6.3.5 Take a Gendered Perspective, Which is Even More Important in Rural Areas Where Traditional Cultures are More Deeply Embedded

Taking a gender perspective is even more important in rural areas, where traditional cultures can be more deeply embedded and, therefore, gender roles more fixed and limiting.  A gender perspective is important for programs specifically targeting girls and/or women, and for mainstream programs. In both cases, a gender perspective helps enhance overall program effectiveness, and improves outcomes for girls and women.

For targeted programs, a gender perspective means considering and designing programs around key factors such as:

  • girls’ and women’s situation in the context of their relationships with men,
  • how men and other women might react to the opportunities offered to the targeted girls and women,
  • how to mitigate the risk of negative repercussions,  and
  • how to engage and benefit men (and other non-targeted women) to support the overall goal.  

Girls and women live and work in families, communities and institutions; considering their environment and helping to create a more supportive environment is critical to girls and women’s success, and therefor to the success of a program.

For mainstream programs, taking a gendered perspective means considering and designing programs around slightly different but related factors such as:

  • Different gender rights, roles and responsibilities (especially domestic responsibilities),
  • Different baseline asset levels, including the full range of assets like skills and social networks as well as capital, land or animals,
  • Different levels of choice, mobility, expectations, desires, and safety (including risk of sexual harassment)
  • Relationships – supportive and detractive – among different genders and different age cohorts of the same gender, within families, communities and institutions.

Understanding and designing programs around these kinds of gender dynamics both increases overall program effectiveness and increases program outreach to girls and women.

In gender work, there are different levels of gender change that programs tend to seek, depending on the mission, capacity, and opportunities available to implementing agencies.

  1. Risk Mitigation: Ensure that the program “does no harm,” does not leave girls and women worse off. For example, many cash cropping communities in which sudden large income increases are controlled by male heads of household, have seen rapidly increased rates of alcoholism, polygamy, child mal-nutrition, HIV and other social ills. Meanwhile, women and young family members work harder and have lower access to food. These risks can be mitigated through gender and youth sensitive programming, incorporating psycho-social services, etc.
  2. Inclusion: To increase girls’ and women’s participation, programs need to understand gender issues, and adapt outreach, services, and monitoring and evaluation accordingly.  
  3. Empowerment: Many programs seek to empower girls and young women. These initiatives often target girls and young women exclusively with an integrated package of economic and social services that address multiple barriers girls and women face, and help clients realize their economic and life goals.
  4. Gender Transformation: Programs seeking gender transformation work to change gender roles and the balance of power in families, communities and/or institutions.  Some programs train and empower women to effect gender transformation, but good practice indicates that engaging and involving men directly is very effective and less risky for girls and women. An additional lesson is that paying attention to the hierarchy of women, and how more powerful usually older women enforce gender discrimination against less powerful often younger women, is also important in many situations.     

A good gender strategy develops – with input from a range of stakeholders including men and women in target communities – consensus around a common goal for the program. A clear gender goal helps to mitigate some of the common tension around implementing a gender strategy.

Innovative Strategy for Reaching Young Wives in Nepal – Work With the Mothers-in-Law

The Education for Income Generation Program (EIG), which complimented Winrock International’s 1work in value chain development, targeted ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities, people designated as “Dalit” or the “untouchable” caste, and women, all living in geographically remote regions. These marginalized groups were excluded from education, development and economic opportunity. The inability to find a job and productive remuneration, especially among disenfranchised, out-of-school youth, illiterate women, and those displaced by conflict, created a sense of vulnerability and hopelessness, making these groups more likely to opt for violence and engage in conflict. EIG’s goal was to mitigate conflict by increasing employment and income among young people. EIG offered four sets of services and reached large numbers:

  • Primary and secondary school scholarships, for “Dalits” (421 people)
  • Entrepreneurial Literacy: basic literacy, life skills, peace-building, health, nutrition, and HIV/AIDS (33,200, 95 percent women)
  • Vocation training and employment support (11,865 trained, 83 percent employed or self-employed three months post-graduation)
  • Agricultural production, enterprise training and market linkages (54,000, 81 percent women)

People participating in the Entrepreneurial Literacy training often went on to receive vocational training or support in agricultural production.  Throughout the project, EIG worked with a total of 74,917 marginalized youth.

The Entrepreneurial Literacy component was specifically adapted to include young women of childbearing age, most of whom were married and living with their husband’s extended family.  The course is a 10-month integrated training attended for two hours per day, at a time and location that participants establish.  Income generation topics include lessons on specific businesses - like goat rearing, vegetable cultivation, or trading – as well as general business and financial management skills.  These are complimented by a wide range of topics such as literacy, numeracy, calculator use, life skills, civic responsibility, peace building, HIV, health and nutrition, entrepreneurship, access to credit.  Geared toward participants with limited or no formal education, the methodology is participatory and experiential, providing personal guidance to participants.  Schools engage teachers from target communities, establish peer support networks, and involve the community through a School Management Committee.  This community involvement was critical to recruiting the high numbers of women that the program was able to reach, and remains critical to sustainability.

How did the program reach so many women?  Young, married women in these marginal target families and communities are very isolated.  They are engaged mainly in domestic work in the extended family household, including work on family farms, and many have young children and/or are pregnant.  They have multiple authority figures: their husband, their fathers-in-law and their mothers-in-law.  When EIG staff examined gender issues in the target communities, they found that the main gate-keeper on a young wife’s time is their mother-in-law, because she controls domestic affairs.   Through dialogue with community members in pilot program areas, EIG developed an understanding of household dynamics around young women’s participation in the workforce.  Issues include:

  • Mothers-in-law depend on their daughters-in-law to share the workload;
  • Mothers-in-law feel powerful in their authority over their daughters-in-law;
  • When young married women work, they depend on their mothers-in-law for childcare and to perform additional domestic work;
  • When young married women work, they share their earnings with their mothers-in-law, and
  • When young women are literate and numerate, and educated about health and social issues, they are better able to care for the family and help their children with their schoolwork.

By highlighting the benefits of the program to the mothers-in-law and the family, EIG staff convinced leading community members to try the program.  As these “lead families” succeeded, the mothers-in-law assured other women that the program was a net positive and they helped with recruitment.   This recruitment model was then incorporated into the program model and replicated in each new community.  Understanding of gender dynamics, appropriate design adaptations, and extensive community engagement were critical success factors.


  • 1. A nonprofit organization that works with people in the United States and around the world to empower the disadvantaged, Winrock International increases economic opportunities, and sustains natural resources. The Education for Income Generation Program (2008-2012) was a USAID funded $15 million program in Nepal to mitigate conflict by training disadvantaged youth for employment and increased income.