Decades of studies have found that understanding and
addressing gender norms and gender disparities is central to the success of civic
engagement initiatives and the issues they address.
Yet while race and class are considered core concerns,
gender is often ignored or overlooked. And when it is addressed, it's often
segregated as a "women's issue," disconnected from age, race, or class.
In fact, a landscape survey of the nation's leading civic
engagement funders and non-profits found only a handful that integrated a
strong focus on gender norms or inequities into their priorities.
Few philanthropic institutions are challenging grantees to
do innovative work around gender, and few non-profits have put a gender
analysis or remediating gender disparities at the center of their work. Often
programs will address race, or class, but have no analysis of the impact of
gender. Making programs and policies more effective for more people means connecting
social justice and gender justice.
Gender Norms refers
to ideals, expectations and scripts for how men and women should look, act and
refers to all members of a population having equal access to resources, equal
power to participate, and both legal rights and freedom from abuse or
refers to programs and policies that highlight, challenge, and ultimately try
to change rigid gender norms and inequities.
Voting and Political Participation
norms is crucial to understanding who gets involved in civic engagement work,
what kind, and for what reason.
For instance, women historically
have lower levels of voting and political engagement, probably in part because
they are more often socialized to be nurturing, dependent, and oriented
towards family, caretaking, and community.
One of the strongest single predictors of political
participation is being fully employed – presumably so one has the financial and
personal resources to engage in organizing, voting, and campaigning.
Men are often more likely to be involved politically simply
because more men have full-time jobs. Thus class must be taken into account as
When women do get involved civically, they often prefer more
personal, social and private forms of activism, such as online advocacy, ,
religious programs, and community actions like boycotts and petition-signing. .
Men are often comfortable with more individual and confrontational forms of
In fact, research shows men and women don't so much have different
levels of political participation, as different styles. And understanding
the impact of race is also important. For
instance, young Black women have been one of the more reliable voting blocks in
Integrating a focus on rigid gender norms and inequities is also
important to understanding the issues that community organizations often
address, such as employment, immigration, health care, prison policy, housing,
and welfare. Consider these examples:
Employment: Men are generally expected to be breadwinners and family providers, with larger incomes than their spouses derived from occupations they work at outside the home. Because of these and other factors, work usually performed by men is historically more valued than women's. Women are often paid less and given lower job titles for performing the same or equivalent work. And men who find themselves in "women's occupations" like nursing, waiting tables, or child-care may also find their labor devalued and underpaid (although still usually paid better than women), and their careers shunted away from management and promotion.
- Prison Reform: Studies have shown that men – and particularly Black and Hispanic males – are much more likely to be given harsher sentences than women, even for first, non-violent offences. At the same time, many harsh sentencing policies overlook the effect of an absent male breadwinner –incarcerated hours away from home – on a female spouse with dependent children.
- Welfare Policy: Government policies aimed at getting recipients back to work have consistently overlooked childcare as a key component, although women with dependent children are the largest group of beneficiaries. How can low-income single parents take advantage of retraining or workfare opportunities without child care? And with all the focus on welfare, too little attention is often paid to preventing dependency in the first place by keeping breadwinning males (and female heads-of-household) in jobs to begin with.
It's important to understand that many of these disparities
are not driven by gender alone; most often there are elements of age, race, class
and educational level involved.
This is why authorities like Kimberle Crenshaw have pushed
for "intersectional" approaches to civic engagement problems that
treat gender, race and class as not interchangeable but deeply intertwined. In
this way, we can connect social justice and gender justice together, rather
than separating them out.
For instance, it makes little sense for a young Latina
working on voter participation in East LA to address part of her efforts to her
sex, another to her race and a third to her socio-economic level. All of these
aspects meet and connect in her lived experience – our approaches to challenges
she confronts should do no less.
Even civic engagement analyses that are gender aware often
look at gender equity and disparities between men and women but then completely
ignore the effect of norms of masculinity and femininity.
Yet as the extensive new World Bank report, "On Norms
and Agency," makes clear, if you unpack gender disparities underneath you often
find gender norms at work.
This is true of each of the four examples cited above.
Addressing gender disparities with an awareness of underlying causes not only
informs the work theoretically but can help make any grantmaking initiative more
effective and inclusive.
What About Men
A second limitation of most analysis of gender equity in civic engagement issues is that while they
may state that gender is an issue for everyone, they often focus solely on women
For instance one recent high profile report noted
prominently that "effective gender
analysis does not stop at the experience of women – rather, it examines how
restrictive norms oppress people across the gender spectrum, including men,
women, and trans and intersex people."
Yet the accompanying graphic told the tale: "In social justice work: Who is excluded?
Women. Who experiences financial inequality? Women?"
This has led to confusion, where groups are asked to "develop
a gender analysis" assume that what is really being asked is to launch a
program focused on women and girls, or recruit more women for upper management.
This "diversity answer" does
not substitute for a real understanding of how gender impacts individuals'
rights, participation, and privilege.
Many programs are "gender neutral," meaning they
don't address gender at all. This means they may disadvantage women and
girls, as well as gay or transgender
people. In some cases it will mean they overlook the disproportionate impact on
young men and boys.
For instance, an immigration initiative that proceeds as if
all undocumented immigrants are single males with no children will ill-serve
mothers with dependent children.
There are also issues where men and boys have markedly low
or lower outcomes, such as school expulsions and "push-out" policies,
educational under-achievement, bullying,
prison sentencing, handgun violence, and substance abuse, to name a few.
And these disparities can be amplified with young men of color in low-income
communities, or for men who are openly gay and effeminate.
For instance, take health care. One leading analysis of ObamaCare noted that women pay 60% of
doctor’s office bills, make 80% of family health care decisions, and during
their reproductive years spend 68% more on average for out-of-pocket care. They
are also more likely to skip a medical treatment, fail to fill a prescription,
or put off needed health care because they lack insurance coverage and money.
What it didn't note is that when individuals are insured,
and health care is readily available at little or no cost, it is often men – especially
in low-income communities– who suffer most. Rigid codes of manhood on the street have taught young males to
"suck it up," never complain, never admit to pain or weakness, and
always go it alone. Such men postpone asking for care until easily treated
illnesses have put their bodies into expensive, life-threatening crises, because
doing so would be a sign of weakness, dependence and vulnerability – in a word,
A more gender aware view of civic engagement would also
address the challenges faced by gay and transgender individuals, many of whom
are unable to participate in community organizing or political advocacy because
doing so might "out" them publicly, exposing them to violence,
economic discrimination, or familial rejection.
And in areas like employment, effeminate gay men and
transgender women often face many of the same obstacles as women, and often for
Transgender women in particular, many of whom are unable or
unwilling to "pass" and blend in, are less able to participate in civic
engagement efforts both because of animus against them as because they may place
themselves at risk if they move into the public eye or become identified as
There is now a growing awareness of the need for what leading
authority Geeta Rao Gupta called "gender transformative” programs and policies.
Approaches which are gender transformative highlight,
challenge and ultimately try to change rigid gender norms and inequities.
One acronym for thinking of how to do this is BRAND.
history – How did the disparities come about, what attitudes sustain them?
and participation - Who is in a
decision-making capacity and who is not?
resources – Which groups have full access to resources, who does not and what
Norms, roles and
expectations – What beliefs about masculinity and femininity prevent full
Division of labor
– How is labor divided up and who ends up doing which responsibilities?
Clearly to make civic engagement programs and funding
priorities more effective, they need to integrate a strong gender analysis, and
do so in ways that reconnect race, class, age, ability and gender.
This is why "gender mainstreaming" – making gender
awareness an integral part of every aspect
of projects from research and data collection to legislation, fundraising, and policy
development – has been adopted as the gold standard by leading international
organizations and agencies.
This is the direction US groups need to take, and TrueChild
is dedicated to helping them do so. Our
experts help civic engagement organizations, funders and policymakers integrate
a gender analysis in ways that reconnect social and gender justice.