Gender Mainstreaming in the Twilight Zone
June 7, 2007

Recently, I attended a workshop regarding a gender-mainstreaming project that's supposed to bring greater women's participation and visibility across the social and government spectrum of Afghanistan. The country has a development strategy that *mandates* gender mainstreaming, and per some of the opening remarks by a representative from the Afghanistan Minister of Economy at this workshop, I was feeling really great when the morning began: You can imagine me sitting there, so happy, thinking: wow, the Afghan government totally gets it. Everyone in this room, all representatives of various Afghan ministries, including that group of men sitting there in traditional clothes at one table with no women at all... they have already signed on to this strategy, and we're now going to talk about how to implement it. Hurrah. Wahoo. Afghanistan moves forward! It's much farther along than I ever dreamed!

But... it turns out the organizers had made a very big, incorrect assumption: that because some *Ministers* had signed off on the strategy, provided copies to their staff, and directed some key staff members to participate in this workshop, everyone believes in everything the aforementioned speaker talked about. It's just those folks out in the provinces that aren't hip to the whole gender equity thing.


After all sorts of missteps and mishaps and confusion about what was going to happen next that prompted half of the attendees to leave and go do more interesting things, the remaining attendees were divided into groups and supposed to work on... well, it doesn't matter what we were supposed to work on. What matters is that in my group, most of which were Afghan men, it emerged that most of them did NOT support this gender mainstreaming idea. Most of the men in my group do NOT believe in gender equity. They were there because their supervisors told them to be there. Period. One man said that the situation for women was MUCH better before things like the Ministry of Women's Affairs ever came along, and that men and women all long for those days. Another man - from the women's ministry, in fact -- said that if the concerns of men were addressed, that would mean the concerns of women would be addressed, because they are the same - no need to separate them out. All agreed that there's no need for other ministries - for Justice, for Refugees, for Finance, etc. - to be concerned with women's affairs, as such was the sole responsibility of the women's ministry. So much for *mainstreaming*.

And here's the kicker: I defended those men to the workshop organizers. Yes, ME. No, really. I did. I defended them because the organizers had made such off-base assumptions about the beliefs of the attendees, and that ticked me off. Haven't the organizers lived in this country even *longer* than *me*? One of the facilitators kept saying, "But they have copies of the strategy! They've received the strategy! Their ministers have signed off on it!" And I kept saying, "You can't make someone believe something just because you give him a copy of the document!" So there I was, telling the facilitators, "No, you have to write this down, you have to include his comments in your report. This is what he believes. You have to represent that. They do NOT buy what you are promoting." And the Afghan guys were so appreciative of me making sure that their completely sexist, archaic views were represented that they asked me to present their comments to the entire room at the end of the workshop.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone... yes, I did it. And I could see the organizers fuming. And I wanted to scream, "I don't freakin' believe this cr*p! But you can't ignore these people even if they think like cavemen!!" But I didn't. I finished the presentation and walked back to the table, got thanked by the guys, and then left. And went to a grocery store, then marched back to my guest house (I was still at Assa 2) - no one dared abduct me, because I would have killed them. It was written all over my face. Even the street beggers stayed away.

You should still fear me.


If you have read this blawg, PLEASE let me know.
Comments are welcomed, and motivate me to keep writing --
without comments, I start to think I'm talking to cyberair.

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