Gender lens: putting on the spectacles

As part of IIED's gender review and audit, Kate Lines asks if other organisations have advice or suggestions on improvements that we can make.

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Blog by 
Kate Lines
26 May 2015
The gender balance of the panel of special guests at the opening of IIED's 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA9) attracted criticism from the institute's staff (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

The gender balance of the panel of special guests at the opening of IIED's 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA9) attracted criticism from the institute's staff (Photo: Matt Wright/IIED)

What are the practical approaches that research organisations such as IIED can adopt to ensure that they are taking equality of gender relations seriously?

This is one of the big questions we are asking at IIED, as we embark on a 'gender audit'. I am part of a small core team taking the institute through this internal process, where we will reflect on gender equality and equity – scrutinising our organisational policies, structure and cultures, and our work.

We want to know where we are good or not so good at applying this lens to our work and in the ways we work. And to ask, what should we do about it?

Other organisations must have faced similar challenges: how have they dealt with them? Tell us your experiences in the comments below.

What's involved?

Gender audits have been embraced as an important tool by a host of development agencies, think tanks and multilaterals organisations. These bodies have recognised the central role that their structure and cultures can have in influencing the design and delivery of gender sensitive work (PDF).  The argument is that working on gender issues obliges organisations to set their own houses in order.

These audits can be broad, assessing approaches, staff capacity, tools and resources, as well as organisational structure, workplace issues, and how gender considerations have (or have not) been integrated in policies, programmes and projects. The methodology builds on principles of accounting and social audits, focusing on the organisation (rather than the broader social context or other, still very important, dimensions of diversity and equality).

For IIED, we hope that this process will lead to greater ownership of the gender agenda. We think it will build our collective capacity to examine our activities from a gender perspective and identify our strengths and weaknesses in promoting gender equality among both staff and the people we work with and for on the ground – and our capacity to assess where, perhaps, opportunities are being missed.

(IIED senior researcher Susannah Fisher tweets at CBA9 in April – see top photo)

Gender equality is essential to achieve social justice and sustainable development. 'Mainstreaming' or 'integrating' gender is a way for IIED to deepen our understanding of the social, political and economic factors that underlie disadvantage, and which undermine our efforts to achieve sustainable development. 

By directly engaging with disempowered and marginalised actors, our strategic focus is on shifting power for the public good. Essentially, gender inequality undermines the impact of our work.

Changing the way we work

We need to seek changes in the way IIED works internally and in the way we deliver our mission, in order to put gender equality and equity at the centre of our work.

As we set off on our gender audit, our team are suggesting that these changes will happen through three broad channels:

  1. In our operations, changing policies, tools and systems. We know that having lots of women in the organisation does not translate into equal gender representation in decision-making structures. We need to look at how decisions are made, and face the challenge to make sure all voices are heard
  2. In our ways of working, including through our research. This may mean identifying new alliances, building on existing partnerships, or through networks with expertise and knowledge that we can draw on, and
  3. By bridging these 'external and internal' channels: improving and increasing our messaging and visibility on gender equality and equity, creating platforms to discuss issues openly, and building staff capacity to carry out high quality work.

Gender in our work

Gender already plays a central role in some of our work. For example in REDD+, land rights and investment treaties, and through Environment and Urbanization. And we are developing new areas of work, evaluating gender inequalities in national climate change policies, for example, and exploring issues of food access and consumption in urban areas.

We would like to do more and do it better. Across the world, women make a huge contribution: in the informal sector, the reproductive economy, as producers, consumers, citizens, business owners. Roles and responsibilities are changing as a result of both economic and political change.

We need to look at the way these opportunities are distributed, and what this means for individuals, for gender relations, and for families. Understanding the differences in situations faced by men and women must be an essential element of IIED's work.

Achieving change

Change will not come from recognising the issue but from changing our attitudes, our cultures and knowledge. This will need to be driven by both strong leadership and broad-based buy-in, and to be properly resourced. We hope this gender audit exercise can highlight the options for change in IIED – and we hope there will be things we can learn from other organisations about how they have done this.

What are some of the critical changes others have made that lead to shifts in their organisation – to changes in drivers, levers, and positive or negative incentives. What specific actions led to these shifts?

What did you discover along the way? When have things failed?

Tell us your experiences using the comments below.

Kate Lines ( is senior coordinator in IIED's Strategy and Learning Group.

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