Gender and Social Inclusion

All photos: Kandy, Sri Lanka
Copyright © Cathy Baldwin 2020.

About gender and social inclusion (GESI)

The equal rights, entitlements, status, freedoms, treatment, safety, voice and influence of women and men is paramount to a successful nation and society where all people contribute to a peaceful, sustainable and healthy existence. Nations, societies, cities, towns, villages, cultures and communities where women are less equal to men fail to reach their maximum socio-economic, socio-cultural and socio-political potential as more than half the population is marginalised into lesser roles and contributions. Gender equality is essential to the future sustainability, harmony and prosperity of the entire world where all people are needed to contribute to mitigating and preventing problems such as climate change, global disease pandemics, conflicts and socio-economic crises, and promote health and well-being, integration, peace, stability and quality of life.

Large numbers of women and men are still marginalised across the world by socio-demographic status factors including disability and health status, socio-economic position, age, sexuality, religion, ethnicity and race, education, occupation, nationality of birth and citizenship status, parental status, marital status, and others. Structural, political and social processes can lead to their systematic and individual exclusion from full participation in society and economy, and consequent disadvantage, marginalisation, stigma, and discrimination. For the same reasons as gender equality, the full social, political and economic inclusion of marginalised groups is essential to the sustainability of human life on earth.

My approach to GESI

GESI is close to my heart as a woman with disabilities. I approach GESI from an interdisciplinary social science perspective, fusing theories from social anthropology, sociology and social psychology to identify the different types of social, political, cultural and moral norms influencing commonplace gender and social group roles and statuses in a given country, cultural or community context.

A man with a mobility impairment walks in Yala, Thailand. Photo: Copyright © HIA Division, Department of Health, Thailand. 2020.

I view “gender” as socially-constructed or socially-formed, not a fact of any ‘natural’ biological order in line with medical definitions of sex, but as a social division shaped by history, society, religion and politics. Non-binary and transitional gender identities have long been prevalent in certain societies such as India, and are increasingly recognised in the Euro-American world. Gender is reinforced by the attitudes, values and beliefs that are held by groups and individuals, and the practices regularly associated with women and men. Setting out to influence a change in any gendered roles involves identifying the social constructs shaping them as they are enacted in daily life. Then, using behavioural science “nudge” techniques and gentle exploration with groups and individuals to identify the advantages of gradually shifting and changing gendered norms, attitudes and beliefs and developing new roles.

Systematic and more subtle informal processes of social exclusion of socio-demographic groups occur in all institutional, organisational and social group settings. These can be reinforced by exclusionary policies at macro-institutional or organisational level, and through individual speech, acts, and deeds in daily human social interaction. To identify, challenge and change exclusionary processes requires both policy change, positive discrimination, and social education using dialogue and direct contact between mainstream groups and marginalised groups in settings where both interact and collaborate together. These settings are still far too rare in contemporary societies where single parents are often excluded from socialising with married couples, societies draw colour lines between people with black. white and brown skin, and disabled people don’t exercise with non-disabled people but in segregated settings. Change is a slow process but can only improve with time and continuous effort.

My work on GESI

I was recently appointed as an Associate Gender Equality and Inclusion Adviser to the British Council.

I am current Principle Investigator on an environmental psychology study in North Macedonia for UNDP looking at the behavioural enablers and barriers that households among seven marginalised groups may experience to applying for subsidised ‘green’ loans from commercial banks to fund the adoption of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies in their homes. These groups are: people with disabilities, Roma people, single parent-headed households, female-headed households, employees whose jobs have been affected by Covid-19, returning migrants and migrant remittance recipients. This project supports the Government of North Macedonia’s National Plan for Clean Air as well as the Government of North Macedonia’s mitigation-related commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It will contribute directly towards the SDGs 7 (7.a), 10 (10.2 and 10.7) and SDG 13 (13.2) and UNSDCF Outcome 3 (3.1).

I act as a Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser on international development contracts for the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) (formerly Department of International Development (DfID)) and other donor agencies. Recent examples DfID’s Cities and Infrastructure for Economic Growth (CIG) programme operating in Zambia, Uganda and Myanmar (2019-2023), on a business development assignment in the energy sector for DAI, and during a brief assignment with Somali Health and Nutrition Programme (SHINE) operating in Somalia and Somaliland. I am quality assurance reviewer on DFID’s Violence Against Women and Girls Prevention and Response in Malawi Programme.

I have advised on the representation and inclusion of GESI in HIAs, and MEL frameworks, e.g. for the University of Edinburgh’s research programme, Treating Infections to Benefit Africa (TIBA). See Public Health for more information on TIBA. I included a case study on gender inequality in climate exposure and resilience building in Kulna, Bangladesh in my book, Social Sustainability, Climate Resilience and Community-Based Urban Development: What About the People? (Routledge 2018) co-authored by Dr Robin King, World Resources Institute.

Lived Experience

I make no secret of the fact that all my work is informed by my lived experience of disability and neurodiversity because it’s bloody time that somebody did! Otherwise, how on earth will things change and the world appreciate the talents of those with an alternative outlook? I am mobility impaired and a Proud Dyslexic/Dyspraxic, gifted with a brain that prizes systems/global big picture/international overview thinking. In my work, this has been a huge advantage, as I’m able to identify and connect the disparate parts of a problem and generate solutions that utilise novel combinations of otherwise not united factors to go a step beyond single disciplinary or sectoral approaches. I was also a child carer to a parent with severe head injuries (frontal lobe) so my interest in neurological/psychological health and the biopsychosocial factors that drive human behaviour, cognition, affect and response is thus informed by lived experience since the age of one. I am a huge champion of talented individuals from challenging and tough backgrounds, and value the diversity of perspective, experience, resilience, adaptability and tenacity that we bring to our professional work.