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Press for Progress: Closing the Gender Gap in the Hindu Kush Himalaya

David James Molden

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The necessity of gender equality for achieving development goals, large and small, is a widely accepted fact. However, gender gaps persist despite many years of “gender mainstreaming” in development. These tenacious gender inequalities can be further compounded by other factors, such as race, caste, class, and ethnicity. As a result, well-intended visions and programs often fall short of their goals.

More than 20 years ago, the Beijing Platform for Action noted meaningful participation of women as a key step for change: “Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account. Without the active participation of women and the incorporation of women’s perspective at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.” Since this declaration, many countries have passed legislation and requirements that have been successful in placing more women into the workforce and at leadership levels.

But many of these accomplishments, while laudable, have not produced the transformative and far-reaching change needed to improve the lives of women around the world. While more women do occupy leadership roles, a closer look at the numbers shows that women still lag far behind men in holding important decision-making posts. Currently, women hold only 20% of senior management positions around the world. In research-based institutions, women comprise only 15% of leadership. In other words, women do not play a significant role in making the decisions that shape women’s lives. Furthermore, the lack of women in leadership positions suggests that countries and communities will fail to capitalize on developing the full potential of their female populations.

The failure to realize greater progress in closing the gender gap rests upon the belief that changes in laws and greater access to education for women would lead to more women in leadership positions. Rather we find that changes in attitudes about the abilities of women and men play a larger role than expected. Until we change our current attitudes and practices, closing the gender gap will be extremely difficult.

In the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH), we find the gender gap present particularly in regard to female responsibilities in the household and in the community. While more and more men have gone abroad for work, the work burdens of women have expanded considerably, but without a commensurate expansion in their authority or roles in decision-making. Again, long-standing assumptions ab out male and female abilities have hampered efforts to build the capacity of women to optimize their work and capabilities in the absence of men.

At ICIMOD, we approach this problem by stressing the need for women to have actual and symbolic roles in leading development efforts. We engage women as assets and leaders of communities, and we engage men as part of the solution, rather than as part of the problem. Internally, we have seven women who occupy program coordinator positions, leading initiatives that are technical, regional, and work in complex situations.

In 2018, we have begun a new five-year plan at ICIMOD: the Medium Term Action Plan IV. This document details how we will promote sustainable and equitable mountain development by focusing on gender and inclusive practices to ensure fair and productive access to and use of mountain resources. We believe that our approaches will lead to progress and closing the gender gap in the HKH.

And so on this International Women’s Day 2018, we renew our pledge to promote gender equality and social inclusion in the HKH. In all our work, we vow to work every day for change and improving the lives of girls and women everywhere.

Wishing you all a Happy International Women’s Day!

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