Moving from Rhetoric to Results

From Rhetoric to Results: Creating Accountability for Gender Standards

By Erin Smith

Leading gender specialists came together on November 16, 2017 for a panel discussion on Standard eight of the Minimum Standards for Mainstreaming Gender Equality: accountability. Hosted by the Gender Practitioners Collaborative and InterAction, the event featured experts from World Vision, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, the International Rescue Committee and others to discuss lessons learned in ensuring accountability for gender mainstreaming with a focus on gender audits and use of project-level gender scorecards.

Why is a gender audit so important, anyways? “The gender audit is really a taking stock moment that you use for planning going forward,” emphasized Michelle Kendall of CRS.

Though the idea of a gender audit doesn’t invite widespread enthusiasm, it is simply an assessment and action planning tool, allowing an organization to identify both strengths and areas of improvement in gender mainstreaming. “We really wanted to entitle the audit with the spirit of opportunity and analysis,” said IRC’s Kristin Kim Bart, reflecting on choosing to call the audit a gender opportunity analysis rather than an audit. Not just relegated to programming, it can stretch across organizational processes, procedures, and perceptions and can go as wide or deep as is desired. Before initiating a gender audit, an organization should consider: Is the organization ready and willing to engage in improvements in gender mainstreaming? What are the entry points, level of technical capacity to institute changes, and is there an open community of learning and enthusiasm for behavioral change?

As Yeva Avakyan of World Vision noted, “It’s a process that starts a conversation… The gender audit was the catalyst for us to start the dialogue about some of the internal change management processes related to both programmatic and organizational aspects of our work.”

The gender audit as developed by InterAction is a four-step participatory process, including an organizational readiness assessment, staff survey, focus group discussions, and gender action planning. It uses the Gender Integration Framework theory of change, developed by the Commission on the Advancement of Women and InterAction,  which suggests that transformation can only occur when four organizational dimensions are ready for gender integration. These elements are political will, technical capacity, accountability, and organizational culture.

While each of the panelists at the event shared gender audit experiences unique to their organizations, some key themes emerged, including:

Buy-in of senior leadership: Leadership should guide the organization’s political will towards undertaking a gender audit and following through on recommendations. Notably, leadership should demonstrate broad support and enthusiasm towards gender equality and supporting, adopting, and advocating for new procedures, policies and processes.

Engage all staff in a participatory process: Fostering feedback mechanisms guides ownership of the audit processes among all levels of staff. Maintaining the participatory nature of the audit is essential for long-term follow through.

Link to larger strategic processes: Linking a gender audit to a larger process or initiative such as strategic planning or policy development fosters an already existing penchant for organizational growth and change. 

Ensure that results are digestible and catalyze staff: Synthesize and market the key successes and areas where staff can engage.

Develop a Gender Action Plan: A plan for follow-through should identify specific steps to advance gender equality within the organization, including identifying resources needed to achieve goals, assigning responsibilities, and setting time-bounds. Establishing a steering committee or task force comprising staff from various sectors to implement the Plan encourages broad-based participation.

Be flexible: What works for one organization may not work for another. An audit can be broad and organization-wide or target specific regions, country offices, or programming. It may focus on concrete data and financial accountability or, more broadly, on behaviors and attitudes towards gender mainstreaming.

Of course, a broad gender audit is not the only accountability mechanism. “It [gender accountability] has to be continually cultivated and supported on multiple levels throughout the organization,” said Hilary Mathews of CARE. CARE’s development of the Gender Marker has been used as an integral accountability measure of gender mainstreaming at all stages of programming – strategy, design and implementation. Now used for all programs, the Marker not only serves as a self-assessment tool but generates awareness, dialogue and learning, guiding alignment of strategic gender goals and actions.

Improving accountability of gender mainstreaming promotes an inclusive organizational culture – both for men and women. This is by no means limited to gender mainstreaming within programming but stretches to family friendly policies, integrating gender competencies into HR recruitment processes, and ensuring equitable pay scales. While each panelist highlighted their own organization’s numerous successes in implementing gender mainstreaming, there is still progress to be made. Using tools such as the gender audit and Gender Marker underscores evolving organizational cultures towards gender and the essential nature of institutionalizing accountability measures in order to capitalize on the progress made thus far.

Featured Experts:

Yeva Avakyan, Gender and Social Inclusion Lead, World Vision U.S.

Kristin Kim Bart, Director of Gender Equality, International Rescue Committee

Michelle Kendall, Senior Technical Advisor, Gender & Integral Human Development, Catholic Relief Services

Hilary Mathews, Director for Strategy and Operations, Gender Justice Team, CARE USA

Elizabeth Romanoff Silva, Senior Program Officer, Women’s Empowerment Program, The Asia Foundation

The full presentation can be accessed here:


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