By B.L. Wilson
As the George Washington University Global Women’s Institute (GWI) launched on Monday its inaugural GenderPro Summit, a week-long culmination of a program designed to professionalize the gender field, Geeta Rao Gupta, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, reflected on the successes and challenges in the field over the years.
“Overall, I would say that more so than ever before, the rhetoric is right, a lot of people in high places are talking about gender equality and that’s a good thing,” said Dr. Gupta, the former deputy excutive director for UNICEF. “It’s just that it hasn’t necessarily been followed up with action.”
“Somehow gender and development was not a specialization. You just had to be a woman, and you would know, and somehow it would work. You didn’t even have to be a development expert sometime,” she said.
The absence of expertise in the field of gender led Dr. Gupta to push for the creation of GenderPro, a capacity-building and credentialing program developed by GW in partnership with UNICEF with a grant funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. GWI is leading GenderPro in partnership with the Elliott School of International Affairs and the College of Professional Studies.
The GenderPro capacity building program is a first-of-its kind, applied skills course to build the gender capacity of the international development field. The program builds a global network of gender and development professionals who share best practices and ideas for the advancement of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls around the world.
The first GenderPro cohort of more than 35 health, education, nutrition and child protection professionals who work in development in 27 countries, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Myanmar, Tajikistan and Mexico, gathered Monday in Funger Hall on the Foggy Bottom campus to begin a culminating week of in-person learning.
GWI Director Mary Ellsberg described scheduled sessions on cutting-edge issues like the power of adolescent girls, the power of the women’s movement, social inclusion, and gender in conflict and humanitarian settings.
Mary Ellsberg, GWI executive director, makes remarks at a reception during the inaugural GenderPro Summit at GW. (William Atkins/GW Today)
The one-week residential course at GW followed about 30 hours of online learning over 14 weeks. The participants each selected one of two sector-specific tracks—public health or social development.
The deadline to apply for the second cohort of the program is Aug. 1.
In the first session of the weeklong residential course, Dr. Ellsberg moderated a discussion on the current status of the gender field with Dr. Gupta and Lori Heise, professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Rosa Celorio, GW Law associate dean for international and comparative legal studies and the Burnett Family Professional Lecturer in International and Comparative Law and Policy.
The experts on the panel agreed that when they began careers in the gender field, often as advocates, the absence of data and research made it difficult to ensure that programs for women’s health and prevention of violence against women and children were implemented or included in existing programs.
Dr. Heise returned to college and earned her Ph.D. in order to do the research to support the inclusion of these issues on the agenda of governments and international organizations, which led to the World Health Organization’s Multicultural Study on Violence and Women’s Health.
“For a long time, it was really like, ‘It doesn’t happen here,’ or, ‘We don’t care about that data from Kenya. We’re Tanzania,’” Dr. Heise said. “So now there’s data pretty much from everywhere that makes it impossible for people to maintain that cognitive dissonance.“
In the meantime, she said, organizations that promote inclusion of gender in development programs are “behind the curve in how to deal with the needs of women and children and “playing catch up to retool ourselves, to figure out how to offer viable ideas and strategies for intervention.”
As governments and legislators adopted the language of international declarations and treaties on gender equality and gender-based violence, Ms. Celorio said, “Many of us are asking what do we do now with this language. We have this incredible language. Some of us have built entire careers pushing for this language to go forward.”
In welcoming participants at a reception at the end of the first day of classes and workshops, Elliott School of International Affairs Dean Reuben Brigety II said that he is particularly proud that GWI under Dr. Ellsberg’s leadership is a partner in GenderPro.
“As we all know,” Dr. Brigety said, “women’s rights are human rights. It is important that all of us who see ourselves as [women’s] allies take substantial steps to advance the agenda for parity particularly in matters of development, security and education.”