Gender and Governance Perspectives in Theory and Practice

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A series of photographs depicting the puzzle game council members had to solve during the gender and social issues sensitization workshop

The German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do”. My visit to Darchula in Nepal’s far west in late 2016 reminded me of the poignancy of this statement.

In 2015, the Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI) supported the Api Nampa Conservation Area (ANCA) Office in Darchula form a management council. The objective was to empower local communities to carry out conservation and development activities. Twenty-five local representatives (two female and 23 male) were elected from 25 village development committees within the conservation area. As suggested by these figures, the council was not a gender responsive or inclusive one. KSLCDI’s continuous engagement with the council in 2015 and 2016 also revealed this. Therefore, KSLCDI organized a workshop for the management council members in September 2016 to sensitize them on gender and social issues.  

On the first day of the two-day workshop, the participants had to define gender and governance. One of them, Pulendra Bahadur Karki, defined gender as ‘discrimination based on sex, caste, and religion’ and governance as ‘managing an organization in an accountable, transparent, responsive, and inclusive manner’. Although he wasn’t right about gender, it seemed to me that Pulendra understood that men and women held different statuses in society by virtue of them being male and female. He was also right in associating gender with discrimination. And his definition of governance seemed to stem from a very clear idea of what it takes to successfully run an organization.

Despite definitions similar to the ones given by Pulendra, though, I was somewhat doubtful of the participants’ actual understanding of gender and governance. It was impossible to ignore the fact that only two out of 25 members were women. I was therefore skeptical, but highly interested in the council members’ getting a better understanding of the idea and practice of gender and governance. 

During the workshop, the participants were engaged in group activities and discussions on various gender and governance issues the council faces on a regular basis. However, here I shall only share an experience from a puzzle game developed for sensitizing communities at the local level on gender discrimination in the decision making process. For the game, workshop participants were divided into four groups of five or six members. Each group was provided a puzzle to put together, but one piece was intentionally missing. This piece was secretly handed over to a pre-selected group member who was instructed not to disclose this ‘missing’ piece unless asked for by other group members. 

The sole female workshop participant, Chandrawati Karki, was also one of the people chosen to ‘hide’ the missing puzzle piece. Not surprisingly, hers was the last group to complete the puzzle because her group members never sought her opinion. We had to constantly prod the group to engage ‘all’ group members in the activity. Sadly, Chandrawati said that this is exactly what happens during council meetings. Though she quite regularly attends management council meetings, her views and concerns are never sought, nor are they reflected in the decisions made or records kept. She was very happy with the puzzle exercise because it clearly revealed that the council will meet the same fate as her group, if they continue to ignore women.

The participants said that the workshop made them realize their shortcomings and pledged to incorporate lessons learnt from the workshop into the council’s constitutional and operational plan. The take-away message from the workshop for someone like me who aspires to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners was that having theoretical knowledge on gender and governance and putting them into practice are two different things altogether. Continuous engagement with communities is necessary to bring about positive behavioral change.