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This paper is the draft articulation of an unwritten policy which has been unfolding at ADATS over a period of 10 years. After deliberating for almost a year, ADATS has decided to keep it’s gender policy as an evolving one. The arguments for keeping this all embracing spirit in an unwritten form have, till now, overridden any benefits that we could derive from a verbal declaration. Now we extend an invitation for dialogue. We would be grateful to receive comment and criticism from friends and well wishers in order to update our theoretical position and improve every day practices. If in addition this document helps new entrants understand ADATS better, this would be a welcome bonus.
An enunciation of our current gender policy at the end of this paper is preceded with the presentation of our experiences in the form of an elaborate case study.
We understand Gender to be an all pervading consciousness which invades every single realm of conscious and subconscious thinking and influences our actions.
Gender sensitivity is a mindset which recognises and gives prominence to an individual’s personal identity over her sex. But it is, at the same time, mindful of the fact that women occupy a lesser status and suffer from serious impediments as a result of historic and universal sexual discrimination. It is a consciousness that goes beyond the question of women, into the general arena of combating all forms of stereotyping against ethnic groups, minorities and the underprivileged as a whole. Gender consciousness leads to gender sensitivity and instils a holistic thinking which paves the way for a faith in processes as different from products.
To single it out poses not just thematic problems. It even poses a danger of reducing Gender to a managerial input or precondition to superficially satisfy. Gender is one among the guiding principles that ADATS is committed to. But in the light of our irrevocable commitment to certain other values and principles, gender parity is taken for granted as a universal and rational backdrop without which nothing makes sense. Unity and struggle, for example, make no sense whatsoever and loose their meaning in entirety unless we have a mindset which does not discriminate against those who unite. So too the principle of representation (spokespersonship) over leadership.
Gender bias thereby becomes a problem to be rectified, rather than a principle to adhere to. Yet we, as individuals within an organisation, recognise that while we may be able to shed most other impediments to our professed faith — including concepts of god, religion, caste, personal comfort, security and property — the man:woman divide is a deeply engraved one that will subconsciously prevail in an otherwise rational frame of mind.
What we said in July 1992 when commenting on Coolie communities is equally valid for development workers:
“Male perceptions of women represent the ultimate mental alienation which prevent a community from moving forward. The individualism that comes from a change in this most deeply held perception is the ultimate mental liberation which stands apart in strength and possibilities from the other base greed which laissez faire promotes. Gender perspective, as different from but not excluding special activities for women, therefore becomes the pivot around which sustainable development rotates to gain relevance.”
This is what enables us to recognise, among others, that “mixed” is a polite euphemism for “predominantly male”, that unisexing places women at a distinct disadvantage while pretending to be perversely fair minded, and a whole lot of other clever subtleties in a male dominated world.