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TEW's approach to gender and development
13/01/2013
 
TEW’s work requires a close understanding of the the link between gender and culture, and how it relates to development. TEW staff have discussed on many occasions how to overcome the potential contradictions that threaten work to promote both culture and gender, at the same time. The diagram (below) is a useful summary of the problem.
 
The diagram illustrates the contradiction that must be solved for balanced development to take place: traditional culture is the basis for community development, but it can also be an obstacle to gender equality. The TEW strategy is to find a balance between the two. We cannot afford to concentrate only on community rights, or only on individual rights. Furthermore, we have to work towards both at the same time. How to accomplish this?
 
First, it is necessary to look closely at traditional cultures and small communities. In all communities, there are different groups, and these groups have different needs. Divisions involving clan, family, age, wealth, religion and gender can all create different needs, and possible conflicts. As a rule, there will always be some disagreement over the values of a community or culture – what the values represent, and who should define or control them.
 
Development involves creating solutions for different groups, based on their practical and strategic needs. In this process, individual needs are important as well as community needs. For example, individuals should have the right to choose, the right to an education, and the right to vote. If communities do not offer all of their members these opportunities, then people can be given opportunities by outsiders.
 
This has been the reality for many years in Vietnam – outsiders, usually the state, have changed gender relations through policies like resettlement and fixed cultivation, and universal education. TEW is therefore another outside influence, one that aims to provide opportunities for women to take more control of their lives.
 
It is our believe that giving women opportunities does not mean destroying or even damaging traditional culture. Giving women opportunities allows both women and men to improve their lives, using their own efforts, and this can in fact improve gender relations within a community. This has been the TEW experience with community development since 1994. In areas where women have made major strides forward, men recognise and appreciate the value of these developments.
 
Nonetheless, TEW needs a very clear strategy in how to involve women in development activities, in communities where they do not normally engage in public events. The first step is that all TEW staff must be sensitive to gender issues, in all working situations. Other steps are:
  • Know the culture
  • Know women’s needs and ideas
  • Start with activities the women are already interested
  • Start on the village level
  • Involve women in project management boards
  • Involve women in key farmer networking to increase confidence at village level, involve women in specific networks related to their interests and women in national key farmer network
 
These steps are the basis for TEW’s approach to community development in ethnic minority communities. They will help to ensure that women’s confidence and knowledge can progress until they can take control of their own lives. To date, the greatest success has been recorded in the women’s savings and groups that have been started in all TEW project areas.
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