By Solange Rocha and Michel Friedman, Gender at Work, Facilitated by Oxfam Canada
“I met myself again and valued myself more, not only at work but in my whole life, day to day” (participant’s comment)
In music, a pause means the sound of silence, a time between notes. For participants in our Gender Action Learning Process (GAL) in Mozambique, deep reflection about gender in workspaces often meant taking a pause. For most, this was their first experience of time to reflect, a silence filled with internal sounds coming through subjective doors.
One of them, AMODER, provides credit in rural areas and has a mission devoted to the development of Mozambique. This is quite strategic since 54% of the population lives in poverty and women have difficulty accessing credit. Women are the most seriously affected by gender vulnerabilities determined by cultural, social and economic conditions. Mozambican society is patriarchal; power lies in the hands of men despite matrilineal systems in some parts of the country. Both patrilineal and matrilineal communities are grounded in forms of social control, which value the collective good to the detriment of the individual. This cultural context informs the conditions AMODER faces in granting loans to both men and women.
Through the GAL process — a deep process of deconstructing the concept of masculine power visible in formal and informal institutional norms — AMODER reflected on what is necessary to overcome these limitations and make credit more accessible to women. AMODER’s process was not a flat photo, was not one-dimensional. Once they understood the different dimensions of gender, they were shocked because this perspective questioned all of the accepted truths, questioned the organization’s values and raised contradictions.
“The big challenge is to demystify and make gender inequalities appear less natural.” (Participant’s comment)
A deep respect for women as people and as workers already existed within AMODER. These are some ways in which the GAL process led to greater positive change:
Greater sensitivity to “unconscious” inequalities and discrimination that existed within the organization and in their work with beneficiaries. The invisible slowly became visible.
The genuine intention of reconstructing and recuperating a “democratic” culture” within the organization. Besides reflecting on the daily implications of gender inequalities, participants recognized that the “roots” of the limitations women face in accessing and controlling economic resources were related to the various dimensions of subordination in which women live. They understood that to advance women’s economic empowerment, it was necessary to challenge cultural and social norms to achieve economic development, which means changing the norms governing women’s access to resources and decision-making power.
“The action learning cycle is very didactic and allows for a lot of interaction. It is more effective, especially in awakening consciousness and looking at group dynamics. It helps you to look at things differently. The methodology opens up your vision and makes things possible. People discover the need for change on their own and become aware.” (Participant’s comment)
Individual changes related to participants’ increased awareness of the existence and reproduction of gender inequalities. These then contributed toward them initiating change at the organizational level. Improved communication stood out: greater personal openness, greater skill in managing conflicts and a feeling of calmness and assurance. Women became more vocal and assumed leadership roles in the GAL process, the workplace and family life.
Organizational changes in terms of dynamics and rules. AMODER started paying greater attention to the specific needs of women within communities. There were changes in the ways of speaking and being within teams and in their interactions with communities and clients. More opportunities were created to hire women (7 new positions to hire women were created, using a strategy of selecting women for internships and training them to take on these positions).
Changes in lending rules are changing women’s lives.
AMODER now knows its clients better and knows how to do a gender analysis regarding access to credit. “Now we ask whether women are among the beneficiaries / borrowers or not.” More women are joining the credit program. There is a new understanding of credit as not merely about lending money but rather creating a means by which people – including women – can change their lives.
They also started using GAL methods in their meetings and confronted the stereotype that women are not capable. They now understand that if women are given opportunities and methodologies are appropriate, women understand, participate, open up and take on work with very good results.
For AMODER, the biggest organizational changes started from changed individual consciousness about gender inequalities. They recognized that “if we didn’t change the culture in the organization and people’s mentality, everything would collapse”. For them, it was necessary to work on changes in institutional policies, taking the organization as a whole “as if we were stirring the ashes to make sparks to find light”.
The GAL process touched on the roots “of personal construction and relationships with other people, it stirred something in our own lives – we consider this was the best way to understand gender”.
Please click here to read a more detailed version of this experience.
Solange Rocha and Michel Friedman are Associates with Gender at Work
Translation of the piece: Rex Fyles