Jenny began the session by framing the overall messages of the session about the particular significance of being a gender-focused intermediary:
1) Gender itself is a contested term and variously understood by different actors (from Southern feminists to northern donors etc)
a. Including a diversity of opinions about gender is not the same thing as being objective, and requires some political analysis of power, subjectivity and intersectionality of gender and other lenses
2) Seeking to be ‘objective’ (however this is considered) presents fundamental challenges (indeed can be undesirable) for gender research brokers / intermediaries, because:
a. The route to achieve gender equality goals is itself contested (i.e. gender mainstreaming perspectives versus those focusing on women’s rights and empowerment)
b. Gender mainstreaming is an ongoing struggle that happens within institutions that have their own normative biases (i.e. lobbying for gender pits one subjective voice against another)
3) Working towards gender equality goals inherently involves trying engage with, and have influence over:
a. Those that can influence change towards gender equality themselves
b. Those that need to change if gender equality is to be achieved
Gender work requires a particular awareness of subjectivity, of power and of the politics of information
Session 5 contained four parallel sessions, one of which was on ‘gender’. I met some old friends there, Jenny Redloff from APC, who chaired the session on gender. It was a very right choice of the chair, as APC is the champion in promoting gender in development. She was also designated discussant. That was interesting to become chair and discussant at the same time.
Sally Jean Shackelton form Women’s Net presented on “Digital Story Telling for Transformation” and Adrian Bannister of BRIDGE, IDS presented on “BRIDGE approach in supporting gender mainstreaming”.
Jenny posed a few issues for discussion in the session at the very outset. The issues are: neutrality versus objectivity, gender mainstreaming versus women’s empowerment. She mentioned that gender is a contested term, it is understood differently by different actors. She tried to put the argument that being inclusive of different opinions is not same as being objective. She urged to bring in analysis of power , subjectivity, intersection of gender+ other lenses in dealing with intermediation of research into policy making. She also put forth the argument on differentroutes of achieving gender equality, which was substantiated also in Adrian’s presentation.
Adrian in his presentation focused on ‘How’ and ‘Why’ behind what BRIDGE does, and illustrated BRIDGE’s approach to mainstreaming gender. “In bringing about change towards gender equality we seek to engage with two key target audiences: those that influence change towards gender equality; for example, people advocating for gender priorities and, people implementing mainstreaming of gender issues. And also those that need to change if gender equality is to be achieved – i.e., ‘mainstream’ policymakers, legislators, practitioners, social justice advocates, the media and the public, who do not yet seek out gender and development information, and so would require outreach”, Adrian informed the audience.
Most of BRIDGE’s work falls under three main areas, each of which contributes in some way to our approach: repackaging existing information into own products – and ‘add value’ through that process. This approach makes information accessible, relevant and trustworthy. For example: BRIDGE Cutting Edge Packs are made available for free both online and in print (to Southern-based recipients), and are translated and disseminated, depending on funding.
BRIDGE brings in ‘top-up’ funding for many publications, e.g. for translation and printing. This is a great way to engage them in BRIDGE’s work, and create opportunities for having impact within their organisations. For the Gender and Indicators Cutting Edge Packs UNDP agreed to provide we ‘top up’ funding for the Pack. The BRDIGE team approached them because of their role within the UN in relation to measurements of development interventions. Their funding meant that the team could gain access to UNDP fora.
So, what worked for the BRDIGE team? Having a specific influencing agenda enables BRIDGE to conduct it’s role as an intermediary more effectively. As a result of trying to shift attitudes, policy and practice BRIDGE cannot be an objective conduit of information. But this does not mean it cannot promote diversity and support less dominant voices alongside the mainstream. Successfully finding a niche in-between others can create opportunities for collaboration and for influencing them. Building relationships with others who are more powerful enables us to find spaces to influence them from within . Gender work requires a particular awareness of subjectivity, of power and of the politics of information.
Who we would like to benefit, (through research, through information dissemination and through policy) Should be central… in research intermediation
Sally in her presentation focused on what Women’s Net does. Women’sNet sworks to advance gender equality and gender justice in South Africa through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT’s) by providing content and training that supports individual women, girls, women’s organizations and networks to take control of their own content. Sally claimed Women’s Net is also an intermediary. They provide access to research ‘subjects’, can also be practitioners, sometimes provide services, sometimes advocate approaches or policy changes, and are not necessarily distinct, nor new, nor structured.
The story of hot girls was really touchy. Women were earning money after submission of their stitch works. Access to cash worked as miracle for them. The story was about “Changing lives stitch by stitch”. Women’s Net also work for changing lives “click by click”. Sally made a very important point: motivation can overcome skill barriers. Women who made their own story in computer were difficult to distract. Interest level was so high that it was unbelievable that how quickly they learned to use ICTs.
She was arguing that “Intermediary animal is difficult to get hold of”. She also agreed that it is difficult to be objective. She proposed a model of interaction between research, intermediary and policy.
A participant from Malawi contested that no intermediary is neutral. She also asked for clarification on “how’ question. A representative from PANOS was curious on how Women’s Net select other beneficiaries. She was also curious to know whether the beneficiary women can see the final version of the digital story. Sally told that “our approach is always partnership with other organisation to maximize. The participant argued that “policy world is separate and mystical”. It is difficult to produce and then communicate.
Veerle Dieltiens, another participant, wanted to know about what message Women’s Net want to give to the audience and who are the audience. Sally informed that they to show the Impact of the project to Oxfam, Oxfam on the other hand, shows the story to individual donors eventually. “We are advocating the digital story as a methodology for assessing impact”, Sally informed the audience. Veerle Dieltiens was also curious to know whether infomediary do read. Sally argues that research should influence practitioners rather than policy makers.
Ananya Raihan, DNet, Bangladesh
- Digital Storytelling for Transformation, Sally Jean Shackelton, Women’sNet
- BRIDGE approach to supporting gender mainstreaming, Adrian Bannister, BRIDGE, IDS
Chair and discussant: Jenny Radloff APC