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Promoting gender-equitable institutional cultures and practices

Last edited: October 30, 2010

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Changing organisational and institutional practices can have a significant impact on community norms. Public agencies, development organizations, employers, among others, should lead by example and have special responsibilities to set standards by implementing:

Firm sexual harassment policies, standards of conduct and accountability mechanisms;

More gender balance at management levels;

Family-friendly working practices, such as paternity and maternity leave, flexible working hours for both women and men, and childcare provision with both male and female staff (Lang 2003); and

Sensitive and responsive employee policies (i.e. related to work schedule flexibility to seek medical attention, counselling or legal assistance; job security for absenteeism after an incident of violence) and proactive measures to make information and referrals available to staff who are survivors/victims of gender-based violence and may need services and other supports.

Encourage senior male managers in public and private institutions to become visible advocates of gender equality and of zero tolerance for violence against women and girls

This is important in its own right and may also prove to be a key step in changing the attitudes of staff members who may be unsure about new gender policies (Lang 2003).

In both Canada and Brazil, the Heads of State declared national days (6 December) for men working to end violence against women, which has contributed to raising awareness on and demonstrating public commitment to the issue.

In theUnited States , with the support of key non-governmental organizations, the then Senator Joseph Biden from Delaware spearheaded the drafting and passing of historic federal legislation, the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he also co-sponsored the introduction of the International Violence Against Women Act in 2008, a first-ever piece of legislation that would extend the United States’ efforts to address gender-based violence through its overseas development assistance programmes. The latter also refers explicitly to engaging and educating men and boys.

Examples of programmes promoting gender-equitable organizational practices:

Oxfam’s Gender Equality and Men (GEM) Project

Oxfam’s Gender Equality and Men (GEM) project began in 2002 to assist Oxfam in exploring ways to advance gender equality and poverty reduction by incorporating men and boys more fully into its work on gender. The project included an internal advocacy component, designed to encourage men inside the organization to think about their personal commitment to gender equality and about what that meant in practice for their day-to-day work. The GEM project aimed to highlight the fact that gender equality is not just an issue for the international programme, but should be a concern of everyone at Oxfam GB (Lang in Ruxton, 2004).

United Nations Working Group on Men and Gender Equality

The United Nations Working Group on Men and Gender Equality was established in the late 1990s with staff – both men and women – mainly from UNFPA, UNICEF and other New York-based United Nations agencies. The group was formed to address gender issues that were considered newly emerging at that time. The aim was to:

  • Raise awareness around men, masculinities, and gender;
  • Challenge staff to think about the connections between gender equality goals and their personal and professional lives;
  • Encourage an understanding of the biases and barriers hidden behind development policies and practices;
  • Advocate for men to play a greater part in work towards gender equality.

To learn more about the Oxfam and United Nations initiatives, see Evolving the Gender Agenda: the Responsibilities and Challenges for Development Organizations by James Lang and Sue Smith.

The United Nations on Sexual Harassment

The Secretary-General, for the purpose of strengthening accountability in the Secretariat and raising awareness among staff of their roles and responsibilities for creating and maintaining a workplace free of harassment, sexual harassment and abuse of authority issued a bulletin requiring all staff to complete an online training course, Prevention of Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Authority (see below), to prevent workplace sexual harassment. In a second bulletin the Secretary-General outlined the duties of staff members, managers, supervisors and heads of department/office/mission; preventive and corrective measures to be taken; and monitoring mechanisms.

To learn more about the sexual harassment bulletins, guidelines and policies of the United Nations and affiliated international governmental organizations, see:

Australia Football League (AFL)

Following a series of allegations of sexual assault perpetrated by AFL players in 2004, the AFL adopted a ‘Respect and Responsibility’ strategy, formulated and managed in collaboration with violence prevention agencies. The strategy includes the introduction of model anti-sexual harassment and anti-sexual discrimination procedures across the AFL and its Clubs, the development of organizational policies and procedures to ensure a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for women, changes to AFL rules relating to problematic or violent conduct, the education of players and other Club officials, dissemination of model policies and procedures at community club level, and a public education programme (AFL 2005).

View the policy document: Respect & Responsibility: Creating a safe and inclusive environment for women at all levels of Australian Football by the Australian Football League. 2005. Melbourne: Australia .

Fair Game – Respect Matters ( Australia )

This initiative recently introduced by the Australia Football League in Victoria, in partnership with La Trobe University, is intended to foster cultural change throughout the athletic code. It encourages community clubs to assess their own cultures and invites senior players, coaches and supporters to improve their attitudes and behaviours towards women. The programme will be tested in three Melbourne community clubs before being rolled out to other AFL community football clubs in Victoria over the next two years (Communications with Michael Flood, 2008).

To learn more about Fair Game, see the website.

Purple Armband Games (Australia)

Purple armbands originated in the Football Fans Against Sexual Assault (FFASA) campaign, set up in response to a number of sexual assault allegations that surfaced against elite Australian footballers in 2004. FFASA called on sport groups at all levels to make a statement against sexual assault and violence against women by wearing a purple armband. From this initial call, a grassroots decentralized campaign emerged where sports communities are encouraged to participate in the Purple Armband Games at a level that best suits their time and resources. Some communities may elect to just wear the purple armbands, while others might choose to initiate additional activities such as:

  • issue local press releases
  • make loud speaker announcements
  • promote the purple armbands in game programmes
  • publish stories on their club’s website
  • give free entry to women on the day
  • raise money for their local sexual assault service
  • invite visiting teams to join them.

For further information, see the website.

Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence (CAEPV, US)

The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence was established in 1995 to prevent partner violence by leveraging the strength and resources of the corporate community. The Alliance brings together companies who exchange information, collaborate on projects, and use their influence to instigate change. For further information, see the website.

Tools for programmes promoting gender-equitable organizational practices:

Mobilising Men in Practice: Challenging sexual and gender-based violence in institutional settings Tools, Stories, Lessons (Institute of Development Studies, 2012). Available in English.

‘The Gender Journey: Thinking Outside of the Box’ Online Training Course by the United Nations Development Programme. This online training is intended to introduce the issue of gender, the goal of gender equality and why these are vital to the success of United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) work. The course is mandatory for all at staff and is available in English, Spanish and French. To request access to the course, contact:

Prevention of Workplace Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Abuse of Authority (Global). Though this online course is intended for United Nations staff, for those interested in reviewing the course, contact: Christian J. Gottlicher, in the Learning, Leadership and Organizational Development Section of the United Nations Office for Human Resource Management

Purple Armband Games ( Australia ). The site offers a variety of resources, such as information sheets, team briefing notes, electronic banners, for sports groups (and others) interested in implementing a Purple Armband game.

The Factors Influencing Community Attitudes in Relation to Violence Against Women: A Critical Review of the Literature (2006) by Michael Flood and Bob Pease Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.  Available in English.