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Gender and the Organizational Development Process: A Natural fit

CPI works with partners to more naturally integrate gender into internal systems and policies

“Gender” has become a frequent buzzword in the Afghanistan development context. Many Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have not only added a focus on gender to their work, but they’ve also played a significant role in influencing key legislation on gender and women’s rights policy in Afghanistan.

Adopted in 2004, The Afghan Constitution not only declares equal rights and duties between men and women, but it also guarantees women’s rights to education and their right to work (Articles 22, 43, 44, and 48). Additionally, the Afghan government established the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) as well as a 10-year National Action Plan for Women (NAPWA), which took effect in 2008.

CSOs served a critical role in the passage of NAPWA and now continue to serve Afghan citizens by helping them hold the government accountable to its commitments, by educating citizens about their rights, and by providing essential educational, legal, and social services.

Even with the maturity of Afghan CSOs and an increased focus on gender as an outcome, significant gaps remain in more naturally integrating gender into their internal strategies and systems. Consider a CSO Human Resource policy that doesn’t provide maternity support to women before and after giving birth or a Program Management framework which lacks monitoring mechanisms that assess the different impacts on women and men.

Whether such oversights are intentional or not, these real-world examples point to a lack of awareness about differences in men’s and women’s rights, roles, and responsibilities—a mentality commonly referred to as being “gender-blind.” In practical terms, gender-blindness undermines an organization’s ability to create an enabling work environment for all of its employees and a sufficient platform for providing services to all individuals within targeted groups.

Organizations that hope to improve men’s and women’s lives – whether older, younger, able-bodied, or disabled – can only fully realize those goals if they have a process for understanding and addressing gender differences, needs, priorities, and impacts at every level of program design, implementation and evaluation. Such a process is referred to as “gender mainstreaming” because paying attention to gender in this way should become a normal part of organizational and program practice, a routine and regular part of working effectively. Understanding gender differences and impacts enables an organization to create a more equitable and productive working environment for its employees; fosters opportunities for more creative, innovative, and strategic thinking; and results in more effective service delivery.

Whether gender mainstreaming is addressed as a “cross-cutting” issue, or approached by creating a stand-alone function, depends on the nature of the organization. The underlying challenge is institutionalizing the process so that every aspect of internal leadership, strategy, operations, and administration is conducted with an awareness of the ways in which men and women have different opportunities, challenges, and needs.

This process can only begin through genuine buy-in and ownership within the organization. I-PACS II is tackling this issue through its Civil Society Strengthening (CSS) team and their Organizational Development (OD) framework, which provides an entry point to more naturally introduce and institutionalize positive gender systems.

The CSS team has been working with its partners on developing and improving operational systems in six functional areas: Leadership and Strategic Management, Communications and Outreach, Human Resources, Grants Management, Financial Management, and Program Management. Building on previous IPACS progress, in February the CSS team welcomed Technical Specialists in each of these areas. The Specialists have allowed CPI to provide more in-depth assistance to create stronger organizational systems that reflect the unique needs of our partners.

With a greater depth of technical assistance in each of the areas, the I-PACS II Gender team now has a more structured and organic entry point to approach and introduce often very simple, but effective changes to internal systems. The result is that Gender mainstreaming is not approached as a separate area but instead can be initiated more intuitively using the structure already established by the six OD areas. Rather than asking partners to address gender as a separate process, partners are encouraged to think about gender holistically, analyzing how men and women work together and are impacted by policies and procedures.

Practically, members of the CSS and Gender teams coordinate often on partner progress, identifying areas in which systems within each functional area could be gender mainstreamed. CSS Specialists are accompanied by Gender team members during partner visits to introduce these concepts and walk partners through the logic and practicalities of such changes. Solutions can be as simple as rewording language in a communications strategy from “he” to “he or she,” or as complex as drafting, adopting, and monitoring a Human Resource policy to encourage greater gender inclusion. To assess levels of completion and comprehension, the Gender team has built in a number of measurements to the existing CSS OD framework.

The OD process is, by its very nature, a slow one. Genuine impact is measured over months and years, but we’ve begun to take necessary steps as partners are revisiting – with a gender “lens” – fundamental questions about how their organizations position themselves for future growth. In a context in which gender rhetoric is often touted, but rarely practiced, it’s these OD areas that provide our CSO partners with concrete opportunities to exercise more positive and equal gender mainstreaming practices.

Afghanistan produces many compelling and inspiring stories about the human spirit and gender progress, but we can’t forget that ultimately lasting progress across all spectrums will be built on structured and disciplined systems. It’s not always a head-line grabbing topic, but it’s an essential component of the I-PACS II mission.