By Julie Snyder
2016 is shaping up to be the year of the woman across the globe. With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015, gender equality has been pushed to the top of the 2030 agenda. Evidence suggests countries that support gender equality and women’s rights are more stable and more prosperous.
At the World Economic Forum meetings in Davos this January, the topic of gender inequality arose repeatedly, becoming the third most tweeted topic, following refugees and climate change. Globally, gender inequality remains an enormous challenge; according to the World Bank, only two countries out of 130 have reached gender parity at all levels of education, and women hold only 16.2 percent of ministerial-level positions globally.
These problems persist because gender is a highly complex socio-economic variable. Because gender intersects with many other variables, including class, education, and political systems, addressing the challenges associated with gender inequality requires coherent, deliberate solutions. Improving gender equality is key not only to enforcing and upholding human rights, but also to enabling economic development across the globe. Integrated development – intentional approaches to connect multi-sectoral, cross-disciplinary programs at each stage to magnify the intended effect – could be one answer to the multifaceted challenge of gender inequality.
While traditional development often manifests as discrete projects with a singular focus and funder, integrated development encourages collaboration and coordination across funders and sectors to address the complex, multivariable challenges inherent in many developing countries. In particular, integrated development has shown to be particularly useful for evolving ingrained behaviors associated with established gender roles. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has already incorporated integrated development approaches into its policy on gender equality and female empowerment. In Nepal, USAID’s Suaahara Project combines female empowerment, nutrition, and maternal health as its focus areas to counteract rampant malnutrition and constraining gender norms.
Active across more than half of Nepal, Suaahara employs a team of over 50,000 female volunteers that have provided complementary nutrition, hygiene, and maternal health training to Nepalese women since 2012. Volunteers also engage fathers to support best nutritional and health practices as well as female family members. By 2014, the results of Suaahara were astounding: breastfeeding rose from 46 to 68 percent at the national level, and 20 percent more children under age two met their daily minimum nutritional requirements. 82 percent of women who listened to the radio programs changed their nutritional and hygiene habits in accordance with the programming’s suggestions, and 53 percent of women discussed the radio programs with their families. Entering its final year, Suaahara has proven that an integrated development approach can produce impressive, resonating results.
Suaahara is broken down into several levels of implementation: structural, community, household, and overarching. At the structural level, USAID works with the national government to improve coordination and integrate funding streams. Community-level efforts include women’s group meetings, cooking demonstrations, and community gardens. Household involvement focuses on peer education and day visits among other activities. Finally, at the overarching level, a localized radio program, named Bhanchin Aama, or “Mother Knows Best,” promotes awareness of hygiene and nutrition. Commitment at each level is critical for effecting change in a meaningful way, particularly when engaging local stakeholders. Working against the grain of the local context is counteractive to relevant, cohesive solutions and thus counterintuitive to integrated development.
Other implementers have incorporated integrated development approaches with success. CARE and the World Wildlife Fund launched the Coastal Communities initiative in 2008 to foster marine biodiversity and agricultural productivity in Mozambique. Several NGOs, agencies, and donors have united under Locus, a coalition that encourages evidence-based, coherent integrated development approaches to increasingly complex development challenges. Even academics are finding that integrated solutions may be more effective than segregated approaches – paradigms are shifting across the development community.
Integrated development programs like Suaahara hold much promise for improving gender equality and promoting prosperity worldwide. Failing to address challenges faced by half the world’s population will only lead to wasted funds, time, and energy. Though changing behaviors established through deep-rooted gender roles is difficult and complex, awareness and examination of gender norms is key to implementing successful development programming. A focus on empowering women and encouraging equitable gender norms through integrated development approaches could create an amplified effect for all women in developing countries.