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No development without equality

In many developing countries, like here in Nepal, women struggle for equality

(Keystone)

Sexual equality is the key to successful development work, a one-day conference in Bern has heard.

Delegates discussed how poverty in the developing world cannot be overcome without equal opportunities for men and women.

The conference - hosted by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) - called for "gender mainstreaming" in all aspects of development work, meaning that future aid projects must be assessed in terms of their impact on women and men.

SDC director Walter Fust told the conference that women make up 70 per cent of the world's poor.

They typically have less access to education, and in some countries are still prevented from owning property.

Daily life

Carolyn Hannan Andersen, director of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, said women deal with some of the most important aspects of daily life in the developing world.

"Take the issue of water, for example," Andersen told swissinfo. "Water is taken care of by women, they are the ones who collect it, they are the ones who decide how much is needed for each daily task."

"They are actively involved in water resource management, so you have to involve them," she added.

"But in the past they have been left out. When water technicians arrived, they sat down and talked to the men."

Andersen believes that gender issues should no longer be treated as items only to be addressed after more pressing issues of poverty have been solved.

"You can't solve any of the development problems we have, such as poverty, unless you look at women as well as men," she said.

"The idea that you can deal with poverty and then come back and look at gender simply doesn't work - it's very inefficient."

A long process

But achieving gender mainstreaming in all aspects of development work will not be an easy task.

The SDC works in several countries where women are traditionally excluded from many aspects of life.

"Obviously we will have to adapt our approach to the context we are in," said Chrystel Ferret, a gender officer for the SDC.

"In some areas we could facilitate local women talking to each other. In other areas, women may already be organised into groups, and perhaps we could organise it that they could talk to the men about some issues."

"But gender mainstreaming is certainly not about us going in there and saying 'men and women are supposed to be equal, stop doing what you're doing."

Equality at SDC

In a bid to show just how serious the aid agency is about sexual equality, the SDC says it is incorporating gender mainstreaming into its own internal structure and recruitment policy.

In order to achieve a balance of the sexes at the agency, 60 per cent of all future SDC employees will have to be women.

In future, it will also be easier to work part time, and women are to be favoured for senior positions.

Ferret concedes, however, that even in an organisation like the SDC - which has made firm commitments to equality - the process will not be easy.

"We are working on it," she told swissinfo. "But as you can imagine, it's not so easy. You have to change the whole culture of the institution."

"We are trying to promote more women, trying in general to have a more gender-friendly culture. It's a process we have started, and we are struggling through it."

swissinfo, Imogen Foulkes

Key facts

Seventy per cent of all people living on less than one dollar a day are women.
In some countries, women are still prevented from owning property.
The SDC is to incorporate the concept of gender equality into its own internal structure and recruitment policy.

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