote equal opportunities that have had positive effects in correcting women’s disadvantages in relation to men. On the other hand, mainstreaming has the challenge of intersectionality, insofar as inequalities are multidimensional, how to address the interaction of sex and gender, with race, social class, territory or other categories of differentiation in people’s lives or in social practices. We would say that it aims to go beyond the transversality that starts from male-female inequality, to address those other characteristics/identities whose convergence/interaction produces structural situations of exclusion or vulnerability. A clear example: the rate of gender violence among immigrant women has increased considerably in recent years. How do we tackle this problem?
I would like to raise another issue, perhaps self-critically. We see that discourse and practices are not always in line with the promotion of pro-gender equality in international development. Of course, the FIIAPP is an institution in which the majority of us are women, and this has contributed to its policies of conciliation and co-responsibility, and in which the highest management body is occupied by women. However, there is still much to be done to incorporate the gender perspective into the organisational culture.
Peggy: To change culture it is essential to change structures, frameworks, and to push “from the top”. But sometimes the push comes “from below”. In the FIIAPP, there has been a strong push for equality from the programmes, and from the people committed to the issue. For example, in order to draw up the first equality plan, a gender group was formed, made up of trained professionals who were sensitised and willing to improve the approach to equality in the foundation. Intense collaborative work was carried out, accompanying the institution to achieve a plan that responds to two dimensions: the internal one, to promote equality within the institution, and the external one, to rigorously incorporate the gender perspective in all the projects we manage. We have to work on both dimensions. The internal one affects the strategy, communication, HR, service contracting processes, the information system, data analysis, etc. The external one affects the cycle of dialogue, formulation and management of projects and knowledge. Drawing up the Equality Plan has been an important milestone, but it is not enough. Its implementation in 2022 must mark a firm step towards prioritising gender equality in the FIIAPP.
Democratic Governance Coordinator at FIIAPP
Director of Public Administration and Social Affairs at the FIIAPP
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