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The Interface of Gender and Culture

The Interface of Gender and Culture presentation to the participants of the UNESCO gender training Workshop UNESCO Bangkok, 18-19 March 2003.

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The Interface of Gender and Culture

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  1. The Interface of Gender and Culture presentation to the participants of the UNESCO gender training Workshop UNESCO Bangkok, 18-19 March 2003

  2. Cultureis… the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or a social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.” World Conference on Cultural Policies 1982

  3. Cultures • Are products of people and how they interact, place, politics and history. • Respond to people’s changing reality.

  4. Culture and tradition can: • enable and/or obstruct • oppress and/or liberate • empower and/or disempower

  5. Cultures change to survive • Cultures are characterized by ongoing value judgements about what to keep, what to let go and what to add. • At times, people confirm and reinforce cultural norms. At times, they resist or challenge them. Education equips people to make choices and take action on them. • Cultural survival is based on this resiliance and adaptation.

  6. “People are influenced and formed by their cultural environments. At the same time, they influence and build the cultures around them, changing them as they resist, and reinforcing and recreating them as they conform.” Susie Jolly, Gender and Cultural Change, Bridge 2002.

  7. The dynamic of gender • Our families, our communities and dynamics within our cultures determine what men and women do. • Men and women are expected to have certain characteristics, aptitudes and behaviors. • We are born into environments in which these gender roles exist. We learn them.

  8. Culture & Gender Intersect • Culture is dynamic. Cultures survive by responding to changing realities. • Gender roles are also dynamic. They can and do change. • Evolving gender roles are integral to the continuing evolution that each culture undergoes to survive.

  9. Gender change: why is it resisted? • Gender roles shape daily life. So, gender change can affect a lot of people. • Gender change weaves through, and has impact on, the power dynamics within class, caste, race, religion etc. • The comfort zone created by an individual’s or a group’s identity may be threatened. • Cultureshave power structures that favour a ‘status quo’ built on gender bias.

  10. Gender progressdespite resistance • Some individuals have the vision, strength and courage to stop conforming: to do something outside the stereotyped roles of men or women in their local environment. • They mobilize allies in their own environments. • Some are catalysts for major movements – in the tradition of Gandhi.

  11. Gender change can be place-specific • Reinterpreting purdah lets Bangladeshi women work in garment factories • People stop foot binding in China • The first women become bus drivers in Papua New Guinea

  12. Gender change can be global • More men are taking on domestic and child care responsibilities • More women are taking on public and leadership roles.

  13. Change gives options • Triggers of cultural change bring gender change. • Without gender analysis, the rights and well-being of the disadvantaged sex, or disadvantaged sub-groups of males or females, can be neglected. Gender disparities can be deepened. • Action based on gender analysis can create openings to help the disadvantaged. This can bring more gender equality within diversity.

  14. Culture & gender are impacted by: • Globalization • ICT and other new technology • Change in the labor market or economy • Environmental change • Armed and political conflict • Development projects

  15. UNESCO’s focus • Capacity building • Networking • Advocacy • Facilitating intersectoral approaches

  16. What is UNESCO’s role? Support government in complying with CEDAW. • CEDAW requires states to modify socio- cultural attitudes & practices that disadvantage women. Support government in fulfilling its commitment to the Platform for Action. • PFA makes governments responsible for promoting gender equality. Contribute to human development. • This includes the impact on culture & on gender equality

  17. Can we be passive? No • Gender equality is a human right. • Advancing gender equality is a UN and a global commitment. • The ‘do nothing’ option is not responsible. Any development activity that ignores the gender dynamics will unwittingly either change things (for better or worse) or sanction and reinforce the status quo. • There is a need for countries to be role models of good gender practice: applying gender analysis to ensure women and men participate and benefit fully.

  18. The challenge for UNESCO staff • UNESCO is an ‘on-invitation’ partner. • Each intervention must be responsive and contribute to a culture of peace and development in which women and men are equal partners and equal beneficiaries.

  19. Who or what should guide us? • Local change agents. Gender equality advances in step with the will and the courage of the local people. • In context-specific gender analysis. Each culture has its own gender issues.

  20. What we do not do: • Condemna culture or a society. • Impose outside judgements. • Be silenced by leaders who dismiss gender equality. • Hesitate to contact UNESCO’s gender team or the gender focal points within national governments. Seek their strategic input.

  21. What we do - entry points • Learn as much as we can about the cultures in the countries in which we work. Explore the roles and realities of women and men within and between these cultural groups. • Discuss the government’s gender policy and commitments with key stakeholders. Do so prior to committing programming funds. • Introduce a simple gender tool, or better, collectively create one with key stakeholders. Use this to build gender indicators/results into each project & activity. • Create space for discussion of gender & culture issues.

  22. What we do - entry pointscont’d • Ensure those often silent are heard. • Include the government’s gender machinery. • Support local change agents & gender advocates. • Ensure discussion is based on fact, not assumption. Fund gender analysis.

  23. What we do - entry pointscont’d • Use gender analysis to identify benefits** that will result from the project being gender-responsive. • Facilitate buy-in from leaders. • Focus on elements that oppress and seek local solutions. • Don’t dismiss the existing traditions but facilitate local stakeholders to accommodate positive gender change within their culture.

  24. “We must hold the past sacred, but the future more so.” Ngoni Makivaza, Development with an African Face: Africa’s Perspectives & Challenges to the Centre, 1998.

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