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Gender matters at MRG

4 May 2003

MRG introduced a policy statement and guidelines for staff on gender in 1997. Prior to this, we had not generally been integrating gender into our work – and donors were also picking up on this.

In promoting minority and indigenous peoples’ rights, we needed to fully understand the issues. We needed to know how Muslim women and men in India, for example, were being treated; or whether Roma boys and girls had the same access to limited schooling in South-East Europe. We are developing more informed outlooks, which can better reflect minority and indigenous peoples’ concerns. This is also being mirrored in donors’ opinions of our work. All new staff at MRG have an induction in gender issues and we hope to offer training on gender mainstreaming in future. We looked at our council (board) and found that it was imbalanced from a gender perspective – we also wanted to see more members of minority/indigenous communities in these important positions. Since 2002, we have had a female chair of the council (a first for MRG), Maja Daruwala, with seven female and six male council members – and more members from minority communities.

We have seen that our work is improving from a gender perspective. Some of our methods include: asking gender-related questions at our job interviews and appraisals, and asking gender specialists to comment on our draft human rights reports. We hold an annual gender audit of our work, and consider whether, for example, both women and men have participated in minority/indigenous rights consultation meetings, and include gender-based information on participants’ evaluation forms to disaggregate their feedback.

MRG aims to work in partnership with many minority and indigenous peoples’ organizations. While some of our partners work specifically on gender-based issues, such as our partner in Brazil – Geledes – who promote Afro-Brazilian women’s rights, others do not. Most have a community focus, from a minority or indigenous community that is facing serious threats – including racism, conflict or ‘disappearances’. In these instances, some may question whether an analysis though a gender lens is appropriate. However, all of these impacts have a gender dimension – women and men, and girls and boys may experience these issues differently – but some may fear, for example, that discussing their communities’ high levels of ‘domestic’ violence would simply stoke the fires of racism and discrimination.

Further, some indigenous peoples, prefer to work as a community and feel that some gender-based work in the past had taken an individualistic as opposed to community-based approach, and may fear that this would threaten their identity as indigenous peoples. We need to be aware of these issues, otherwise we risk missing the range of peoples’ experiences, and risk reinforcing or misrepresenting gender or racist stereotypes.

MRG began working on gender-specific issues in the late 1980s, publishing on a highly sensitive topic, Female Genital Mutilation. We helped to break down some of the stereotypes around tradition, culture and women’s and girls’ rights. We have also begun to consider gender and men and boys – raising issues around child soldiers, for example, most of whom are boys. However, given that most societies still discriminate against women and girls, our focus will follow this discrimination, and seek to report on and tackle instances of double discrimination – for example the discrimination faced by minority and indigenous women because of their ethnicity and their gender. We also seek to report on multiple discrimination, i.e. women from minority or indigenous communities who face further discrimination as a result of age, class, disability, sexual orientation etc. As this brief article illustrates, we have a lot to learn. However, we have made a start.