Counterpart International’s Gender Working Group interviewed Counterpart staff members to find out their views on the importance of a focus on gender in implementing programs. In this edition, Chief Operating Officer Derek Hodkey and Vice President of Programs Alex Sardar share their thoughts.

Q: Why do you think it’s important to recognize the International Day of Women?

Marking International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 allows all of us to take pause and very intentionally think about the contribution that women have made and continue to make to the development of the communities, in which we live. The many faces, voices, and acts of leadership of millions of women very often get short shrift because historically, narratives have been written and told by those with economic and social power: men, and those who play well in male-dominated societies. And so, IWD is a great opportunity for us to recognize, celebrate, and advocate for women who #LeadMore.

Q: What is distinct about the work at Counterpart around gender equality? Is there something you are most proud about of the work Counterpart is doing?

At Counterpart, as we celebrate #50FORWARD and look at half of a century of women’s and men’s leadership, we recognize that every society and every community is at its best when everyone–male or female, gay or straight, people with disabilities, indigenous or immigrant are included in the community conversation and creation of solutions to build more durable futures. Only then is everyone equally vested in building on those solutions. And so in our work, from the very onset, we focus on gender equality. It is not just a program objective for us – it’s a way of thinking, doing, and achieving. When you look across our more than two dozen country teams and the millions of lives they impact through their work, what makes us most proud is that gender equality is lived in every office, program and staff unit. That makes us particularly proud. A moment from the last year which emboldened our resolve and touched our hearts was when a group of male and female leaders in our Afghanistan programs, in the midst of the many challenges they work to resolve, chose to join the global campaign to #bringbackourgirls—a global solidarity campaign to say: every girl and every boy counts—equally!

Q: What do you want others to know about why gender equality is so important in development work?

Gender equality and the inclusion can be treated as extra overlays on development work—detached and artificial, or we, as development practitioners can make the deliberate choice to treat gender equality as essential for change to happen. We see often gender inclusion as a set aside box in a workplan, monitoring plan, or staff position to check off a requirement. When gender equality is embedded from program design all the way to final evaluation, as we do here at Counterpart, that’s when we realize and touch the real results of good development work; that’s when we can show that we contributed in a tangible way to preventing gender-based violence by including men right at the start, and thinking of livelihood programs focused on providing women with more opportunities to take care of their families. That’s what development practitioners must do.

Q: What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of gender and women’s role in development?

When we speak of #genderequality, we sometimes assume that it is clear that we speak of both men and women. It is true that in most societies women have greater challenges, deeper social and political stigma, and worse economic conditions to overcome. At the same time, development is meant to impact lives in alleviating poverty equally, regardless of gender—and so, in development we have to make greater strides in telling the stories and sharing the facts that demonstrate that by investing in every human being — first by hearing every voice – only then we will have lasting impact. Gender equality does mean focusing on the most disadvantaged in various communities, but not at the cost of excluding those with more advantages—it’s in collaboration with them.

Q: Looking forward to the next 50 years, what is your hope for what needs to be accomplished? What do you want the world to look like?

The next 50 years—which is more than three-quarters of the 21st Century—will be about taking what we have learned from our founding days all the way through our most recent programs in places like Burundi, Malawi and Guatemala, and challenging ourselves to make a bigger dent in the most vexing challenges that we all own. We foresee that every voice in a community will be represented when making decisions on how families can pull themselves out of poverty, how women and men can have the same livelihood opportunities, earning the same wages, and rising to the same levels of leadership. Our #50FORWARD vision is that local organizations, leaders—male and female—in addition to being drivers of change in their communities, will also be at the very policy discussion and decision making table when solutions are designed and created, so that they lead the global conversation on our collective vision of a better world.

Click here to view the Gender Working Group’s Q&A.

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