I had always heard about Gender Links but had never had close interaction with the organization or staff.

My organisation, The Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI) and Gender Links have shared details on our work and collaborated from a distance on matters of gender equality and equity. However, I was particularly interested in learning about the Gender Barometer – a monitoring and accountability tool coordinated by Gender Links that is used to track progress towards gender equality in all Southern African Development Community (SADC) Member States. So when this chance of a learning visit presented itself, it was a dream come true!

Gender Links is the coordinating NGO of the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance based in South Africa which has presence in all 15 SADC countries. Gender Links is one of the leading gender justice organisations in the SADC region just as EASSI is for the East African region (EAC).

As individuals are created differently, with varying capabilities, so too are organizations; there is beauty in difference. And as we are exposed to different learning experiences, there is growth whether physical, emotional or intellectual. I was joined in this process of growth and development by EASSI’s Acting Director, representatives of EASSI’s focal point organizations in Kenya and Tanzania and members of staff from the Commonwealth Foundation.

The EAC Gender Equality and Development Pilot Barometer 2017

Over the last 10 years, EASSI has spearheaded advocacy efforts at the East African Community (EAC) level, for the East Africa Gender Equality and Development Act. It has not been an easy journey! Until 2017 there was a lack of harmonized policies and legislation to deal with gender inequality across the region. But in March 2017, the EAC Gender Equality and Development Act was passed by the East Africa Legislative Assembly.

‘Women are affected by rampant gender based violence and within decision making spaces the numbers of women are very low.’

Problems of gender inequality in the region are manifest at all levels: in the social spheres, at the domestic level, and in public institutions. Women are affected by rampant gender based violence and within decision making spaces the numbers of women are very low.

While the Act awaits to be assented to by the Heads of States and to take effect nationally, there is a clear need for a harmonised framework for action and to track success, and the Barometer was deemed as a necessary participatory measurement tool for making cross-national comparisons.

Progressing the advocacy from regional to national and local

An inclusive process nurtures ownership of development tools. EASSI is still advocating mostly at a regional level and yet this work needs to happen at the grassroots in order to reach development practitioners at all levels. This is where we could learn from Gender Links, which has made big strides with advocacy around the SADC barometer at local level.

I wanted to understand how Gender Links was able to galvanize much of the SADC region to commit to peer reviews of indicators laid out in the barometer, which were important to gathering reliable data. I also wanted to find out how to effectively collaborate with governments on gender equality, in order to get government agencies, departments and other local NGOs to adopt a gender equality model and nurture a community that is committed to practicing gender equity.

‘The visit taught me to keep an open mind, to learn, and to not keep learning to myself.’

The learning visit entailed sharing Gender Links’ work around data collection methods; datasets; managing the Alliance; and, organizing Summits to bring together women’s organisations, other civil society, and local and national government representatives. The learning visit also included a visit to the District Municipality Centre of Excellence on Gender and a community home based care centre.

Where the learning should take us

The visit gave me the necessary knowledge and skills to enter into spaces that are often perceived as closed, to engage government stakeholders and perhaps above all to connect with the grassroots in order to harness popular support.

The visit taught me to keep an open mind, to learn, and to not keep learning to myself. I am certainly sharing the Gender Links’ method of advocacy work with the EASSI network so we can change the advocacy landscape in the region.

One of the things I would most like EASSI to institutionalise is a positive relationship with government: one that enables us to work together with policy makers on gender equality. I would like to see the barometer adopted as a tool in policy reviews and to ensure implementation of the Protocol by local government councils where the largest population in the EAC is based. Finally, I would like to build a forum where all stakeholders come to take stock of progress, share strategies and good practices and ultimately advance gender equality in the region.

Read further details on the powerful approaches shared between Foundation partners on this learning visit.

Manisurah Aheebwa is Policy Officer, Peace and Security, at EASSI. 

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