Is your organisation gender-sensitive?

02 Aug, 2020 - 00:08 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Maggie Mzumara
Women & Leadership

If asked, I am sure most company executives, heads of Government departments and even those in civil society, churches and other organisations would say they are gender-sensitive and gender compliant.

Why? Because they have gender policies posted on their walls, they send staff for regular gender trainings and have slots on gender at their strategic planning meetings.

Well, being aware of gender differences and gender inequalities, and including gender on the programmes of important organisational events, is not enough.

The add-a-woman-and-mix tactics do not cut it — never did and never will. Neither do those token appointments of women and window dressing efforts.

Having that one or two women in management or on the board, or the occasional woman on a panel or platform, is not all that is supposed to be. In fact, all that is far from sufficient.

Companies, their executives, boards and other stakeholders need to do more if gender inequalities are to be holistically addressed in meaningful and significant ways that can reap actual dividends towards the gender agenda.

Men and women should be treated equally. This should reflect from the bottom of organisations all the way up to the apex.

Addressing gender inequalities should not be treated as a favour to any woman, lobby group, activist or advocate — it should be based on rights as espoused not just by national, but also international instruments.

In order to fully comply and demonstrate real commitment to addressing gender inequalities, there are several truths that companies need to know and appreciate.

Granted many organisations can, with justified reason, claim to be gender sensitive.

However, organisations would do well to complement gender sensitivity with gender responsiveness in order to realise gender equality and transform gender relationships and power structures.

Gender sensitivity refers to a situation where gender norms, roles and inequalities are considered and awareness of these issues raised, although appropriate actions may not necessarily have been taken.

On the other hand, being gender responsive requires that gender norms, roles and inequalities be considered, and concrete measures taken to actively address them.

Such an undertaking goes beyond increasing sensitivity and awareness to actually doing something concrete to narrow or remove gender inequalities. The level of gender consideration and integration is gauged on a gender equality continuum as reflected below. Gender responsiveness can range from gender negative, gender blind, gender sensitive, gender specific, to gender transformative.

This can vary depending on focus areas, issues, competencies of those in management as well as their political will and commitment to addressing gender disparities. Resources or lack thereof, can have a bearing. While all organisations may not be gender transformative, at a bare minimum they should not be gender negative or blind.

Equality continuum

It measures gender responsiveness in an ascending order from Level One (gender negative), Level Two (gender blind), Level Three (gender sensitive), Level Four (gender specific) and Level Five (gender transformative).

Level One: There is perpetuation of gender inequality by reinforcing unbalanced norms, roles and relations. Men are privileged over women (or vice versa). Such a scenario, often leads to one sex enjoying more rights or opportunities than the other.

Level Two: At this level there is ignoring of gender norms, roles and relations and very often re-enforcement of gender-based discrimination. There is also gross ignoring of differences in opportunities and resource allocations for women and men. Such a scenario is often constructed based on the principle of being “fair” by treating everyone the same.

Level Three: This level denotes consideration of gender norms, roles and relations but, however, does not address inequalities generated by unequal norms, roles or relations.

While the scenario indicates gender awareness, often no remedial action is taken or instituted.

Level Four: At this level there is consideration of gender norms, roles and relations for women and men and how they affect access to opportunities and where applicable control over resources. At this stage there is also consideration of women and men’s specific needs. Intentionally targeting and benefiting specifically women or men to achieve certain policy or organisational goals or to meet certain specific needs. Such a scenario makes it easier for women and men to fulfil duties that are ascribed to them.

Level Five: At this level, as in previous others, there is consideration of gender norms, roles and relations for women and men, and how they affect access to opportunities and where applicable control over resources. There is also consideration of women’s and men’s specific needs. Causes of inequalities are addressed, including ways to transform harmful gender norms, roles and relations. At this level, the objective and indeed the commitment is often to promote gender equality. Concrete action is taken including strategies to foster progressive changes in power relationships between women and men.

In a nutshell company culture must ensure that women, men, girls and boys enjoy the same rights, resources, opportunities and protections.

Because power structures in societies across the world, mostly privilege boys and men, advancing gender equality often requires addressing disadvantages faced by girls and women. Shifts in gender equality require not only awareness and behaviour change, but also changes in the fundamental power dynamics that define gender norms and relationships.


Maggie Mzumara is a leadership, communication and media strategist as well as corporate trainer. She advocates women leadership and is founder of Success in Stilettos (SiS) Seminar Series, a leadership development platform for women. Contact her on [email protected] or follow on Twitter @magsmzumara.


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