A blog from our former CEO Meike van Ginneken.
SNV is dedicated to a society in which all people are free to pursue their own sustainable development. Our agriculture, energy and WASH projects help to build a gender-equal world. This year's International Women's Day theme is Each for Equal, which puts the spotlight on gender equality. Counting on only half of the strength of the world's population will not end poverty. We must include all the world’s smarts, willpower and creativity.
Growing household incomes
In our livelihoods projects, gender equality and women’s empowerment are linked to increasing incomes and parity in decision-making. Our commitment to equity drives us to specifically support women entrepreneurs. Time and again, we have seen immediate benefits in personal and working relationships between women and men when they change their behaviour.
When a household’s income grows, it becomes easier to discuss and agree upon how money will be spent. In Lao PDR, a husband and wife teamed-up to expand their sanitation business. Today, they deliver facilities and a service to households in the Atsaphone district, faster and more efficiently. Here's how they’re doing that.
Women’s employment translates to healthier families as women spend more of their income on food and healthcare for children. Women’s employment also changes the position of women in their own community. In Zambia, a former customer service personnel left her desk job to engage in actual faecal sludge emptying services. Considering herself Zambia’s ‘first lady’ in a male-dominated FSM business, read about the factors that helped her make this career change.
In Zimbabwe, a young entrepreneur is changing gender stereotypes in waste management. Kudakwashe Dhliwayo is only 25 and already one of the major players in environmental sustainability in her country.
Leaving no-one behind in service delivery
Our gender equality and social inclusion approach helps us to leave no-one behind in our projects that improve energy, WASH and nutrition services.
Women often suffer the most from poor service delivery. In a health post in West Rukum, Nepal, child births used to be conducted in precarious conditions. This is no longer the case. Installation of solar PVs and health practitioner-focused hygiene promotion and infection prevention trainings have raised the confidence of midwives to assist births, and mothers to seek services. Read more about this story here.
In Lao PDR homes that still use firewood and charcoal as main cooking fuel, women and children are most at risk of household air pollution. Our introduction of improved cookstoves helps mitigate this risk. Silvana Summa, SNV Online Communication Officer, tells more in this story.
Gender patterns are local, and so are the ways by which these patterns change. Therefore, we use our extensive on-the-ground track record to adapt our expertise to local contexts. SNV's Sustainable Nutrition for All (SN4A) puts gender roles at the core of the approach through gender-sensitive tools and by taking into account the role of intra-household decision-making. Our Nutrition Expert Dierdre McMahon tells more.
Disaggregated data can unmask patterns and are critical to ensuring service extensions reach everybody. An independent evaluation of our rural sanitation projects in 11 countries showed that we are reaching female-headed households (54% increase in the prevalence of sanitation in four years) equal to other households (a 52% increase). This might sound like a small difference, but historically many projects did not reach female-headed households at all.
Women leaders know which services women need. Women leaders listen to other women when they take decisions. This is the story of Rokeya, president and chair of Community Development Committee Federation in Khulna, the third largest city in Bangladesh.
Inspiring change, creating a new normal
We have countless stories of how our projects directly benefit millions of people. But our ambition goes beyond those direct results. Our projects are designed to change the underlying systems, which trap women and marginalised groups in poverty.
Change starts with each of us individually; challenging stereotypes and including women in the solution. But achieving a gender equal world requires for new norms to be accepted by an increasing number of people and decision-makers. A gender-equal world requires a new normal.
Creating a new normal takes time because gender attitude is deeply ingrained in value and belief systems. Our SNV teams around the world speak the local language and have worked with local communities for decades. It is this local know-how that enables us to influence mindsets.
And we are getting there. Take for example how women pastoralists in Burkina Faso and Kenya take concerted action to mitigate or adapt to the impacts of climate change and drought. And at the same time, become leaders and mentors in their communities.
We also know that change does not happen overnight. In Benin, two decades after the conclusion of a gender empowerment programme, SNV implementation districts are doing better in women’s empowerment. In Vietnam, provincial authorities have scaled up an SNV women empowerment project. This is how we shift norms and create a new normal. This is how we continue to improve people’s lives beyond the time and space boundaries of our projects.
Personally, I am moved by the stories of colleagues on the sustainability of SNV gender interventions. I celebrate the stories of strong women improving the lives of their families and communities. Join me and SNV in this celebration of success and change. Happy Women’s Day!
Banner photo: SSH4A implementation in Dagana, Bhutan by SNV/Aidan Dockery