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2016-03-31 | Gender for NGOs

The degree to which people are affected by poverty, climate change, land degradation, etc. is partly due to their social status, to their gender, to poverty, to power structures and access to and control over resources.

Despite the international community’s increasing acknowledgement of the different experiences and skills women and men can contribute to development and environmental sustainability efforts, women still have lesser economic, political and legal clout and are hence less able to cope with - and are more exposed to – poverty, water and energy use, changing climate, etc. This topic of Module 1 will explain why gender equity is important for sustainability and how you can ensure it in your daily work and life.

The degree to which people are affected by poverty, climate change, land degradation, etc. is partly due to their social status, to their gender, to poverty, to power structures and access to and control over resources. Despite the international community’s increasing acknowledgement of the different experiences and skills women and men can contribute to development and environmental sustainability efforts, women still have lesser economic, political and legal clout and are hence less able to cope with - and are more exposed to – poverty, water and energy use, changing climate, etc. Drawing on women’s experiences, knowledge and skills and supporting their empowerment will bring about major achievements in sustainable development and equality. However, the impacts of gender inequalities and women’s recurrent socio-economic disadvantages continue to be ignored and remain a critical challenge to adaptation efforts. It is crucial that mitigation and adaptation efforts integrate gender issues at all levels. This will minimize risks for women and children and ensure greater success of efforts to address climate change.

The module aims at strengthening grassroots to promote gender equality and gender and empowerment work. Women have to be recognized as change agents in the sustainable development of their communities and countries.


Sex is about biological differences. People are born male or female. The biological differences between men and women are universal and are generally difficult to change.

Unlike gender, sex differences are not affected by history or culture.

Gender refers to the social differences and relations between men and women which are learned, vary widely within and between cultures, and change over time. Gender is an important variable in society and is affected by other variables such as age, social class, race or ethnicity, disability, and by one’s geographical, economic and political environment.

Gender roles refer to the activities that men and women actually do. Gender roles can be flexible or rigid. They vary according to the individual characteristics of people and change over time. E.g., in many countries the roles of men and women are segregated by sex, with men working outside the household and women responsible for household and care duties. In other countries the roles of men and women are increasingly interchangeable with men sharing household and care work and more women engaged in the open labour market.

Gender stereotypes are the ideas that people have on what men and women are capable of doing, for example that women are better housekeepers and men are better leaders. While stereotypes may sometimes be true, they are often proven false.

Direct and indirect discrimination: Discrimination – especially in its indirect forms - is one of the most difficult areas to address when addressing equality of opportunities. Discrimination is any (direct or indirect) distinction, exclusion or preference based on age, race, sex, religion, political opinion, national extraction and other grounds that nullifies or impairs equality of opportunity or treatment in employment or occupation.

Gender mainstreaming in the world of work is a means of integrating equality concerns across the board into all policy objectives and all activities in order to promote equality of all.

Affirmative action refers to policies that take factors including “race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or national origin” into consideration in order to benefit an underrepresented group “in areas of employment, education, and business”, usually justified as countering the effects of a history of discrimination.

Gender equality, or equality between men and women, refers to the enjoyment of equal rights, opportunities and treatment by men and women of all ages in all spheres of life and work. It implies that all human beings are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes and prejudices about gender roles or the characteristics of men and women. It means that the different behaviour, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally.

Gender equity is about equality of outcomes and results. It is a means to ensure that women and men have an equal chance not only at the starting point but also when they reach the finish line. It is about the fair and just treatment of both sexes, taking into account the different needs and interests of men and women, cultural barriers and the past discrimination of specific groups.

Gender matters for establishing grass root organizations

Recent studies showed that not only women’s participation is important on different levels, but also how they participate - and how much. And because women are very interested in environment, support pro-environmental policies and vote for pro-environmental leaders, their greater involvement in politics and in non-governmental organizations could result in environmental gains, with multiplier effects across all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

For setting up grassroots gender sensitive goals have to be identified and affirmed in the statutes:

For example:

  • Increasing women’s leadership in democratic governance and help them to develop agendas and leadership skills to successfully advocate for the needs of their movements and constituencies.

  • Aiming to further increase grassroots women’s participation in development decisions as civic leaders by supporting coalition building, local-to-local dialogues and trainings on ways to build political agendas and effectively engage governments.

  • Improving media outreach and the creation of networks which would connect grassroots women and NGO representatives to increase the former’s leadership in global decision-making, in turn, will contribute to building transformative leadership, political structures and mechanisms.

  • Increasing the quality of women’s political engagement to use international, national and regional fora and policy spaces to advance women’s status and credibility in their communities. Supporting women’s participation in policy meetings and dialogues, and facilitating events between grassroots women and stakeholders will contribute to their recognition as legitimate political actors.

  • Building coalitions and networks that work towards advancing democratic governance processes in their communities by increasing avenues of knowledge transfer through meetings, tools, documentation and unified mechanism of monitoring and evaluation.

Structure of grassroots considering gender equality

  • Promote and recognize the multiple actors and approaches used to democratize and engender governance and decision- making beyond electoral processes and formal office-holding.

  • Build constituencies of grassroots’ women leaders and groups who pioneer forms of transformative leadership.

  • Establish engagement mechanisms (e.g. Local to Local Dialogues) with women in positions of power and those contesting for elections to develop a culture of collective consultative action that holds these actors accountable.

  • Encourage decision makers and researchers to recognize expertise at the grassroots’ level and redefine who holds the information and knowledge needed to engage large numbers of women and their perspectives in political decision-making, development planning and implementation.

  • Generate partnerships and funding mechanisms that sustain grassroots’ women’s organizing, leadership and development initiatives.


  • Brainstorming: How to consider gender equality when setting up a grassroot organisation?

  • Group work: Work on the following questions:

    • Core strategies and activities to empower grassroots’ women’s participation and leadership in political decision-making.

    • Elements and mechanisms that are essential to build democratic, political decision-making and development across various countries and regions.

    • How to facilitate a cooperative, participatory forum where grassroots’ women leaders share and debate a range of their strategies and activities to forge democratic practices that reduce local poverty and advance gender equality with policy makers, development workers, researchers and other activists working to empower women as political leaders and decision makers.

    • How to identify areas where collaboration between grassroot organizations and institutional partners can add value and synergy to each other’s work, and agree upon actions to advance these goals.

Gender-responsive approach with focus on renewable energy (RE) and energy efficiency (EE) using the example of energy cooperatives

There is an impressive development of energy companies with a high participation of civil society in Western Europe over the last years. Aiming for renewable (reducing GHG-emissions), safe (no nuclear), local and affordable energy supply many citizens have invested in civil society companies, mainly in energy cooperatives.

The cooperatives invest in small-scaled and medium-sized renewable energy (RE) projects, like solar heating, photovoltaic, wind, water and biomass technologies and support projects that aim at increasing energy efficiency and energy saving. This range of technologies have been effective in reducing GHG emissions through different projects and are ready to be scaled-up allowing for sufficient funding and technology. Many cooperatives start to sell the produced electricity and heat developing successfully from producer to power trader.

The co-ops allow a de-monopolization and democratization of expert knowledge and allow for the entrance of new actors in the energy system and market. Becoming producer and entrepreneurs of energy in a local context is a political process of learning and development. The increased knowledge and experience about renewable energy enhances the acceptance of a broader public which is important for the transformational process (to overcome the global change in economy and society).

The actors are striving for decentralized, ecological and sustainable energy solutions combined with economic targets (but not maximizing the capital and dividends). These roles and responsibilities strengthen the sense of ownership and provide – contrary to the fossil energy industry – structural requirements for a gender-responsive approach for energy supply.

The resources are decentralized and distributed in a more equitable way. The decentralized and local production of energy reduces the demand for big and central power plants. Broad public participation and low-volume investments are the business model of energy cooperatives. This structure improves theoretically gender equality.

There is no scientific research about the link of gender equality and energy cooperatives. The following empirical values show the following:

  • There are still only very few female members within the management boards of energy cooperatives.

  • Since managers in energy cooperatives work voluntary, there is no prediction on how many jobs may be created.

  • The share of women as members in cooperatives and investing in RE projects is approx. 40%. Most of the cooperatives allow to invest a low volume (up to 100€ per share). This meets the gender pay gap.

Some actors within energy cooperatives view the situation through a gender lens and stipulate in their statutes the following targets (like the co-op

  • Encouraging women to enter the technical sector and empowering women in building capacity in the technical sector;

  • Increasing the influence of women in the energy sector;

  • Possibilities for women to invest money in renewable energy and influence the policy of the company in a democratic way;

  • Energy saving and increasing RE on a professional level.

Energy cooperatives overall can provide structural possibilities for a gender-responsive approach within technology development, mitigation actions and transfer in terms of:

  • Promoting women’s entrepreneurs as energy producer;

  • Showing successful public participation and bottom-up process;

  • Increasing women’s technological expertise and economic responsibility allow participation in decision making process;

  • Providing gender-sensitive funds and budgets within the co-ops.

To be addressed:

  • Increasing access to clean and reliable off-grid energy sources will not necessarily lead to greater equality between women and men. But the smaller and more democratic models allow for more participation of women.

  • Although some co-ops may have a higher percentage of women members, this does not necessarily mean women are also holding leadership positions within these co-operative enterprises. Best practice examples show the work and impact of female management members.

  • There is still a lack of participation by women in negotiation and decision-making processes.


Related materials

What is Gender inequity is the best described by the picture below.



VIDEO (in Russian)

Part 1:

Part 2:


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