More on Gender Footprint … Notes from AID Conference

AID US Conference 2009, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

What happened at the gender session?    GAME:  “Gender Bender” a simple yet thought-provoking exercise spurred by one classic gender issue: “there is so much work to do!!”  Or is there?  Whose work is it?  Men’s?  Women’s?  Both / either?

Forming five groups, participants took 20 cards, on which names of various “to do” or “to be” items were printed such as

teacher, doctor, cook, pilot, shop for groceries, get pregnant, etc.  In groups of 8-10 they sorted these into things mainly done in their community by men, women, or about equally done by either and lined them up in three columns.  A few children formed a group and used only 15 cards.

Groups counted how many cards they had in each column, e.g Men         Women         Both
Group 1            4            8            8
Group 2            8             9           3
Group 3*           0             2          13
Group 4            7             10          3

In the second round the groups looked at the columns and asked the question, which of the items in the W or M column could go into the B column – that is even though a given thing was done mainly by one or the other, could it be done by both?  If there were items that they felt could only be done by M or by W, those cards remained face-up in their respective columns. If both could do it, the group turned the card face down.

How many cards got turned face-down?  Each group counted their “additional” face down cards:            Men     Women     Gender Footprint
Group 1         2         5         7
Group 2         8         7         15
Group 3         0         1         1
Group 4         5         7         12*Group 3 had only 15 cards while Groups 1, 2 & 4 had 20 cards.GENDER FOOTPRINT: This is a measure of gender inequality.  Add the numbers and that corresponds to a “gender footprint” of the community to which the group belongs.  So in the above examples, the respective gender footprints would be 7, 15, 1 and 12.  These are the number of tasks that could have been done by either, but are observed to largely fall in the plate of one specific gender group. While this number does not measure anything so tangible as an ecological footprint measures (share of earth’s resources consumed by individual lifestyle practices), it still prompts some thought about what tips the scales when it comes to gender equality as a society.  (See What is your gender footprint?

Question:  “What if it is our choice that I cook and my brother/husband drives?  Is this gender inequality?”

The Gender Footprint seeks to gauge an ambient condition of inequality within which individuals make particular choices. It does not measure an individual’s degree of inequality or bias in a single specific choice.

It also provides a comparative measure of footprint of different communities. For instance, a couple of groups participating questioned whether they should make their classifications based on what they observe more commonly in the US or in India? Understandably there is a difference based on the reference community. So a Part II of this game could be “How do you think these tasks are divided amongst the sexes in [say] a typical rural setting in India or in [say] your hometown in India?” and could lead into a discussion about how the worldview and the gender footprint of their hometown community is compared to their current place of residence and how they have progressed/ digressed.Interesting result:  the children’s group came out with the lowest value for their gender footprint: 1. They had placed the highest number of cards in the column for Both – 13.  What world are they living in?  Can we make that world a reality when they grow up?[BACKGROUND:  In the Gender Session of the 2008 AID conference in Buffalo.  Clothesline Project featured true stories of sexism, harassment and violence against women AID volunteers who shared their experiences.  The discussion raised a number of questions e.g. “Why is it called inequality if women eat last?”  or “What is wrong if a man does not want to marry a woman who was raped?” or “Don’t women expect men to make the first move?”  “Violence against women is is just like violence against men.  It is not based on gender bias.”This year we stepped back to a more basic question of who does what and why it matters.]Participants then discussed why certain items were in M or W column, if they could actually be done by both.  After an all-too-short 15 minutes discussion in the small groups, we reconvened and asked what item provoked the most interesting discussion? 

The answer:  use contraceptives.
Was it in the M column or the W column?

Some had it in M and some in W. [This was not included in Group 3].

Worldwide, the majority of couples using contraceptives use methods that depend on the woman alone.  65% of contraceptive users worldwide depend on female sterilization, pill or IUD.  In India 67% of contraceptive users depend on female sterilization.  When you add pill and IUD, the total is 75%.

Worldwide 18% depend on methods used by men – male sterilization or condom.  In India, 15% depend on methods used by men.

[Source: US Bureau of the Census, “Population Trends: India,” 1997]What does this gender gap in contraceptive method mean, why is it there and how does it affect women?

Aravinda shared her experience speaking with women in villages of Srikakulam District about contraception and fertility awareness.  Most women were unaware of their own fertility cycle. Within the group at the conference session most people were unaware that women’s fertility  is cyclical and can be predicted.  This awareness could influence a woman’s sense of self esteem, and reproductive choices.  In Srikakulam area villages, a typical woman never got an opportunity to choose a contraceptive method.  She would be expected to marry, have 1-2 children without giving thought to delay or spacing, and then be sterilized.  Most women were sterilized by the age of 25 -30.  They said that they lived with chronic back pain which they associated with the “operation” (sterilization).

Women who did not conceive within a year of marriage faced problems of harassment, shame and low self esteem.  In urban and rural India women are spending money and seeking interventions to conceive without the benefit of knowing their own fertility cycle. Infertility is a dreaded word which also proves lucrative for those who offer remedies – scientific or otherwise.  However fertility awareness, which is cheap, is not taught in high school or by family elders.

In the US a reference book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” has popularized the fertility awareness as part of a wider movement for women’s control over personal health and life choices.  Fertility awareness is compatible with other contraceptive methods and can help women and couples make a more informed choice.  For example, non-hormonal methods, which have few / no side-effects, might be more practical if they did not need to be used at all times.

In Srikakulam villages, the ASHA Health worker is supposed to have condoms available. However when we talked with them they said that there was no demand for them and they were associated only with AIDS prevention and not with contraception.   While talking about fertility awareness however several women including the Health workers said this knowledge may create demand for condoms at least for spacing purposes.  Women opined that newlyweds could benefit from this to delay the first child, esp if the woman was educated (read: married right out of high school) and wanted to work or study for some time after marriage.

We find that gender gap in contraceptive use is not limited to rural India, but is equally prevalent in urban India or for that matter the US.  [In the US 65% depend on methods used by women and 27% on methods used by men. Source: Guttmacher Institute].

Questions1.  Last year’s Clothesline Project was quite powerful.  People shared very personal stories.  There was so much energy and pain and hope in those stories.  What are we doing with them?

We have the stories.  I think it would be worthwhile for chapters to engage in a similar exercise of collecting and sharing stories. If it would help to break the ice we could perhaps share the stories from last year by engaging in a dialogue with the chapter volunteers.  Often people bury their own experiences of gender violence because the pain is too hard to deal with, there is no one to tell, believe etc.   Last year also several people at the conference said that reading the stories on the clothesline recalled some incident that had happened to them that they just did not even think about when reading the pre-conference calls to join the discussion on bias/violence against women.  So we can use the stories to facilitate this process in other chapters.

What is the goal of this exercise, apart from personal awareness and healing?  When we recognize that this kind of bias and violence is happening right in our own community, to people like us and maybe even to us, it will help us collectively to recognize and understand hardships other women face, including in rural and poor communities.   Problems in overcoming these do not simply stem from poverty or illiteracy.  Instead they stem from everything that contributes to our gender footprint – bias, inequality, stereotype, harassment, violence.  Are these connected?

2.  Can we repeat this game in our chapters?
Yes!  Please contact Sonika for help.3.  Where can I get more information on fertility awareness?
Book:  Toni Weschler, Taking Charge of Your Fertility
FOR conception:
FOR contraception: What Projects does AID support in women’s empowerment?

Women’s empowerment features as a topmost or as an underlying concern in a number of AID projects such as KNUC Nurse training project Resource Centre for Training and Development, Utthan, Vimochana just to name a few.  AID Saathi Tara Ahluwaliaworks on women’s issues and several other projects and saathis’ work also concerns women’s empowerment as it relates to livelihoods, environment, health, communal harmony, etc.  We should keep in touch with our partners in this area and share insights and nitty-gritty on how their work is going.   We can learn more about various factors that contribute to women’s empowerment, and probably become more capable of understanding and supporting projects that directly and indirectly address development priorities of women and promote gender equality.

Volunteers seeking to develop the concept of gender footprint or to explore issues of women’s health, violence against women, and self-image of women and girls please reply.  We want to hear from you!

Contact: KarthikBono, ShamSonikaAravinda



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