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close this bookDevelopment in Conflict - The Gender Dimension (Oxfam, 1994)
close this folderI. Development and conflict: The gender dimension
close this folder3. Implementing gender sensitive responses to conflict
View the document3.1 Introduction
View the document3.2 Assessment, monitoring and evaluation
View the document3.3 Policy considerations in specific conflict-related situations
View the document3.4 Partnership issues
View the document3.5 Institutional issues

3.5 Institutional issues

Adapting to new circumstances demands of institutions a degree of flexibility in terms of both policy and management, and the capacity to identify and deal with the internal blockages that constrain adaptability. Here we look at three aspects of internal functioning which tend to be problematic in this context: project implementation, management issues, and policy constraints. Lastly we look at some common blockages in terms of gender effectiveness.

a. Project implementation

Linda Agerbak describes how Oxfam programmes in conflict situations tend to go through four stages. In the first, which she terms 'the shrinking development programme', a planned long-term programme which is gradually overcome by conflict tries in the face of increasing erosion to persevere with its current plans. In the second phase, intense violence forces a reassessment of programme aims and style. Typically, the programme moves into a 'holding operation' mode, with a much increased proportion of activities and budget going to emergency and recovery, and long-term plans being shelved. The third stage, termed 'development in conflict', is one in which the programme settles into a pattern of conflict work, redesigning activities towards social organisation and communications, and taking a more strategic look at the underlying causes of conflict. The final stage, 'planning for peace', applies to situations where the conflict has itself moved into a stage of negotiation which allows Oxfam the space to raise issues of empowerment and advocacy as well as economic recovery. The challenge of this analysis is to identify the routes by which programmes can

Possible components for a strategy for Oxfam for working with partners on gender and conflict:

1. Joint training workshops on gender and conflict involving Oxfam staff and project partners, using both regionally-based resources and the resources available from within Oxfam (UK and regional).

2. Strengthening ties with and understanding of women's organisations and movements, since they will have information and insights about the situation of women in the country or region which will help Oxfam to develop its own country or regional perspectives and outlook.

3. Strengthening and developing a consistent strategy for networking and information exchange between those working on gender issues and those working on development issues in general, at country level.

4. Commissioning research which documents and synthesises the experiences of men and women in conflict and in post-conflict situations; prioritising the contracting of local and regional researchers for this task and investing resources in documentation and distribution; generally being open to funding requests from partners working on gender and conflict issues.

5. Strengthening Oxfam's resource-base of local women consultants, trainers and exerts for employment in conflict situations, which will enhance the likelihood of culturally sensitive gender-balanced perspectives being incorporated into planning.

6. Prioritising the integration of gender into technical issues in conflict situations, by supporting the training of specialist gender staff to work with or in technical teams.

7. Inviting the participation of partner groups in Oxfam meetings and workshops.

8. Providing gender-sensitive partners with opportunities to contribute to the design of Oxfam's strategies in, and long-term planning for, conflict situations.

9. Encouraging Oxfam staff to develop skills as 'trainers of trainers', strengthening partners' ability to explore gender issues in their own work; providing resources such as time, training and technical resources to facilitate this.

10. Exploring mechanisms whereby Oxfam can establish dialogue with partners, so that experience on gender can be incorporated in concrete ways during project design and implementation.

11. Encouraging the development of ties and networking between partners on a regional or cross-regional basis.

12. Aiming through research and practical experience to recover the concept of gender as it is expressed in the societies in which we work, and investigating with partners its liberating and oppressive aspects.

13. At grassroots level, seeking out individuals holding moral and spiritual authority within the community who share Oxfam's concern for equity and social justice, and who can become allies, and strengthening them in their work. move from one stage into the next and the internal and external blockages that can prevent this.

Undoing the knots that tend to tie conflict programmes into rigid frameworks requires preconceptions about programme activities, style and inputs to be broadened. Agencies specialising in technical assistance or rural development, or having some other specific niche (perhaps long argued over and hard-won), may find it difficult to embrace new roles that are far removed from their old ones, such as conflict resolution, mediation, or rape counselling. But this may be the sort of challenge that conflict imposes. Agencies in this position may be facing difficult choices: it may not be helpful to a community engulfed in conflict to be assisted by external agencies that have neither been through their traumatic experiences, nor can offer the skills and competencies which are needed in the new circumstances. Thus the prevalence of conflict in the Third World creates critical thresholds for development agencies as well as for the communities concerned.

Organizations wishing to continue working in conflict must fulfil certain requirements in terms of flexibility, openness and skill development, which are related to management systems.

b. Management issues

Organizations with highly centralised management structures and project approval, and funding mechanisms may find it difficult to develop flexible responses to conflict. Local teams are often expected or obliged to respond to rapidly changing circumstances on behalf of the agency without having an opportunity to discuss, plan, or seek approval. Indeed, they may be out of contact with their line management for days or weeks at a time. Staff on the ground must therefore be trained, confident, and entrusted with the responsibility to make decisions and take initiatives. The parameters within which they can operate should be clearly defined beforehand as part of a "disaster-preparedness" strategy.

The 'front-line', consisting of locally-based staff and partners, is even more of a resource to the agency during conflict than at other times, and repays a considerable investment in terms of support and training. Others involved in the management of conflict programmes, further up the line-management system, also have support needs which should not be overlooked. Staff overload is a frequent problem: the issues of workload and stress management for staff engaged in conflict projects are important.

'Front-line' staff in conflict situations generally need to be able to communicate directly with communities. They should be of the right sex, and language group, and have the level of interpersonal skills to facilitate this communication with all sections of the community —not just those who are more accustomed to talking to outsiders. Gender awareness should be a main criterion for staff recruitment. This recommendation is essential if a holistic view of community needs and capacities is to be obtained, and is especially important for improving gender sensitive responses.

Inflexible programme planning, and maintaining a rigid distinction between 'emergency' end 'development' activities are not conducive to flexible responses. Staff need to be in touch with what other sections of the organisation are doing and thinking, and encouraged to share experiences. Monitoring frameworks need to be adapted to conflict situations, and monitoring visits need to made more frequently than usual.

c. Policy responses

At policy level, a breadth of vision about possible responses to conflict is required, and one which looks realistically to the future to foresee possible needs in terms of budgets, training needs, and policy frameworks. In short, a "disaster-preparedness" strategy is required. The need to re-examine rigid categories and assumptions, such as those separating 'emergency' from 'development' activities, is paramount.

Policy discussions must be oriented towards examining the trends, patterns and root causes behind different types of conflict. NGOs must seek to identify what strategies each one of them can adopt to help communities to unpick the threads of violence that tie them into cycles of conflict. Concepts such as empowerment, governance, and the nature of civil society need to be explored, and ways of furthering them in specific situations placed on the agenda of assessment and research activities.

Lastly, policy responses to conflict need to be seen not only in relation to project activities on the ground but as part and parcel of all the facets of an NGO's operations, including public policy and lobbying work, development education, and fundraising activities. Linkages between the concerns of the grassroots of the Third World and those of Northern publics and governments are not hard to find; they need forming and identifying in terms of human rights, international trade and debt, structural adjustment policy, EC agricultural policy, the arms trade, and countless other issues. Information and experience from NGO programmes should be the basis for public policy initiatives, which in turn must faithfully reflect the realities of people's lives.

d. Particular blockages on gender

The logic of the preceding sections is that NGOs must expand their capacity in gender work if they are to respond adequately to the needs of conflict situations. Critical pathways in this expansion relate to policy development, training, and management and staffing issues. At the policy level, it needs to be recognised that all aspects of an organisation's work contain gender implications. This includes supposedly technical areas, such as water supply or budgeting. There is no such thing as a gender-neutral issue. Policy development must take into account the specific gender aspects of each sector. This has major implications for emergency planning, a sector which is often regarded as being determined by the urgency of the response required and the need for efficiency in delivery. Training in gender awareness in conflict situations needs to reflect not only the basic concepts of gender and development approaches but also specific adaptations for different types of work, in order to ensure that the organisational ethos is infused into them. In particular, expatriate staff need to be made aware not only of general concepts and policies in terms of gender, but also of how these are interpreted within specific cultural and political settings. Women staff and gender specialists need to be in place in field programmes and at key positions in management and monitoring functions. They need to have clearly defined roles within the management structure, and to be able to influence decisions about planning and resource allocation. Staff in a position to use or manage significant resources should have their job descriptions reviewed to ensure that a gender perspective is incorporated.

Institutional factors in enhancing gender sensitivity in conflict responses

In summary, a development agency can best enhance the suitability of its response if it:

· has the capacity to reflect on, reconsider, and broaden the basic building blocks of policy and has the internal communications structures which maximise this learning capacity;

· has the capacity and the will to incorporate gender into strategic planning and policy design;

· has the capacity to listen to, value and support what men and women in conflict areas are saying and doing about their own situation and needs, and involve them actively in projects;

· avoids the 'emergency mentality' in which assumptions about the role of NGOs as essential to survival go unquestioned;

· promotes decentralised decision-making i.e. empowers well-trained and confident groups of front-line staff to make rapid responses to local emergencies;

· invests in training, sharing and exchange of experience and knowledge with and between partners (and staff);

· ensures that women staff are employed at key front-line, managerial, and policymaking positions, and are adequately trained and supported;

· develops clear frameworks for monitoring and evaluating its impact and sets clear goals and indicators accessible to staff end partners.