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How INASP’s ‘Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education’ Toolkit is helping to shift mindsets – INASP Blog

How INASP’s ‘Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education’ Toolkit is helping to shift mindsets


Ruth Bottomley spoke with Science Impact about INASP’s Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education Toolkit and why it is vital that men, as well as women are active participants in the fight against gender inequality. We would like to thank STEM for sharing this post with us. The original blog post can be found here.

In line with strengthening research and information, gender mainstreaming has become a key focus of INASP. With gender inequalities in higher education present, but not always acknowledged, INASP aims to promote equity by actively addressing the needs of both men and women across the breadth of their work and addresses issues of power within the research and knowledge system. Ruth Bottomley, INASP’s Senior Programme Manager was in attendance at the STEM Gender Equality Congress in Berlin in June, and spoke with Science Impact about her organization’s Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education Toolkit and why it is vital that men, as well as women are active participants in the fight against gender inequality.

Can you expand on why it is so important that those using the INASP Toolkit develop a greater awareness and sensitization of gender inequalities by identifying gender gaps in their own personal and professional lives? What reflective and participatory processes are involved?

The INASP Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education Toolkit is designed to provide a sensitization workshop that allows the participants to relate their own personal and professional experiences to those of others, and this helps to create a real, lived understanding and awareness of how gender inequalities are present in their institutions and in the wider society.

Often the gender inequalities that exist in our daily lives become accepted as the norm because they are internalised and considered natural rather than socially constructed. If these norms are examined in a safe space, such as a workshop environment, the inequalities and gender gaps become apparent. When the University of Dodoma in Tanzania ran its first gender mainstreaming workshop (from which the toolkit is developed) they found the activities helped participants to ‘open their eyes’ and realize that many of the experiences were shared. But it was only when they came together as a group that they felt empowered to act to address some of the gender gaps they identified.

The reflective and participatory processes within the Toolkit include an activity called Balancing the Baskets, in which participants carry out a self-reflection on gender inequalities in their personal and professional lives and then discuss these experiences with other participants. Other activities encourage the participants to analyse their institutions from a gender perspective to identify the gender gaps and the barriers that create and perpetuate these inequalities.

Can you explain why local reality is vital in terms of action planning, but also what an international perspective brings to the process?

A focus on the local reality and context is essential to ensure that a gender mainstreaming action plan addresses the gender concerns and issues affecting women and men within the daily operations, policies and practices of a specific institution. For gender mainstreaming to have an impact it is important that the action plan is not a generic document out of touch with the institutional reality, but rather a functional and useful tool the institution can actively use to address gender issues in a systematic and comprehensive way.

However, having a global perspective can provide a useful framework to inform the local response to addressing gender imbalances and discrimination, providing valuable insights that cut across institutional and cultural differences. It can prompt the realisation that gender inequality in academia is a global problem and in this way create a sense of global solidarity. At a recent gender sensitization workshop in Ghana, the participants recognized many of the challenges faced by women in academia and research across the world, for example the societal expectations that discourage women from entering higher education; the challenges to publish at the same rate as their male counterparts; and the lack of women in senior leadership or decision-making positions. However, they were also encouraged by the fact that Ghana had made more progress on closing the gender pay gap than other countries, including the UK.

Where do you stand on the participation of both sexes in this process? What benefits, if any, do you see in involving men in halting gender inequality?

We think it is essential that gender mainstreaming is an inclusive and open process that involves both men and women, and the INASP gender mainstreaming in higher education toolkit is designed so that men and women can be sensitized and actively take part in the mainstreaming process. Men have a key role to support and contribute to the promotion of gender equality in both professional and personal spheres.

However, the reality is that women are often the most disadvantaged group in terms of gender inequality in academia, and the institutions we have worked with to date have preferred to initiate the institutional mainstreaming process with a workshop for women participants only. This initial workshop has been an important space for the women to come together to reflect on and share their professional and personal experiences of gender discrimination and inequalities. We have also found that the initial workshop gives the opportunity for women to collectively consider the importance of gender mainstreaming to themselves and their institution, and to consider how they can respond to the inevitable challenges that will arise throughout the process.

Gender mainstreaming is a long-term and ongoing institutional process of which the initial sensitisation workshop is a small first step. Our partners recognise the importance of actively engaging both men and women in this process to effectively and systematically challenge institutional gender inequalities. It is also worth noting that in the case of our partners, men are often involved from the start of the process as the institutional leaders who support and endorse the need for gender mainstreaming within their institutions.

What are the tangible benefits of involving multiple stakeholders from multiple disciplines in discussions?

From our experience, involving multiple stakeholders from multiple disciplines and roles is key to creating a collective institutional platform for gender mainstreaming. The University of Dodoma brought together academic staff, students, administrative and support staff, and senior leadership to participate in discussions as part of their gender mainstreaming process. This not only brought in different perspectives, experiences and knowledge, but it created a sense of shared responsibility and ensured the mainstreaming process was understood throughout the institution.

While a core group of gender champions can initiate and drive the process, buy-in is needed from a senior level from the start to ensure that resources can be allocated to the work on a long-term basis and the commitment and knowledge required to enable gender mainstreaming within an institution is in place.

How important is passion and positivity in the development of gender mainstreaming?

Working with our partner institutions we have seen how a core group of champions who are passionate about achieving gender equality within their institution can play a very important role in driving the mainstreaming process forward at institutional level. The team at the University of Dodoma are gender champions within their own institution, but they have also inspired two other institutions we work with to embark on gender mainstreaming processes. In the toolkit we have included a link to a short video about the team at Dodoma, called Why not me? Why not us? We have found that showing this video during the sensitization workshops has really inspired the participants and unlocked conversations and the sharing of personal experiences.

So passion is important to inspire and motivate, but as we also advise in the toolkit, it is important to work with both your heart and your head. Exploring and discussing gender inequalities can open up many emotional and personal experiences for both men and women, but gender mainstreaming also requires a considered analysis of gender gaps and the identification of realistic and achievable actions to address the issues.

For more information on the INASP Gender Mainstreaming in Higher Education Toolkit and recent progress made, inspired by the toolkit, at Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, see this blog post.


Ruth Bottomley

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