Why is including gender in programs at the Colombian Mission important?
It is important not only in programs but in the organization itself. Including gender (as well as sexual diversity) in programs is respecting and considering the realities of the communities. In other words, this means understanding men and their interests, women and their interests and preferences, and all the boys and girls that have a clear vision of what they want, what has affected them and how to improve. We cannot overlook these perceptions, preferences and opinions. An emergency humanitarian response or developing a humanitarian response implies knowing and understanding everyone’s reality and subsequently tending to each of them. A homogenous response limits the ownership from men, women, boys and girls and will thus not be sustainable.
Do you have any gender experts in your mission to mainstream gender?
No, we do not have experts in the Colombia Mission nor am I one. This is something that we insist on because it is often thought that gender has to be carried out by an expert. By respecting people, listening to them, and being sensitive as we humanitarians are known to be, we are able to see and understand different social realities. Today, all of the Colombia Mission is very involved in a program that we developed to be Gender Observers and everyone at all professional levels participate in identifying the best practices, key situations in the community or interaction with other teams, or identifying situations that can be improved. Likewise, we are being very inclusive with our language and avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes in our daily lives (this includes jokes assuming that men don’t like a certain color, or that women are more sensible for being women, etc.). By doing so we are more analytical on a daily basis and we are taking a step forward.
If you could send a short message to the network, what would it be?
We must be very observant, respectful as well as active in our observations and in the way we work with women, men, boys and girls because our success depends on it. At the end of the day the communities can continue to mainstream gender once Action Against Hunger is no longer there, which is part of our humanitarian responsibility. Understanding people that we work with is not hard, we just have to stop for a moment, observe and listen.
And more importantly, it must not only be understood and integrated into our programs but we must integrate it to our life as Action Against Hunger staff. If we do not manage to connect and be sensitive to gender and sexual diversity at a personal level, it will be difficult to apply it in our programs, with our teams and abroad.
What was the big push to mainstream gender into your programs?
We have always included gender in the framework of the Do No Harm principles and as a result we were unaware that we were applying the gender approach until it became more relevant to us and for the donors to ensure we were working with the same standards. What we did do was make our work in mainstreaming gender more evident in all of the documents and reports that we produce. Basically, it was about gathering experience, organizing it, and aligning it more closely with the gender policies.
What are some of the major advances you have taken to integrate gender into your programs?
We must point out that we have a very gender sensitive team and we have created a mini gender taskforce in the mission. We have focal points at the mission that are the regional coordinators, we talk about gender, and we provide continuous training with all of the team to keep the work alive.
Moreover, in our regional offices we have actions aimed to ensure best practices in gender and sexual diversity. For example, we have “the gender observatory” and we award the best gender worker of the month. We are also reinforcing training with other organizations in the area, and in other offices we created a wall of best gender and sexual diversity practices.
We have also mainstreamed gender at an institutional level, focusing on Human Resources. For example, 88% of those interviewed in the mission knew and acknowledged that the humanitarian crisis in Colombia affected men and women in a different manner, 96% pointed out that it was very important that gender be included in the Action Against Hunger’s programs in Colombia, 84% knew gender policies and implemented them and 92% believed that in Action Against Hunger there is a sensitive and favorable gender environment.
In our proposals we always try to include a section on gender actions in the mission. I am the person responsible for the proposals and I make sure to guarantee that gender is included and that there is budget allocated to gender and sexual diversity. Another important aspect is that the Country Director has been involved, is sensitive to it and has allowed advancing in the incorporation of gender not only in programs, but in the mission.
What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge that we encountered was to change people’s perception from thinking that this was a subject only to be handled by experts or “social areas” to believing that it was important for everyone. For instance, an analysis was conducted by everyone, from logistics specialists to technicians that showed the importance and relevance of incorporating gender from all areas and departments. We overcame this barrier through continuous training, positive speech and taking team motivational and inclusive actions.
Another challenge that we faced was to overcome the teams’ biases including “gender considerations are a waste of time”, “women and children always think the same way” or “gender is for women”. We managed to overcome this in the same way; through training and raising awareness not in theory or political schools, but bringing in key concepts in a simple and practical way. For example, visiting the communities and understanding that they have considered the opinion of different genders and age groups changed the way the community perceived women, men and the contributions of boys and girls. This allowed the team to reflect and to better understand the impact that we had and the importance of continuing our work.