From Silos to Synergy: Learning From Politically Informed, Gender Aware Programs

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This paper draws together reflections, approaches and practical lessons from 151 development programs that are, in various ways, seeking both to be gender aware and to understand and engage with power and politics. It aims to provide food for thought for donor organisations and development programs. Gender aware programming has been on the development agenda for at least a generation. Most donor organisations have policy commitments to gender equality and to women’s and girls’ rights, and development programs are commonly tasked with ‘mainstreaming’ this into their objectives and activities. Increasingly, development programs are additionally required to be both politically informed and adaptive, responding to recent influential work on ‘thinking and working politically’, ‘doing development differently’ and adaptive programming.

The thinking behind these recent approaches has been justifiably criticised for being somewhat gender-blind. However, practice is outstripping analysis in bringing gender awareness and politically informed approaches together. Gender aware programming and politically informed ways of working both seek to understand, engage with and ultimately reform unequal power dynamics to bring about change—and both approaches are challenging to implement effectively. Too often, targets and strategies are top-down, donor-driven and reliant on external technical experts, limiting both local ownership and impact. There is a great deal to be gained from these two approaches coming together—mutual learning, better and deeper analysis, greatly strengthened practice and improved results. 

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