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In most societies, women bear the brunt of social issues such as poverty, poor healthcare, domestic violence and lack of education. Photo: Charlotte Anderson/Dasra
In most societies, women bear the brunt of social issues such as poverty, poor healthcare, domestic violence and lack of education. Photo: Charlotte Anderson/Dasra

Give with a gender lens

Investments via gender lens increase access to capital for women and girls, improve gender equality, say experts

Less than 7% of all philanthropic dollars find their way to programmes designed specifically for girls and women—not a promising figure if gender equality in the world is the ultimate goal. This was the startling finding of a 2014 study by Women Moving Millions, an international not-for-profit agency.

To improve gender equality, experts suggest that a “gender lens" investing model be adopted. This will entail accounting for a social development project’s impact on women, right from the planning stage. Such investments, it is felt, will increase access to capital for women and girls, and look at ways to increase the number of products and services that benefit them.

“Not only can gender-targeted philanthropy do more to help those who need it most, but it is now well-established that focusing philanthropy on women can create a unique ‘multiplier effect’ far beyond what can be achieved by gender-blind investments. Women reinvest resources into their families, communities, and the next generation," said Gayle Peterson, co-founder and senior managing director at international consultancy firm Pfc Social Impact Advisors and associate fellow at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.

Peterson pointed out that in most societies, women bear the brunt of social issues such as poverty, poor healthcare, domestic violence and lack of education.

“Unless philanthropists look at both the problem and the proposed solution through a gender lens, they are going to miss key understanding and potentially end up doing more harm than good," she said.

To comprehend how a gender lens can change the way investment decisions are made, consider the case of Sarvajal water ATMs, a drinking water initiative of the Piramal Foundation. The Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Piramal Group and works in the areas of health, education, water and livelihood creation.

Paresh Parasnis, CEO, Piramal Foundation, explained that the initiative is gender-neutral but has ended up benefiting women. “Providing safe drinking water at an affordable price to rural communities was the main aim. But an unexpected return was... women in these communities who are in charge of collecting water and had to walk many kilometres to do the same no longer need to," he said.

Such has been the impact on women that the Foundation has adopted the gender lens model to assess ongoing as well as new projects.

Concurring with the need to plan and evaluate projects based on the needs of women and girls, Smarinita Shetty, director at Dasra, a philanthropy foundation, explained that doing so will enhance their social impact.

But it cannot be just about measuring a project’s impact on women after its conclusion. For instance, while setting up a school that targets both boys and girls, those running such a programme often don’t take into account the fact that girls have other social obligations like household work in the morning which may prevent them from attending morning classes.

“You can start by changing school timings to the afternoon so that girls can attend. But to truly change social norms and be gender-transformative, it might be important to initiate discussions within the community on why it is only girls who have to do the household chores," suggested Shetty.

Even donors can push for the adoption of a gender lens approach by not-for-profits. “In the new funding streams—the money coming from corporate social responsibility and corporate foundations—this aspect is yet to be addressed barring a one-off example here or there," said Meenakshi Batra, CEO, Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a trust that works to encourage and support donors to give in strategic ways.

While assessing the impact of all projects on women has become a part of their design and implemention as a result of sustained pressure from civil society organizations and women’s movements, she points out that greater focus is needed in today’s scenario.

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