Interview with Juliet Pierce: Gender

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If we got it right for women, we’d be getting it right for everybody. We’ve got to crack the passivity of the beneficiary.

The HRI 2011 focuses on gender. In this interview Juliet Pierce talks about how donors are integrating gender in humanitarian action and the need to include women in all stages of the response.

Juliet Pierce is a former DARA Trustee and Former Director of the Performance Assessment Resource Centre (DFID).

Read interview transcript
How are women portrayed in humanitarian crises?

The very first thing that we all tend to see is a woman huddled, probably holding her children, with a kind of worried look on her face. The thing that troubles me about that image, it touches us all. We all try and identify with that women in that sort of crisis and think how awful that is, but there’s a dangerous aspect to the power of that image – what we also see is a woman who is passive, voiceless, who’s a victim, and I think, of all the things we need to change, in the area of humanitarian aid, is working – we need to make her an agent of change, rather than have this kind of strange polarization where the women are the victims and the men are the ones taking action.

How are donors doing on gender?

We see good policy, but we don’t necessarily see that translate into action on the ground. What we haven’t done yet is get donors to really monitor and see the effects of what they’re trying to do on the ground, we need to do that a lot better, which means helping the front-line staff to understand what it is they should be looking for, that’s where I think we still have a lot more training and awareness-raising to do because I think people are wondering: why didn’t I get my funding application through? But they’re not really understanding that it’s more than just a little bit of data about gender, this is about really trying to listen to what the needs of women are. If you see these problems, the consequences are quite frightening. Look at the feedback we are getting now, when women are saying, “There are no locks on the toilets. There are no lights for the latrines. We didn’t feel safe making use of the toilets at night. We had no cultural input into the way in which hygiene products were supplied to us.”

What can be done?

We need to be much better at monitoring, much better at training. By training, I mean helping front-line agencies to understand what they need to do to be gender-sensitive, so not just what they need to do to fill out funding applications, but what, in practice, they need to do to actually make sure that what they’re doing really helps women and children. We’ve got to be much clearer about helping people to listen to women on the ground. It’s not that women don’t know what they need, it’s that women, for some reason, are not being able to get their voice heard in the decision-making that affects them. That’s where so much more action needs to take place. The really ironic thing is if we got it right for women, we would be able to say we are getting it right for everybody. Because actually the issues are how we effectively get those in most need to be participants and agents in this chain of humanitarian aid, we have got to crack the passivity of the beneficiary.