Katharine Sacks-Jones: Sector must learn lessons on gender inequality issues

Women's issues in the UK are defined too narrowly, argues Katharine Sacks-Jones

Katharine Sacks-Jones
Katharine Sacks-Jones

Most international development charities see tackling gender inequality as integral to fighting poverty. In the UK, however, women's issues are defined narrowly and too often seen as fringe - the business only of charities dealing with violence against women, not something that should underpin wider work on social justice.

Gender mainstreaming, defined by the UN as "the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes ... in all political, economic and societal spheres", has been core business in international development for more than 20 years. Why isn't a similar approach routinely taken by charities with a UK focus?

Gender inequality doesn't happen only in other countries. In the UK, 51 per cent of the population are on average poorer and more likely to be abused, experience mental health problems, have unpaid caring responsibilities and face discrimination. But you wouldn't know it from picking up the latest reports on poverty, mental health or housing, including those produced by charities. If gender is not considered when charities think about policy development and service delivery, these might be designed for men by default. This matters most for women who are disadvantaged and excluded, those who would most benefit from policies and services that are responsive to their needs.

Gender mainstreaming does not hold all the answers, but there are lessons to be learnt from how and why it has come to be so integral to international development. Charities in the UK cannot afford to be complacent. It is the business of all of us.

Katharine Sacks-Jones is director of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk

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