University of Sussex
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Following the commitment: development NGOs and gender mainstreaming – the case of Oxfam GB

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posted on 2023-06-08, 15:02 authored by Franz F Wong
The thesis is concerned with relationships between different conceptualizations and understandings of gender mainstreaming in Oxfam GB during 2001-2006 and focuses on two sites of policy and practice: Oxfam House and an Oxfam project in Cambodia. Drawing on anthropology of development literature, I observe that while the mainstreaming strategy was becoming further embedded in the organisation, it also evolved differently in each research site. Gender policy and practice were not necessarily linked, and policy did not drive practice; different drivers were at play. In Oxfam House, understandings of gender mainstreaming among senior managers were informed by perennial feedback that the organisation’s gender work was wanting and perceptions that previous gender efforts were overly critical and uninspiring. These understandings influenced inter-related imperatives, pursued by senior managers, of assuming organisational leadership for gender and making “gender accessible”. Both of these contributed to rendering the promotion of gender equality a contested process. In contrast, the project case study in Cambodia, which Oxfam viewed as a “successful” gender mainstreamed model of community-based disaster management, demonstrates a process of taking on gender issues characterised by mutual benefit and reciprocity. Regional gender advisors and project staff needed to work together to secure their places in Aidland. Unlike the drivers of policy in Oxfam House, the drivers of gender mainstreaming practice were the demands and uncertainties of Aidland and, in the light of these, the maintenance of project relations and reproduction of “success”. They also concerned localised contingencies of social relations of gender and relations of aid. I conclude that while gender mainstreaming policy and practice are connected by formal organisational structures, they can also be unrelated due to different micro politics within these respective sites and, relatedly, from the varying degrees of autonomous decision making exercised by Oxfam staff and their understandings of gender and their particular interests.


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