Gender equality: A recipe for success in development programming

Feb 07, 2022
It isn’t often in development work that you hit upon a recipe for success.
Most endeavours are hard fought, taking years to achieve success, while some attempts completely backfire.  
But a recent review of our work revealed the ingredients for long-lasting transformation in the rights of women and girls.  
In 2021, we reviewed 10 years’ of programming, including more than 50 projects in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, the South Pacific and Eastern Europe. These programs spanned the development and humanitarian spectrum. In some, gender equality was the principal objective; in some, gender equality was a key project strategy and outcome.  
Based on this extensive review, we determined the following five elements (or ingredients) are essential to creating lasting change towards gender equality in any development programming.

Infographic with World Vision logo outlining a recipe for gender equality with the steps from the blog post in five light orange boxes.
There's no one-size-fits-all method to advancing gender equality, but these five elements are proven to be effective.

1. Address gender equality and empowerment of women and girls as both a core objective and a key contributor to outcomes.
World Vision Canada approaches its projects first and foremost as gender-equality projects. This approach has evolved through our experience. It’s shown us that equal rights, equitable access to opportunities and resources for women and men, and equal decision-making power are the foundation for success in all our projects, across all sectors. Unless gender equality and empowerment of women and girls is a core project objective, the achievement of all other project goals—food security, education, health, sexual and reproductive health and rights, child protection and more—are severely compromised.  


2. Partner with women and girls.
In both our development and humanitarian programming, we help women and girls build knowledge, confidence, participation, negotiation and leadership skills. We encourage them to find their voice and their power, to define and act on personal and collective goals, make important life decisions and participate in the economy and public life. We support women and girls to exercise agency in different ways, both as individuals and collectively at the individual, household, community and institutional level. An important part of empowering women and girls involves working with husbands/partners, parents, mothers-in-law, community and faith and traditional leaders and other power-holders and gatekeepers to accept women’s and girls’ equal participation in decision making.  


3. Foster enabling environments.
We situate our gender equality projects within the local set of interrelated, interdependent structures and practices, including policies, laws, institutional mechanisms, resources, norms, beliefs, attitudes and practices that impact gender equality. Our work seeks to bring about sustainable and lasting changes through the empowerment of women and girls as informed advocates for change, supported by community systems and structures that uphold their rights and enable their social and economic advancement.  


4. Elevate the social value and position of women and girls.
World Vision Canada promotes equitable gender relations and increased social value of women and girls by challenging the prevailing gender relations. The established norms often result in gender power imbalances that disadvantage women and girls.

Our work involves promoting an appreciation among power-holders—and women and girls themselves—of the value of women’s knowledge, capabilities and contributions at all levels of society. We help them understand the benefits experienced by all when gender-based barriers are dismantled.  


5. Engage men and boys and leverage the influence of multi-faith and traditional leaders.
World Vision provides a platform for community members and leaders to address the root causes of inequality and foster an environment that encourages transformative change in both individuals and the broader community. This effort is everyone’s responsibility. It requires intentional engagement with all members of the communities where we work. To this end, we actively encourage and support men and boys, community, faith-based and traditional leaders, teachers, health care providers and other key stakeholders to critically reflect on and challenge the broadly held norms and power dynamics that perpetuate gender inequality. This work helps facilitate a process of transformation towards positive, equitable and inclusive values and practices that promote gender justice and equality. 

At World Vision, we believe gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are fundamental to the realization of human rights and key to sustainable and effective development. Our hope is that more organizations will adopt these ingredients for transformative change. 

Find out more about our work in the field to advance gender equality.

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