Think tanks and gender equality

October 02, 2019
Women in a Rickshaw
Benoit Colin / EMBARQ

More than two decades after the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women highlighted the urgent need to address gender equality, women in most countries remain under-represented in politics and the boardroom, they are underpaid relative to male peers, and they remain vulnerable to physical and sexual violence.

Research highlights

  • Think tanks can best determine their own gender research priorities based on their knowledge of the local landscape.
  • A flexible approach to capacity building allows think tanks to build the organizational strengths they feel they need to address gender.

Gender emerged as an important area of focus among many of the think tanks receiving core support from the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) from 2009 to 2019. Almost all of the 43 think tanks in the second phase of the initiative were engaged in gender-related work. They drew on TTI support to enhance their existing capacity to research and engage on gender theory, policy, and practice and to put gender at the core of their institutional sustainability plans.

Think tanks play an important role in fostering more equitable and inclusive societies through their citizen and policy engagement. Their contributions to gender equality can be seen in their research and advocacy and in how they are making their own organizations more gender-inclusive in policy and practice.

Gender research priorities according to local contexts

The degree to which TTI partners focused on gender varied widely. TTI’s core funding and responsive approach to capacity building created space for think tanks to determine how they define gender equality, how to address its intersections with other aspects of identity, and what gender gaps and priorities they perceive within their own national or regional contexts.

In India, for example, where gender-based violence is a pressing public concern, the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability teamed up with the Jagori Rural Charitable Trust to review Delhi’s governance structures and to highlight gaps in fiscal policies and public spending intended to protect women. They focused on measures and services such as policing, public bus services, night shelters, and public hospitals. Their 2017 joint report shed light on how the low priority accorded to women’s needs, and the resulting lack of investment and political will, have undermined the effectiveness of these services in curbing violence against women. Working with key stakeholders, the two organizations are now developing a framework to look at policy measures in relation to violence.

Building organizational strengths to address gender

One of TTI’s most important contributions to advancing gender equality is the space it created for think tanks to address gender at an organizational level. This is partly a function of the core funding it provided, which enabled think tanks to invest in organizational strengthening.

Group of women and children
IDRC

For example, five think tanks went through a learning project that allowed each organization to design strategies addressing their gender priorities. Led by the feminist knowledge network Gender at Work, participants were guided through a multi-stage action learning process that includes peer learning and expert mentoring. The Centre for Population and Environmental Development (CPED), which works with rural communities in Nigeria to strengthen maternal and child health, looked at its own gender balance in management and staffing and incorporated gender equality measures in project design and implementation. CPED also developed gender analysis frameworks and tools to use in programming to develop internal policy and guidelines to ensure gender equality in the organization’s activities over the coming years.

Influence on the policy research landscape

The findings of some think tanks have helped to shape more gender-inclusive policies in their national contexts, while others have developed tools and approaches to guide those interested in taking a more gender-inclusive approach to their research and engagement.

In El Salvador, research spearheaded by La Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social revealed how sexual harassment deterred women from using public transport. Their influential work spurred government action to clean up infrastructure and invest in signage and facilities to enhance women’s safety. San Salvador’s new mass transit buses, for example, are plastered with posters demanding the respectful treatment of women and girls.

The work of Grupo Sofia exemplifies the role that think tanks can play in changing how women are seen in society. The group promotes greater participation of women in academic publishing, knowledge sharing, public debates, and policy formulation. In a series of studies on gender inequalities in the social sciences, Grupo Sofia found nearly twice as many men as women in higher academic posts. In addition to raising awareness of the gap, Grupo Sofia created practical tools to help universities and other organizations increase the participation of women. These included guidelines to ensure greater gender equality in research and policy events. The organization also published a directory of female social science experts for media and event organizers, in addition to studies on policy alternatives for tackling gender inequality in academia.

Putting lessons into practice

TTI’s experience has shown that core funding allows think tanks to set their own research priorities and approaches for building gender capacity. TTI also sought gender experts and created peer learning to help strengthen gender-related capacities. Tailoring capacity building to regional specifics made the learning more directly relevant to think tanks.

The final lesson is that networks and collaborative initiatives that support women and other marginalized groups in asserting their voice.

This article was adapted from one of seven briefs that distill 10 years of learning from TTI. Read the original TTI Insight “Think tanks and gender equality” for more information on TTI’s approach and successes in supporting think tanks to foster gender equality.