Daniele Polini, Head of Gender and WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) at SWISSAID, looks at developments in recent years and explains how SWISSAID is working for women in its projects.
How has the situation for women in society developed in recent years?
Unfortunately, the situation is not very positive. The latest available data shows that progress in some areas is being blocked by radically conservative policies. In some countries, we are even seeing regression in women’s rights. The United States is a clear example of this.
According to the United Nations, the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 – gender equality by 2030 – is at risk. SWISSAID is also observing this in its partner countries.
What is influencing this development?
The health, climate and humanitarian crises of recent years have coincided with an increase in violence against women, particularly in rural areas. Studies show that women feel less safe than before the pandemic. This is due to a combination of factors, including in particular the stress caused by rising prices and the unequal income system on which many households are based. In households where only one parent earns the income, the precarious situation has led to increased domestic violence.
How does SWISSAID tackle these challenges in concrete terms?
Gender equality, i.e. equal and fair power relations between people, remains a key concern for SWISSAID. We support projects and organizations that are committed to gender equality in all our countries of operation. In recent years, more and more successful projects have been initiated and funded that focus on empowering women and involving men. The positive experiences made in some pilot countries are being transferred and adapted to other countries. For example, the intensive awareness-raising work against violence against women and girls in India and Colombia is now also being applied in Niger and Ecuador.
And at a political level?
SWISSAID is strongly committed to supporting women’s organizations. Strengthening existing women’s networks is the most sustainable work we can do. This is the aim of a new project in Chad, for example, which was launched in partnership with UN Women ((Link)). And in Niger, we launched a project for an agroecology platform.
Are men part of this gender equality work?
Yes, men play an important role in the emancipation of women. When men understand how important it is for women to be independent, they also understand the impact on income, society and child rearing – and are more willing to support this development.
Awareness-raising work is being actively carried out in communities in Niger: Men’s groups are formed to discuss various aspects of inequality. For example, the gap between the workload of men and women. Awareness of the damaging effects of these inequalities on society as a whole has motivated many men to support their wives in their daily work. This reduces the women’s workload so that they can devote themselves to other tasks, such as selling their products on the market. This has a positive impact on their income.
Are all our partner countries on the same level when it comes to gender equality or are there differences?
There are considerable differences both at country level and in relation to the various aspects of inequality. SWISSAID takes a local approach. Each project is individually adapted to the respective situation. Before a project is implemented, many discussions are held with local partners and the population, and national data is also taken into account. The work in Myanmar, Chad and Guinea-Bissau therefore focuses on the economic empowerment of women. In Colombia, Ecuador and India, the focus is more on combating violence against women.