Putting Together the Pieces of the Puzzle for Gender Equality


Geeta Rao Gupta is the Executive Director and Founder of the 3D Program for Girls and Women.

Growing up in India, I was acutely aware of the injustices that women experienced, particularly those in poor communities on the side of the railway or highway, whose struggles were in plain sight as I traveled to college or work each day. It is no surprise then that I chose a career path that seeks to reduce poverty and promote economic development by improving the status of women and rectifying the inequalities and discrimination they face based on their gender.

In my professional capacity, I have had the privilege of traveling around the world interacting with inspiring women who persist, despite the hurdles put in their path, and meeting with government representatives in national and global forums committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Despite the strong global support to address gender inequality in the Sustainable Development Goals, I have found only a handful of countries with a national strategy for gender equality that includes a budget, targets, indicators, accountability mechanisms, and practical steps forward. One reason for this is that improving women’s status requires inputs from almost every ministry of government – such as health, education, water and sanitation and law enforcement. Instead of having one plan, most countries try to “mainstream” gender into other sectoral plans, as recommended by the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

However, gender mainstreaming requires technical expertise and no matter how much you believe in gender equality as an individual, it is unlikely that you will know how to fix development problems rooted in gender inequalities unless you are trained on how to detect, analyze and fix those inequalities.

The solution proposed at Beijing was to set up ministries for women’s issues in national governments, consisting of gender experts who could provide technical support to colleagues in other ministries and hold them accountable for integrating gender analysis into their work. However, women’s ministries, as technical rather than implementing agencies, have limited budgets that make it challenging for them to provide the necessary incentives to hold other ministries accountable.

What we need instead is CONVERGENT planning and action that engages all ministries to meet gender equality goals, led by the planning ministry who typically leads all government planning processes and has both the authority and resources to do so. The women’s ministry should provide the expertise to support the planning process but not lead it. The result would be a common plan that everyone develops together and works towards, governed by the same accountability mechanisms that track results in other sectoral plans.

Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle created by all, with each ministry having its piece and knowing where it fits to complete the picture. That is what this new program that I founded, the 3D Program for Girls and Women, seeks to test and promote – the implementation of a convergent planning and accountability process to advance gender equality. It would be a fulfilling last chapter in my career – the final jigsaw piece – if we succeed in providing a practical alternative for governments and practitioners to better serve the girls and women whose daily struggles motivated me to join this field.

November 2017

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