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What does CARE mean when we say, ‘we put gender at the center?’

Lo Thi Hoi is a member of the first women-led coffee cooperative in her region of Vietnam, which has increased the purchase price of specialty coffee beans by 15%. Photo: Laura Noel/CARE

Lo Thi Hoi is a member of the first women-led coffee cooperative in her region of Vietnam, which has increased the purchase price of specialty coffee beans by 15%. Photo: Laura Noel/CARE

CARE’s vision of a world of hope, inclusion, and social justice has a clear focus. We put women and girls in the center, because we know that we can’t overcome poverty until all people have equal rights and opportunities.

Sounds great, but it needs specifics. So let’s talk about those.

What we do not mean is simply including more women and girls.

Gender equality is about far more than a tick-box exercise of ensuring half of those joining our activities are female.

What we want to do is address the root causes of poverty and inequality — the underlying reasons why women are unable to show up, have their voices heard, or influence the changes they need so they can secure a better future.

We know that addressing root causes of gender inequality is complex. We also know that it’s possible.

Halatu lives in a refugee settlement in Uganda. She organized action which persuaded authorities to move food distribution sites closer to the community so women didn’t have to risk trekking six miles to access food. Photo: Ekinu Robert/CARE

Since 2015, we have helped 16.5 million women & girls increase their empowerment & gender equality.

This means more girls and women are speaking out about the issues that affect them, making decisions about their home and family as equals with their partner, working together for change in their communities, accessing services that meet their needs, and so much more as a result of our programs worldwide.

To create these kinds of changes for all the women and girls we work with, across more than 100 countries, we have to put gender equality at the center of everything. Here are four ways we’re doing this.

Women and girls set the priorities

It might seem obvious, but one of the simplest ways to prioritize the needs of women and girls is to ask them what they want.

We’re listening to women’s experiences through initiatives such as Women Respond, which helps us understand the challenges women face and ensures CARE as an organization is heading in the right direction.

For example, our March 2023 Her Voice report highlighted how crises, including conflict and climate change, are intensifying insecurity and gender-based violence.

In all our programs, including in emergencies, we’re placing a greater emphasis on understanding the specific risks women and girls face and taking steps to improve their safety.

We’re also supporting women and girls to choose how they want to make those changes. For girls like Sunita in Nepal, this meant talking to others her age about what mattered to them and approaching local government to make changes.

“We started with a small community of girls in our village, but this didn’t seem sufficient to tackle the challenges we faced so we brought many communities together and formed Girls’ Rights Forums at three different levels,” Sunita says.

A young Nepali woman wearing a white scarf and pink jacket leans against a tree. A red and white quilt is hanging on a clothesline from the tree.
19-year-old Sunita from Nepal joined CARE’s Tipping Point initiative from 2018-2022. She works to address the challenges faced by teenage girls. Photo: Laura Noel/CARE

Gender isn’t in a silo

Gender equality isn’t something we can promote in a void, separate to everything else. Women don’t stop being female simply because they’re also a farmer, or an employee, or someone who has had to leave their home because of a disaster.

That’s why we put gender at the center of all our projects regardless of what these projects focus on.

The good thing is nearly 75 percent of our projects that completed research or evaluations last year were able to report at least one change related to gender equality, such as women being more able to speak out and negotiate, or couples making decisions as equals in their homes.

This is possible across all projects, including in emergencies. And it’s not just women who benefit.

We’ve seen examples of groups who were not previously reached by emergency responses gaining access to services and support as a result of women’s advocacy and leadership. We’ve seen families increase their income, farmers grow more food and crops increase in value.

CARE works with women such as Elizabeth in Guatemala, who leads action for the rights of indigenous women as part of Ixoqib’ MIRIAM. Photo: Ana Maria Buitron/CARE

More than just projects

We know how to integrate gender into our projects, but putting gender at the center of all we do also means looking at our people, policies, and processes.

Why is this important? If staff don’t live CARE’s values when working within communities or engaging with other organizations, it undermines what we’re trying to achieve. If our teams aren’t required to measure whether they’re addressing root causes of gender inequality, this may not remain at the top of their priority list.

We’ve been looking at this across entire country teams and it’s working. Across three countries which engaged deeply on this in the past year – Yemen, Northwest Syria and Sudan – they were able to double the number of people reached by projects which were actively challenging harmful gender norms.

It’s not about us

Centering gender equality means prioritizing those leading change their own way.

We’ve already written about what we’re doing to be a better partner, and our aim to raise the voices of women around the world working for change.

In our programs, we’re shifting how we work with women’s rights organizations and women-led movements. This means working with women like Phearong, Executive Director of Women’s Rights Organization Banteay Srey in Cambodia, who are leading grassroots action on women’s rights in their communities and societies. Through projects such as Feminists in Action we are supporting these grassroots partners to strengthen their operations, deepen their expertise, and build collective action between organizations, while providing funding tailored to their needs.

Learn more about CARE’s focus on gender equality in Towards a Gender Just Future: Gender Equality Annual Report 2023.

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