By student contributor Asthaa Chaturvedi
We continue our interview series with Aruna Rao, Cofounder and Executive Director of Gender at Work. She is one of the panelists featured in today’s GGP, Oxfam, and Gender at Work event entitled, “From Integration to Disruption – How to Transform Gender Relations?” We discussed the aims of Gender at Work and how institutional biases against women are still pervasive under the surface of many organizations.
So what exactly does Gender at Work do? Rao said, “Institutions and organizations need to be aware of internal biases and open up vistas for understanding gender built-in inequalities…. We bridge the gap between theories and practice.”
Gender at Work began its efforts with “putting ideas out there.” It is not a donor organization, and much of its efforts depend on the participation of programs and institutions. Rao has found that they want to be a part of a process that unfolds over a period of time. A set of organizations become peer learners and use each other to strategize how to move forward and become sensitive to biased frameworks.
Gender at Work works with a range of organizations – from UN agencies, to trade unions in South Africa to small NGOS, like Vanagana in UP, that serve Dalit communities.
While there have been exciting advances in both theory and practice when it comes to gender and development, Rao has found that there is a long way to go when it comes to truly improving the status quo. She said that the extent to which these organizations engage and devote resources to women’s rights and equality is limited. According to a recent AWID study, funding flows to women’s organizations have largely decreased in recent years.
Rao also said, “People don’t oppose women’s rights and equalities directly – it’s just not politically correct. The resistance is more invisible, subtle – it’s seen in how agendas are set.”
There are developments that give her hope, however. Rao talked about inspiring work on change theories, and advancements in thinking around sexual and reproductive rights.
When I asked her why focusing on gender inequalities still matters, Aruna said, “Being blind to gender has led to disastrous impacts…. Our policies and awareness should mirror the communities we work in. It ranges from this thinking on development and social change to the basic dignity you accord to people.”
For students looking to work in the gender development field, Aruna said, “Don’t follow the rules, always look to create spaces that are autonomous from structures that ‘routinize’ behavior. Build dynamic connections inside and outside institutions.”
Today’s event will bounce off the Gender and Development Journal’s project on gender mainstreaming. The panel discussion will ask whether it has been a transformative practice and discuss the new strategies and narratives of feminist movement building. “Now that we’re coming up on 20th anniversary of Beijing, when gender mainstreaming was visionary, we want to ask what do we think of it now?” said Rao. Listen to a clip of our conversation below.