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July 18, 2023

Empowering Women and Transforming Power Dynamics Through Gender-Responsive Training

Key Findings and Video of the WAGE Event on the Gender and Power Dynamics Trainings

Harmful gender norms, deeply ingrained in societies around the world, can have severe repercussions for women’s economic engagement and exacerbate gender-based violence (GBV). These rigid societal expectations, often perpetuated through cultural practices, media, and institutional structures, create barriers for women to fully participate in the workforce and achieve economic independence. As women face discrimination, limited access to education and financial resources, and stereotypical expectations about their roles, they encounter significant challenges in pursuing careers, entrepreneurship, or leadership positions. Consequentially, the perpetuation of these harmful gender norms not only curtails women’s economic opportunities but also contributes to the prevalence of GBV, further entrenching the cycle of inequality and injustice.

What are Gender and Power Dynamics Trainings?

To foster gender equality and empower women at the personal and organizational level, Grameen Foundation provided Gender and Power Dynamics (GPD) trainings between 2020 and 2022 to key managerial, technical, and administrative staff of WAGE’s implementing partner organizations (including microfinance institutions (MFIs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)) in Honduras, El Salvador, Ghana, Eswatini, and Timor-Leste. Using participatory methodologies, the GPD trainings led participants through critical self-reflection and analysis to enable the articulation of proposals for change at personal and organizational levels. Participants were empowered to examine the connections between gender inequality, power dynamics, GBV, and women’s economic empowerment (WEE) by tackling the harmful gender norms that restrict women’s involvement in society. Using an intersectional approach, the trainings provided a framework for analyzing these issues, allowing participants to gain insights into the complex relationships and interdependencies among gender norms, power structures, GBV, and women’s empowerment.

To support the WAGE consortium learning agenda question that sought to understand successful ways to design and implement women’s empowerment programs that apply the principles of a) do no harm/safeguarding; and b) diversity and inclusion, an evaluation of the GPD trainings was conducted to determine whether the GPD methodology is effective at sensitizing implementers on the target learning agenda issues. The completion of the evaluation was followed by an event that took place on June 22, 2023 to share key findings and lessons learned from the GPD methodology. Event panelists included Awal Ahmed Kariama, Executive Director, Rural Initiatives for Self-Empowerment Ghana (RISE), Bobbi Gray, Sr. Research Director, Grameen Foundation USA, and Amelia Kuklewicz, Vice President Programs, Grameen Foundation USA.

Key Findings

The evaluation gleaned a number of notable findings, of which a few are discussed below. For instance, evaluation respondents emphasized the trainings’ direct applicability to their daily lives, recognized the opportunities of personal development it provided, and highlighted the practical value of the knowledge and insights gained in their efforts to promote WEE. Furthermore, the GPD trainings enabled participants to identify necessary changes in attitudes and behaviors within their households and organizations, with the aim of fostering more equitable relationships. This newfound understanding also influenced their approach to WEE programming, allowing for more effective and inclusive initiatives. Safer workplaces, reinvigorated commitments to gender equality, and new processes of gender policy, planning, and safeguarding were amongst the contributions participants emphasized. 

What I've noticed is that everyone is respectful to each other regardless. When a woman is in a more senior job than a man, they can be respectful towards each other. That isn't any of that old kind of attitude, 'because you are a woman, I cannot work with you'. So, everyone works well in that aspect. Before there was a sort of boys' club, but now you can see that there is integration amongst our employees."

Female Participant, Eswatini

Participants in the trainings exhibited a positive transformation in their attitudes and behaviors. They became more self-reflective, less judgmental, and better equipped to engage in constructive dialogues. Some male participants specifically noted taking on increased responsibility for domestic chores and childcare, as well as embracing shared decision-making in their households. This shift away from patriarchal norms marked an incremental departure from the traditional view of such tasks as exclusively “women’s work”. In their workplaces, participants witnessed improved gender relations, resulting from personal changes and those observed in others. Key outcomes included a greater willingness to discuss and address power dynamics, increased support from male managers and technical staff, and a determination to challenge gender stereotypes, listen to women’s voices, and refrain from using sexist language. Furthermore, the leadership of WAGE partner organizations demonstrated commitment to strengthening gender policies and implementing gender equality action plans. Many participants have already taken steps to actively involve men and boys in their efforts towards WEE and to facilitate community gender dialogues to mitigate backlash and minimize the risk of GBV.

After this workshop, we know that we have to go beyond issuing our loans and promoting a savings culture, among women. We also have to involve the husbands (in community activities, gender dialogues) and train them so they can know that their wives' business ventures benefits the whole family."

Female Participant, Eswatini

Real Time Application of the GPD Trainings

During the GPD evaluation event, Awal Ahmed Kariama (RISE Ghana) noted that the GPD training sessions have fundamentally changed his organization. While RISE Ghana has been working in the space of GBV response and women’s empowerment, Kariama noted the system and cultural landscape in which they operate in Northern Ghana was not ripe for the changes the organization wished to oversee through RISE’s own women’s empowerment programming. The GPD trainings presented RISE Ghana with the unique opportunity to “change the mindsets and paradigms of the communities [they] worked with around issues of negative masculinities, male dominance, and others”. RISE Ghana also experienced transformative shifts in its organizational culture following the GPD trainings. Kariama acknowledged that “although their organization was always known as one that promotes gender and social inclusion, [they] have moved a step further from just promoting gender and social inclusion, to being a gender and social inclusion intentional and influencing organization”. Every staff member in the organization looks out for and demands measures for safeguarding and social inclusion, not just the Safeguarding Focal Point, stressed Kariama. RISE Ghana now serves as a role model for other civil society organizations and policy makers for how to implement programming and policies that are fundamentally inclusive and gender transformative.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

The GPD trainings should be one of the first activities carried out when implementing WEE/gender/diversity programming. This approach ensures that all staff members, especially those who have direct interactions with the community, develop an awareness of how harmful power dynamics are informed by socio-cultural norms that lead to GBV and how GBV and WEE intersect. Another recommendation is to customize the GPD training to suit the specific needs and contexts of each participant group. It is important to consider that some participants may lack a clear understanding of the distinction between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’, while others might already possess knowledge from previous trainings and can delve into more advanced topics. By tailoring the training content accordingly, participants can engage effectively based on their existing knowledge and explore more complex themes where appropriate.

Panelists at the GPD evaluation event also provided further insight on how to successfully design and implement women’s empowerment programming using GPD trainings for community engagement and sustainability. Kariama emphasized creating an enabling environment through activities to equip men to be gender champions. Capacity building is a frontline mechanism of ensuring actors within the gender empowerment sphere have the necessary knowledge, apply it to their daily lives, and influence others. Kariama posits that this influence is central to supporting male champions who amplify the message and activities of equality. Giving champions “the necessary support, exposure, and the opportunity to try and fail, and come back for more feedback” is what will propel safeguarding and gender equity beyond the walls of civil society and into communities as organizations learn to build on incremental levels of buy-in.

Another essential component of creating successful programming is ensuring that results are sustainable and local organizations have the capacity to continue with trainings beyond a specific program’s life cycle. Grameen Foundation’s Vice President of Programs, Amelia Kuklewicz, highlighted the organization’s efforts in building the internal capacity of local partners by training trainers to replicate sessions in-house, or even onboard new hires through GPD trainings. Kariama validates this claim as RISE Ghana has made the GPD toolkit a central part of their fundraising strategy and programming, allowing the organization to not only come up with innovative ideas on how to include issues of gender and social inclusion, but also as an institution-wide model for development.

The GPD trainings set a strong foundation for gender-transformative programming. The methodology plays a crucial role in dismantling harmful gender norms by empowering participants to be introspective and challenge their individual biases, behavior, and perceptions. Although the training is deployed within partner organizations carrying out WEE programming, it has implications in other spheres of society, as it can spark a shift in more equitable power dynamics at the household level. This is because participants are able to draw links between their own behaviors and perceptions, the value systems that assign power and privilege to men and devalue and deprioritize women, and how these combined drive GBV within WEE programming. The GPD approach has significant potential for impact because it considers the root cause of the disempowerment of women as they seek to be more economically empowered. 

Published on July 19, 2023.

    *Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government. 
    Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise, Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground. WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of private sector organizations (PSOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV); advance the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In this context, WAGE provides direct assistance to women and girls, including information, resources, and services they need to succeed as active and equal participants in the global economy. WAGE also engages in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices in these thematic areas. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s and girls’ experiences, WAGE’s initiatives employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, and inclusive. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

    The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.