Gender refers to the socially determined roles and responsibilities of women and men in any community. It is related to how we are perceived and expected to act as women and men because of the way society is organised.
Women, particularly in developing countries, constitute the majority of the poor, the non-literate and the disenfranchised. One analyst points out, for example, that although women represent half of the world’s population and one third of its workforce, they receive only one percent of the world’s income and own less than one percent of world’s property.
In many countries, there are cultural practices which disadvantage women:
- In the most extreme examples, such as female circumcision and female dowry, these can threaten women’s lives;
- Gender based violence may also be an issue for women in particular cultures: this is violence that is directed against a person on the basis of their gender or sex;
- In many countries women are equal in legal terms, but gender inequalities are often ignored in the name of preserving culture and tradition.
Projects can sometimes reinforce these tendencies and practices. One project in the Gambia, for example, intended to increase rice production and therefore rural incomes. However, only men were consulted in the planning process, yet women traditionally owned the land. The result of the project led to land ownership being transferred legally to the men of the community from the traditional owners, local women.
While the project did increase incomes, it was at the price of women losing their land and their independence that tradition had guaranteed them. An example such as this underlines the importance of considering the gender and equality impact of every project. Even projects that appear on the surface to have no gender implications may in fact have important unexpected impacts.