The role of constituency building in advancing gender equality

Sifiso Dube, Gender and Diversity Officer, CIVICUS

Many methods have been crafted as a way of achieving gender equality by civil society, governments and the private sector. Continuous review of these processes always links to the need for constituency building as a means of achieving gender equality. Constituency building should be viewed as a means of influencing public opinion and motivating people to take collective action to achieve a desired social or policy change, which in this case is gender equality. Constituency building is about building a support base for progress towards gender equality. It involves resourcing for social advocacy on gender equality and intensive efforts towards partnerships and alliance building.

What makes constituency building an integral part of gender equality is the intersectional nature of gender with all aspects of humanity. Viewed as the culturally specific set of characteristics that identifies the social behaviour of women and men and the relationship between them, gender is therefore reflected in all aspects of life. Building constituencies enhances identifying lines of congruence in various regions throughout the world in terms of gender terminology. Since the First World Conference on Women in 1975 called for the establishment of national machineries for the advancement of women, governments have made efforts to integrate gender considerations by elaborating national gender plans, mainstreaming gender into processes related to planning, the elaboration of national development strategies, national security plans and environmental policies. However, these efforts will not yield results if there is a lack of constituency building with non-government actors. Civil society movements are therefore critical as drivers of the gender equality action plans.

 

Constituency building for gender equality helps to create brokerage amongst various functional areas to highlight the gender bridges. Whether stakeholders in the gender equality movement may choose to focus on making connections through alliance or partnership building, the bottom line is to enact a gender-centric approach across all functions or focus areas. Often, there is weighting of how engendered a functional area.should be  The answer should lie in the evaluation of strategies that have moved gender from the centre to the margins. This makes collective effort for gender equality impossible and shadows all deliberate efforts made to achieve it.

AWID for example believes that change to advance women’s rights and gender equality takes place by building collective power – when women organise and mobilise together to advance changes at local, national and international levels. This belief in building collective power is an integral part of its identity as a membership organisation. This movement building through collective power gives legitimacy  to  gender and women’s empowerment. Thus social change can be achieved through collective power that cuts across sectors.

By the time of the Fourth World Conference on Women (FWCW) in Beijing in September 1995, there was a growing consensus on the role, structure and functions of the national machinery: that it should act as a catalyst rather than an implementer and that its main function was mainstreaming a gender equality perspective in all policy areas. It was clear that the government as a catalyst would need to activate other role players in achieving gender equality, hence the need for constituency building. The rise of strong women’s movements advocating for women’s rights and gender equality clearly showed the need for constituency building in various focus areas. Nowadays, we have strong women’s movements in aspects such as climate change and political participation. The role of multilaterals in building constituencies,  such as the newly formed UN Women, will bring on board various experiences and opinions for women’s empowerment and gender equality.

The advantages of constituency building are the legitimacy, authority and credibility it brings for a social change as well as the mix of functions that eventually converge for the set goal of achieving gender equality. Constituency building creates a competitive advantage for advocacy efforts as it build a client base that moves from being just a prospect to being a partner with a sense of belonging. It is a durable strategy that reduces risks for gender equality movements, both internally and externally, and yet it enhances the performance of gender equality action plans.  Constituency building can link political strategies with the social environment and devise methods that will be effective in achieving gender equality. The gender continuum highlights the fluidity of moving across the continuum from gender blind to gender transformed. This implies that in building constituencies for gender equality, a balanced mix of partnerships or constituencies at various levels of the continuum is necessary to transfer knowledge and open up unexploited avenues for achieving gender equality.

Constituency building for gender equality however needs continuous stakeholder management so as to incorporate all inputs from the constituency and collectively filter aspects and methods that will work in various regions of the world. For example, filtration can be done according to levels of development or religious practices as well as the political environment. Political buy-in is critical when building constituencies for gender equality. This implies that there should be an understanding of the concepts as well as the approaches, from the constituency base to the strategic advocacy levels. Constituency building provides opportunities for feedback on trends and experiences for gender equality as long as such constituencies form a meaningful connection to gender equality and have a broad and diverse stakeholder base.

It is imperative to build resources for constituency building for gender equality as it involves dialogue or engagement.  Building constituencies will mean training on gender equality, research, monitoring and evaluation, constant dialogue and updates and continuous political motivation to gain a will for gender equality through multi-sectoral approaches. Civil society can form alliances amongst themselves or contribute to government efforts to implement gender equality action plans. National to grassroots alliances provide direct reflections on gender equality, whilst national, regional and international alliances provide strategic guiding principles on gender equality.

There are challenges in building constituencies for gender equality such as resource mobilisation, managing the constituency dynamics and the investment in concerted efforts of listening, reasoning and educating by the desired constituency. However, it is of added value to civil society if the opinions of the people are heard and when the people have a sense of ownership in a process of social change such as achieving gender equality. This means forging a bottom-up approach of contributing to gender equality as well as enhancing capacity through multi-stakeholder dialogue, bringing legitimacy to the advocacy actions for gender equality.

 

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