Strengthening gender mainstreaming in disability inclusive programmes

Published on 7 February 2020

Stephen Thompson

Research Fellow

In January 2020, a gender and disability workshop was held at IDS as part of the Inclusion Works and Disability Inclusive Development programmes. The aim was to strengthen the inclusion of gender mainstreaming within the disability programmes through raising awareness of gender concepts and issues and the intersection with disability and cultural factors.

The workshop provided an opportunity to share learning, experience and perspectives with the aim of strengthening the capacity of participants to apply gender mainstreaming approaches within their disability-focused programmes.

What are the challenges?

I was part of the group tasked with considering research, data and learning. We reached a consensus that there are three main challenges to gender and disability inclusive programming for this theme.

Firstly, there are supply and demand side challenges with regards to evidence. Despite various commitments and frameworks, demand from donors and non-government organisations for data on gender and disability is currently lacking.

Work by Development Initiatives recently found that 0.1% of all international aid has been allocated to projects with a primary disability component. Where funds do exist for gender and disability programmes, there is often limited budget available for evidence generation.

At the same time, on the supply side, evidence on the intersection of gender, disability, and development is severely lacking. This makes it harder to understand what is going on and build the case for future programmes.

Secondly, human resource capacity to undertake global development research on gender and disability is currently limited. As highlighted in this recent essay on inclusive higher education, if researchers with disabilities are not included in research processes, the voices of people with disabilities are more likely to be excluded from outputs, recommendations, and implications.

Thirdly, restrictive donor demands are not always practical or conducive to considering gender or disability. Practical demands of delivering development programmes may get in the way of considering these themes in a meaningful way.

Do opportunities exist for meaningful change?

Our group decided that despite the challenges, a number of opportunities exist which may change the development landscape with regards to disability and gender.

As a guiding principle, we agreed that gender and disability must be thought about as development programmes are being conceived. It is no good designing a fantastic programme and then trying to squeeze in efforts at inclusion later.

We agreed that it is up to us as stakeholders to challenge donors when their demands (particularly timetables and financial restrictions) are not conducive to considering gender and disability in a meaningful way. We need to open a dialogue with donors to ensure they are learning too.

We also agreed that when we do have data, we need to get it out there, sharing it as widely as possible. This was in line with the closing remarks made by Prof. Tom Shakespeare about disability inclusive research at the International Conference on Disability and Development held in November 2019. He simply urged people to “Publish the stuff!”.

Taking a holistic view

We recognised that a more holistic view of evidence is needed in order to meaningfully address the challenges of disability and gender. The combination of both qualitative and quantitative approaches can enable this as the two can complement each other.

As Hetan Shah (Chief Executive of the British Academy) wrote in a recent article, without human insights, data and the hard sciences will not meet the challenges of the next decade. This is particularly significant for challenges involving gender, disability, development, and the intersection of these themes.

Finally, we need to think carefully about the capacity to improve evidence and data collection. Both Inclusion Works and Disability Inclusive Development have committed to building the capacity of Disabled People’s Organisations. This includes developing the capacity to improve evidence and data generation. Any capacity development in this area must be carried out in a meaningfully participatory and sustainable way.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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