Oxfam are an international charity dedicated to the alleviation of global poverty. Their stated mission is ‘working with thousands of local partner organizations, we work with people living in poverty striving to exercise their human rights, assert their dignity as full citizens and take control of their lives’. One way in which they aim to achieve this is to focus on women’s rights around the world, putting them at the heart of all they do.
Issue to be resolved
There are over a billion people living in poverty and this is set to rise to 2 billion in extreme poverty over the next generation. In their work around the world, often with the most vulnerable people facing humanitarian disasters, they highlight many challenges including the gender pay gap, combating ‘macho cultures’, and trying to eradicate poverty. They often find that the policy might be in place to address these various issues, but in practice this does not always work for a multitude of reasons. In many cases they encounter violence against women and challenges facing women in political and economic leadership.
What they did
In order to achieve their aims, Oxfam set out to create a movement with a Gender Leadership Programme as part of their larger international strategic plan. The plan has six goals, and is designed to empower people. One of the key goals is for all of Oxfam’s work to be done through the prism of women’s rights. By asserting female leadership, women can enhance their wellbeing and gain the benefit of the contribution that women and girls can have to societies and economies. The second goal is to exercise the ‘right to be heard’ which is the act of demanding and exercising rights as well as participating in public decision-making for those who are on the margins of society. Both women and men are empowered to be heard equally.
The way in which they are implementing their strategy is varied but includes having honest conversations with the communities, increasing engagement, understanding where power and influence is seated, helping to improve networks, and using social media. For example, in order to create effective and useful women’s leadership networks, a system was implemented which allowed women leaders to self-develop and organise so as to be able to respond adequately to different situations. This may mean having tight or loose networks, for example.
What was the outcome?
The programme was successful in being able to help women to lead and to inspire and unite staff. The Oxfam International Strategic Plan’s expected impact by 2019 is for women’s rights to have been claimed and advanced through the engagement and leadership of women and their organizations and that there will have been a significant reduction in the social acceptance and incidence of violence against women.
However, they acknowledge that there are many areas which need improving. They still want to develop strategies to further recruit, induct, and train staff in line with their gender justice standards, as well as to monitor and hold managers accountable by gender markers. Oxfam also continue to learn a great deal from the project including understanding the importance of involving both men and women whilst being aware that a focus should be made specifically on women in order to combat existing gender bias. Additionally, they are aware that having a visible and positive profile is important, making sure to understand people’s perceptions as well as the reality of the situation.