What’s next after raising awareness?

The Impact of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Training of Trainers on Municipal Planning

By Shambhavi Basnet

Group photo taken at the GESI ToT organised in Pokhara

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Introduction

Imagine you are a newly elected representative of your local community, and you are faced with a choice between two activities requiring your approval. On one hand, you hear from regular office goers and the daily labourers (often men) who are demanding that the pothole-filled and monsoon-flooded roads in front of their homes be fixed. On the other hand, your women constituents – often the homemakers and bazaar frequenters – are calling for you to prioritise making drinking water affordable and easily accessible. As a representative for both those demographics, whom do you listen to? What would you choose to prioritise?

These are important questions without clear cut answers.

Development leaders and policy makers are in a position to be assertive in their reform, but good needs-driven reform always comes from understanding the grassroots community. In a developing country like Nepal, this means creating services that meet the demands of the local community. That was one of the reasons why, in Nepal, the recent decentralisation of power to the local level has been considered incredibly important. The representatives chosen locally are responsible as well as able to understand the grassroots community such that development occurs through a bottom-up approach rather than the other way around. In order to truly understand a community, the accountable representatives need to be made aware and sensitised about what issues affect the society as a whole and as individual people. This is why Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) mainstreaming is important – to understand a community and to answer important questions.

The Situation

The Sudridh – Nepal Urban Resilience Programme (NURP) is a technical assistance programme funded by UK-Aid that supports growing municipalities in building urban resilience through work across various thematic areas such as green economic development, sustainable infrastructure, inclusive institutional development, and wider capacity building. Just as Nepal hopes to create services through a demand-based system driven by community needs made achievable by a decentralized system, NURP also works through the modality of a municipal-led demand-oriented system, primarily based in three cities: Pokhara, Butwal and Janakpurdham. Since its inception, NURP has been adaptive in its approach to choosing its interventions and activities and has shifted its focus according to the demands of the municipalities, including responding to unexpected systematic shocks like the Covid pandemic. Currently in its fourth year of operation, NURP has been prioritising projects that create and sustain green, resilient, and inclusive development (GRID).

One of the objectives of NURP is to enhance local-level institutional governance and capacities such that the municipalities are able to plan for and implement GRID-oriented projects. A part of building capacities and improving local governance is through mainstreaming GESI across municipal policies, strategies, laws, plans, programmes, and budgets while strengthening GESI institutional mechanisms to ensure accountability of the municipalities to follow through with the aforementioned GESI policies and/or strategies. NURP also ensures the delivery and accessibility as well as implementation of targeted programmes that meet the specific needs of women and vulnerable groups at the municipal level. GESI ToT is an important intervention that contributes to doing just that.

The Change

From 18-20 February 2022, NURP organised a three-day GESI Training of Trainers (ToT) in Butwal Sub-Metropolitan City (BSMC) in collaboration with Fairmed Foundation Nepal and the UK Aid-funded Nepal Health Sector Support Programme (NHSSP). A similar GESI ToT was also organised in Pokhara from 17-19 November 2021. These ToTs were targeted at municipal officials with the aim of building institutional capacities and encouraging inclusive local-level planning at the municipal level. The main objectives of the trainings were to:

  • Increase general awareness of GESI among the municipal staff.
  • Understand the need to enhance GESI mainstreaming within all divisions of the municipal office and discuss the analytical format to do so.
  • Develop insights and focus on the usage of the concept and tools of GESI in municipality’s periodic planning and budgeting.
  • Improve understanding of the Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) guideline and its application; and
  • Train municipal officials as GESI trainers.
A glimpse from the GESI ToT organised in Butwal

GESI caters to three broad groups, namely, (i) the socially excluded, including women, (ii) the most vulnerable that are considered so because of their location, physical/health status, age, or those that have been affected by human-made or natural disasters, and (iii) the poor or economically excluded.

These vulnerable and excluded groups are important constituents of our society. They are the ones that receive the services provided by their local authorities and thus, need to be given equal opportunities and benefits, for which targeted planning becomes vital. This targeted planning requires GESI mainstreaming and integration in different plans and policies, budgets, as well as in the action plan of each and every division of the municipality. For this, the capacities of those that are in the position to mainstream and integrate GESI into their day-to-day work plan needs to be built. These people are those that have the knowledge on the importance of GESI, have been sensitised towards it, and will thus, be able to incorporate GESI in their periodic planning. Therefore, the ToT becomes an important means through which the members of different divisions of the municipality become capable of designing their activities while taking essential care to include those that are marginalised and vulnerable. Providing such a training serves a dual purpose: (i) to create an understanding and sensitisation of GESI among the participants who are the service providers and representatives of their community, and (ii) to train the participants to become capable of conducting similar training in the future, thus making more people aware and sensitised to GESI. This capacity building is a mandatory part of the formulation of GESI policy as the GESI ToT will enable municipal officials to efficiently implement GESI policy. For BSMC specifically, which is a burgeoning economy in Nepal, incorporating GESI becomes imperative when talking about eradicating gaps in policy making and climbing towards sustainable urban resilience.

The following analysis and recommendations are based only on the GESI ToT organised in Butwal.

Analysis

A total of 27 officials working in various divisions in the Butwal municipal office participated in the GESI ToT organised in February. Four months after the successful completion of the training and only a few days prior to the finalisation of the policy programme and budget for the new fiscal year seemed like an appropriate time to check-in and understand whether there is enough room in the planning process for the implementation of the learnings from the GESI ToT. This follow-up with four of the participants of the GESI ToT brought forth some insightful results.

Throughout the BSMC office, there is increased and widespread awareness about GESI. Since GESI is a globally accepted term included as a vital aspect to various development projects, it is not surprising that GESI has become a well-known concept.

Nonetheless, for some, the GESI ToT was eye-opening in ways more than one. Mr. Thagishwor Pokharel from the Commerce and Industries, Tourism Promotion and Monitoring Division of BSMC revealed that through the ToT, he came to understand that GESI is not only about women.

“I realised there are many intersectoral components within GESI as well.” Mr. Pokharel said. “There are women from different economic and social backgrounds that are perhaps treated differently from one another. In that way, the impact of the ToT has been very positive for me, personally.”

Ms. Nisha Ban, an engineer working under BSMC’s Policy Division said, “There is less inclusive infrastructure in urban spaces. This is what I have learnt to ensure now – making our public and working spaces more women- and disabled-friendly.”

“I realised that men are free in many ways compared to women.” said Mr. Aravind Pandey, a BSMC officer in the Employment Division. “They are free to go outside and do things, whereas women are still bound by many responsibilities. That is why GESI prioritisation becomes necessary.”

Indeed, all respondents said that GESI was very important to the specific work that each of their departments do. Ms. Ban added that GESI’s relevance directly relates to infrastructure resilience and that special consideration is now shared among her colleagues in her department that buildings should be designed in a manner that is inclusive to everyone.

“It could be as simple as building a ramp at the entrance to the building. Or specifying rooms for the elderly on the lower floors of the building. Or designing buildings that have lifts and breastfeeding stations,” Ms. Ban explained.

Mr. Pokharel revealed that his division is actively organising activities that target poverty reduction, women entrepreneurship, and traditional skill development for marginalised communities. Same goes for the Employment Division wherein Mr. Pandey says, “Our department has been prioritising women and marginalised communities in various trainings. In the upcoming year, we plan to continuously organise more programs and trainings such as Women Entrepreneurship Program and Traditional Skill Training.”

The qualitative evidence that has been collected through these interviews points out that on top of awareness, there is also widespread sensitisation towards the concept of GESI among the different departments within the municipal office. But the question remains on whether GESI has been mainstreamed in periodic planning and budgeting, in monitoring and evaluation, in the municipal policies, as well as within and across divisions and institutions. The answer remains inconclusive.

There is a certain determination among a few municipal officers to plan for GESI-aligned activities in the new fiscal year. They talk about prioritising skill development training for women and marginalised communities in the process of budget preparation, but a concrete plan is yet to be seen. However, some are more pessimistic than others.

“The budget is only ever enough to plan for minimal, subsistence designs.” Ms. Ban talks, when asked about the challenges that surround GESI mainstreaming. “It is impossible to be completely inclusive. This is complemented by the fact that the budget preparation still has a very strong political influence.”

Ms. Tulasa Aryal, the Head of BSMC’s Social Division reflects, “Most believe that GESI is only the concern of the Social Division, which is completely incorrect. What we should try to achieve is for GESI to be an important concern for all departments.”

When probed further about what steps should be taken to ensure GESI mainstreaming across all departments, Ms. Aryal replied, “A technical committee needs to be formed with members from all municipal divisions. Only then will there be accountability in budget preparation and planning. We need cooperation from all divisions.” Ensuring that there is a fair representation of women, vulnerable groups, and the socially excluded in such a technical committee would also be a metric to mainstream GESI.

Indeed, despite saying that there is awareness and sensitisation around GESI and its attributes, the implementation and enforcement aspects continue to be lacking given the limited budget across different divisions, and given the prioritisation of activities other than GESI that are considered to be of higher importance.

“Women’s issues are perceived to be limited only to slogans and protests,” Ms. Aryal confides. “There is huge negativity around the topic itself and it is very difficult to change people’s perceptions. Even at a municipal level.”

In fact, a perception shift was an active intention of the GESI ToT. A part of the three-day training specifically focused on behavioural change – on how our thinking is formed by prolonged socialisation and how we can learn to move away from such prescribed stereotypes. Through multiple case studies, the participants of the training were asked to discuss differences in access to resources and in the treatment of people belonging to varied gender, social and economic backgrounds in both familial and social settings.

In the middle of a group activity - GESI ToT in Pokhara

However, it seems that the change that has been read about, discussed and, in part, realised is yet to come. Yes, some believe that with time, the change will prosper.

“I guess as time passes, GESI will slowly be integrated into each division.” said Mr. Ram Prasad Aryal, Social Development Officer at BSMC. “The only other alternative I see is that the instruction should come from the policy level so that people will have no option but to follow it.”

Lessons and Recommendations

The new fiscal year’s policy and programme for BSMC was recently released. A GESI focal person from the NURP team provided their support for its planning and preparation. In the document, we see evidence of GESI actions across most departments. Adhering to the policies that mainstream programmes focused on women, the disabled and marginalised communities and promoting Gender Responsive Budget appears at the beginning of the 21-page document. So do the skill development training designed for women homemakers and the provision to strengthen the property rights for women and the disabled through a concession in property and business tax. Similar programmes are seen in public health, education, and forestry and environment sectors. Specific to the social division, the focus remains on the implementation of GESI budget after its effective formulation and analysis. Similarly, the need to develop sustainable, environment-, disabled-, children-, and women-friendly has been specified under urban infrastructure. Towards employment promotion, actions that target women and youth to be self-reliant and entrepreneurial are visible in the municipal policy and programme.

In Pokhara too, GESI actions have been integrated across a few divisions including health, education, infrastructure, and urban development. For the latter, the focus has been on developing disabled-friendly infrastructure within the municipality. But, still most of the brunt of inclusion falls on the Social Division of PMC.

The planning of such activities is evidence that there is an attempt to mainstream inclusion across some departments of the municipalities. Women, the disabled, the elderly and the marginalized communities are visible in the planning process and specific programmes are targeted at them. This said, in the upcoming months, it will be extremely crucial to check whether and to what extent these planned activities will be implemented. It will also be important to know how much budget will be given to those activities as their proper implementation depends on it. It will be essential to follow through on whether Gender Responsive Budgeting is finally endorsed as was stated in the municipal policy and programme. Additionally, in the future, it will be important to look at the municipality as a whole, and not only at the Social Division, to tackle issues of inclusion, and to check whether some divisions take action individually to initiate organising GESI awareness training at the community level. Speaking on avenues to sustain the leanings from the GESI ToT, Mr. Pokharel suggested, “Providing GESI awareness training to the newly elected representatives might be helpful in the future.”

This is all yet to come to life, but the efforts of NURP to address the implementation barriers and apply lessons learned continue with an emphasis on integrating GESI into each municipal division’s’ plans and budgets such that the passing of responsibilities over to the Social Division as their individual concern is avoided. Inclusion is for everyone and when there is inaction, it might seem like an aspect of an organization is left to fend on its own. The issue might be lost somewhere in the pile of competing priorities, but eventually it will be up to all departments to carry the cause forward – to listen to male office goers complain of poor roads and to women seeking better access to water and sanitation. As Ms. Ban aptly relays, “We can bring change only by doing things ourselves – by taking active individual action and by refusing to depend on anybody else.” This sense of ownership and commitment must continue to be devolved to all departments of government to effect change.