As a CIDA funded intern and a Canadian citizen, don't forget that you are an important conduit of Canadian social values. While it is true that Canada still has a long way to go on the road to achieving gender equality, developing countries have by and large, a far greater journey ahead of them. You may assume that your host organization and supervisor are 'up' on these issues and that issues of equality have already been considered or are simply not applicable to the program- you may be wrong on both counts. Don't be afraid to ask about the implications that the project may have on men and women, girls and boys- because understanding the local context includes gender analysis. By deepening the understanding of the project context, the risk of failure is reduced.
Consider the case where a program in Northern Ghana was instituted to bring water sources closer to rural villages, thus cutting down on the time women spend in water collection. In the construction of wells however, it was men who were recruited. What followed was a situation where women essentially lost their traditional control over the water supply and management because they were not instructed on maintenance of the wells (Report of the Ghana Water Program, CIDA July 1998). There are numerous examples of development initiatives that seek to correct gender inequalities but actually exacerbate them. Projects which seek to provide women with a diversified source of income in order to reduce their dependence upon their husband's wages, such as in handicraft development can actually increase the work burden of women by adding to women's chores, rather than re-allocating an already unbalanced division of labour.
In cases where a program is directed specifically at women, inquire about what measures have been taken to include and inform men about the program's intended outcomes, methods, benefits and impacts. Oftentimes male counterparts are opposed to women-specific projects because of a lack of understanding of the project or because of traditional beliefs about a women's role. In essence, such programs may be seen by men as a threat. This can severely jeopardize the impact of the project due to added strain between women and men in the household and community, and often a lack of co-operation from male counterparts. Many cases have shown that programs directed specifically at women are much more effective if men are invited to understand the wider benefits of women's social and economic advancement.
In cases where the project is not gender specific, challenge yourself to see the impact it may have on women and girls and then discuss this with your supervisor or someone who is likewise sympathetic to a gender perspective. You may find that such concerns have indeed been addressed or that they have been overlooked altogether. Development initiatives are not gender-neutral.
Gender equality is an area which development workers have only recently begun to fully understand and incorporate into their projects- in many cases it is still not understood and very weakly implemented. This is your chance! Your youth and enthusiasm, your Canadian value of diversity and equality, and your progressive perspective may be just the tools you need to make a difference in your host organization.
Frequently, Canadian development workers are hesitant to broach gender issues in a developing country because they are worried about being accused of cultural insensitivity. This is a reasonable concern but one that is easily reconcilable. Avoiding discussions on gender is ignoring the important efforts of NGOs and government in your host country. It is also negating the strong conventions and commitments made by the international community such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Beijing Platform for Action. It's not acceptable to use culture as an excuse for denying anyone or any group their human rights. Take a look at the document called Questions about Culture, Gender Equality, and Development Cooperation published on CIDA's Equality Between Women and Men website. It contains a helpful box called Talking About Gender Equality with Partners that will help you do your homework before addressing the subject.
CIDA's policy on gender equality is progressive and wide-reaching. It is rooted in the ever-growing international commitment to human rights and equality for all. As a Canadian and a global citizen don't be afraid to uphold these values with pride. Your efforts may make a difference, even if it is small. Remember that gender equality is both part of the process of development work as well as a goal in itself.