Gender Transformative Approaches

If we want to bring an end to gender inequality and reduce its negative influence on the most significant development problems of our time, we must fundamentally transform gender norms that discriminate against women and girls, and also victimize men and boys
in their own unique ways.


Sustainability is the key to any successful development intervention or internal organizational change. Practitioners strive for it, and now more than ever, donors demand it. Furthermore, private sector companies suffer financially and otherwise from the negative effects of gender bias in the workplace.

So how can we ensure that gender considerations are effectively mainstreamed for ultimate sustainability and success? A gender transformative approach is one of the best ways to get there.

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Why does gender matter for the private sector?

Regardless of the professional field or type of business activity, mainstreaming gender equality in the workplace is crucial for companies to develop and maintain high performing teams as well as boost their profitability. In 2016, after conducting a lengthy study of 22,000 private for-profit companies globally, the Peterson Institute for International Economics released a report that showed having at least 30% women within the ranks of top executive management (CEO, the Board and other C-suite positions) resulted in a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm. There are two main reasons for the discrepancy: increased skill diversity within top management, which increases effectiveness in monitoring staff performance, and less gender discrimination throughout the management ranks, which helps to recruit, promote, and retain quality talent. Many other studies conducted since further support these findings. As one example, the "Women on Boards" study performed by MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International) found that companies in the MSCI World Index (stock market index of world stocks) with strong female leadership generated a Return on Equity of 10.1% per year versus 7.4% for those without.

Because gender-biased firms do not reward employees with responsibilities based on their talents, and do not create positive work spaces where women feel equally valued, they lose out to rivals that do not discriminate. This lack of gender diversity fundamentally and powerfully affects their bottom line. Private sector companies should care about gender equality in the workplace, not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it’s just good business.

What does it mean to take a "gender transformative" approach?

Gender transformative approaches strive to look deeper beyond the symptoms of gender inequality that we see on the surface in any given community. To take a gender transformative approach is to move beyond the narrow and somewhat limiting idea of individual self-improvement as the solution and instead, seek to address and transform the underlying power structures and beliefs that create the problem of gender discrimination in the first place. 


For example, if we look at a standard development program that aims to increase women's economic independence, we can move towards greater sustainability of the program's outcomes by more directly addressing the barriers that power structures create and perpetuate, rather than only looking at the woman's individual role in the equation in terms of her technical skills, knowledge and confidence. This could include, as just one example, engaging her husband or other men in her life in critical dialogue and self-reflection that helps to address these power imbalances over the long term, such as control over financial decision making.

Women and girls operate within systems of power and privilege that, for the large part, they do not control. A gender transformative approach not only uplifts and empowers those who are marginalized, but also fundamentally transforms the systems that created this marginalization to begin with, for the benefit of all - and that is the essence of sustainability.

Why does it matter for development?

Development problems are complex and multi-faceted and, of course, not easily solved overnight. Many brilliant interventions have been developed over the years to try to tackle some of the world's greatest challenges that deeply affect the quality of life for billions of people. Some of these problems include extreme poverty, negative health outcomes, slow economic growth and widespread sexual and gender-based violence. While these interventions are important and valuable for improving people's lives, less attention has been given to directly addressing some of the major fundamental causes perpetuating these problems - some of which are gender norms, power dynamics and belief systems that devalue and diminish the role and voice of girls and women.

Beliefs about the value of girls and boys are absorbed in the minds and hearts of all people from a very young age and are passed down through generations; because of this, they continue to cause harm in families and communities and contribute to the perpetuation of major development issues, despite interventions that attempt to solve the symptomatic problems of these issues on the surface.


If we want to bring an end to gender inequality and reduce its negative influence on the most significant development problems of our time, we must fundamentally transform gender norms that discriminate against women and girls, and also victimize men and boys in their own unique ways.

This means we must always be mindful of how we mainstream gender considerations and progress indicators in development programs, projects and policies, and strive for a gender transformative approach wherever possible.