By Kana Kudo, Programme Specialist, Urban Planning and Social Cohesion, UNDP Jordan
Earlier last month, International Women’s Day (8 March 2021) reminded us that we still have a long way to go for women’s equal rights. Women are left behind on many parameters including legal rights, financial rights, and economic empowerment. Based on my experience from working on inclusive growth and project management at UNDP Jordan, I’ve gathered three essential insights that I believe any organization needs to constantly enforce when designing programs and project in order to ensure contribution to women’s economic empowerment.
Women’s Perspectives Matter
My first insight is simple: Speak with the women! Despite our entry into the 21st century, some projects are still developed without consulting the intended women participants in the first place. One time, I even came across a facilitated discussion on “women’s empowerment,” yet no women had been invited to participate! While I acknowledge difficulties, depending on context, in speaking with participants, this is an essential ingredient in any intervention that seeks to empower women economically.
UNDP Jordan has been supporting many women in different communities by building their capacities and providing socio-economic opportunities for them to engage in and attribute their voice and knowledge. Our Heart of Amman program, for instance, revitalizes the historic and heritage center of downtown Amman and enhances local economic opportunities while creating a greener, healthier, more walkable, inclusive city for all Amman residents including youth and women. In conclusion, speaking with women and understanding their perspective is alpha omega to successful project implementation!
Role Models, Role Models, Role Models
Role models matter. I’m perfectly aware that mentorship programs have received some criticism and with good reason. If you think that women’s access to leadership will be solved by giving them a mentor, I can promise you it most certainly won’t. However, in carefully planned mentorship programs, in which both mentee and mentor understand the required need and support, mentorship can be one tool out of many that can provide women with the ability to realize their leadership potential. The same goes for ‘networks of knowledge’ which can create pools of talent in which women can seek out information, role models and knowledge in a safe space in which members share the same objectives.
In our programs on entrepreneurship, UNDP reaches out to existing social enterprises so that newcomers will have easy access to networks and the existing ones can provide advice to the onboarding. We also deploy women community coordinators to regularly check in with women running micro, small, and medium sized enterprises (MSMEs).
No One is Right 100% of the Time
As a final point, while we all seek to do our best, no one is right 100% of the time. Project managers need to accept that we are inherently biased and have preconceived ideas about the world which follows us into any stage of the project cycle. Designing development projects is an extremely complex task and while we develop risk logs and try to account for everything, we sometimes fail because we simply are just humans. New needs of participants can emerge along with you learning more about your project environment and context including women’s economic and financial situation, making it necessary to change what you had already planned for. You should encourage participants’ constant and honest feedback so that you can quickly make up for any of your shortcomings in the implementation plan. In that way, we may find out that something we thought we did right is not working. And of course, participants, and especially women, need to feel confident that you will listen to them and accommodate their suggestions – otherwise the feedback will get you nowhere.
In the future I hope that International Women’s Day will increasingly serve as a reminder about past inequality instead of current inequality. For us to reach that level, we all need to work together to ingrate women’s voices and perspectives, and I hope my three insights can contribute towards that.