1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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UNRISD Research Programme on Gender Expands

11 Oct 2013

UNRISD Research Programme on Gender Expands
UNRISD’s programme of research on the gender dimensions of development has expanded with the launch of a new project that explores when and why states respond to claims for gender equality, with research in India, China and Indonesia.

The project, When and Why Do States Respond to Women’s Claims? Understanding Gender-Egalitarian Policy Change in Asia, funded by the Ford Foundation, moved forward in August with a successful methodology workshop in New Delhi, India. It was attended by the country research teams, the UNRISD project coordinators, and invited experts from UN agencies, civil society organizations and academia. Through engaged discussions at the workshop, the teams developed a common research strategy and a rigorous framework for comparison across the selected countries and issues.

Presentations by invited experts enriched the substantive and methodological discussions. Gita Sen, a founder-member of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era), reviewed 40 years of the sexual and reproductive health movement both globally and within India. She suggested that continued progress will require building wider alliances to break the silos in which progressive health movements function—with maternal and child health separated from HIV and family planning, for example. She also emphasized the need for such alliances to engage with young people and representatives of the LGBT movement.

The UNRISD research project is motivated by the observation that despite progress towards gender equality in some areas of policy, advances have been limited in others. With a better understanding of why some issues gain policy traction while others are neglected or obstructed, advocates for women’s rights will be better equipped to articulate their demands and strategize for gender-egalitarian change.

The workshop reflected this objective in a session where participants explored the links between research, advocacy and policy making. Representatives from two UN agencies (Sushma Kapoor from UN Women and Ramya Subrahmanian from UNICEF) and an international NGO (Ines Smyth from Oxfam GB) shared their perspectives on mechanisms and processes of policy change, and how research can support advocacy initiatives.

The three speakers stressed the need for research findings and empirical evidence to be well communicated; for spaces for the exchange of knowledge and new ideas; and for platforms of policy dialogue and debate. Ines Smyth emphasized the role of research not only for generating robust evidence on which to base claims for policy change, but also as a vital way to identify emerging issues. Ramya Subrahmanian noted that it is often hard to fit women’s rights within the technical approach of policy makers. She cited the example of care issues, where policies are often based on the assumption that it is possible to promote women’s employment without providing alternative care services because grandparents will take care of children. National champions are crucial, she said, as are forums where advocacy groups have a voice in discussing and challenging policies. Sushma Kapoor also talked about the importance for global advocates to forge links with women’s grassroots organizations to raise women’s rights issues on national policy agendas. Finally, she noted, UN Women’s gender awareness seminars for the Indian government have helped foster a more receptive environment for some claims.

Mala Htun (University of New Mexico), co-author with Laura Weldon of a recent global comparison of progressive legal frameworks for gender equality, made a presentation on data and methods for gendered policy analysis. Analysing 13 policy areas in 70 countries over four decades, Htun and Weldon’s study elaborated a theoretical framework that classifies policies (gender- or class-based; “doctrinal” or “non-doctrinal”), and identified the variables that determine the effectiveness of claims-making processes. Countries may be leaders in some areas of gender equality, but laggards in others. The UNRISD research builds on this observation, examining issues in the different categories (class-based or doctrinal). Through in-depth field work and analysis of the processes of claims-making around selected issues, the research will help to test and elaborate the findings from previous quantitative cross-country analysis.

The following table summarizes the issues that will be examined in order to deepen the understanding of processes of claims-making and policy change.

For more information on the project, please see the project page and concept note on the UNRISD website.

Photo: Stephan Bachenheimer/World Bank via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).