Originally from Kenya, Karen Craggs-Milne is the Director of Gender Equality Incorporated, a Toronto-based organization that specialises in promoting gender equality in Canadian and International Development.
An accomplished gender specialist, Karen has worked both internationally and in Canada to promote equitable outcomes for women and men over the last 10 years. Her technical expertise lies in gender training, gender-based institutional and program evaluations and audits, gender analysis and gender mainstreaming.
Karen is a leading specialist in Gender Auditing in Canada. She has conducted several Gender Audits for Canadian organizations working in a number of different sectors and regions.
Karen has a BA in International Studies with a Certificate in Refugee and Migration Studies from York University, Toronto, Canada. She also holds an MSc in International Development Management from the London School of Economics, (LSE), UK.
For information on her training courses visit www.genderequality.ca
Interview with Karen Craggs-Milne
How do you define gender as opposed to biological sex?
Sex refers to physical sexual characteristics that define an individual as a woman, girl, man, boy, intersex or hermaphrodite.
Gender refers to the social attributes / characteristics associated with being a woman, girl, man, boy or transgender person in a given social context.
In most cases sex is seen as fixed, while gender is seen as re-definable and changeable. This means that working towards change and gender equality requires working on gender.
For example, while women have to give birth, why is it that this role is extended long after birth so that when the child is not well in day care it is often the mother who is expected to take time of work to take the child to the doctor even though a father could do this just as easily?
There have been a number of different approaches to addressing the status of women, which approach do you advocate and why?
Put simply, there are three different approaches to addressing the status of women.
Firstly, working with women to promote the status of women (through equity initiatives)
Secondly, working with both women and men to promote the status of women (through gender integration and gender mainstreaming initiatives).
Thirdly, working with men to promote the status of women (through initiatives such as the White Ribbon Campaign.
Based on Gender Equality Incorporated’s (GEI) work over the last 10 years we have found that the most effective approach to addressing the status of women in any given situation is a combination of all three approaches. The specific context helps to determine the most appropriate combination of these approaches.
What do you do when you conduct a gender analysis in an organisation?
GEI uses Gender Audit tools to examine an organization’s overall gender related performance. A Gender Audit is a comprehensive, participatory methodology that examines cross-organizational performance (internal) as well as cross-program performance (external). For more details on Gender Audit methodology, please visit our website – www.genderequality.ca
Is the presumption that men and women do things differently biased in that the sexes are socialized to behave in certain ways?
Is gender identity a result of nature or nurture? I say both! While we may be hard-wired through genetics and biology, much of who we become as individuals is a result of socialization – conscious and unconscious conditioning.
Is the goal of gender equality to ensure that women and men ‘do things the same way?’ I don’t think so! There is nothing wrong in men and women doing things differently. In fact, I would argue that this is a strength – if we all approached problems with the same perspective and set of skills, the world would be very uni-dimensional!
GEI advocates for the need to recognize and value gender-based differences in ways of doing and being. We also encourage individuals, communities, organizations to recognize that gender identity and gender roles are fluid along a continuum.
How do you define equality and equity? Which objective do you encourage organizations / communities to work towards?
Stated simply, equality is an end result (a state of being), equity is a process to achieving that result (a way of doing). Equality refers to having equal opportunities whereas equity refers to the conscious measures that are put into place to address historical, systemic or gender-based barriers.
Equality is often associated with equal treatment, however, equal treatment of different groups (in this case women and men) tends to lead to unequal outcomes, and therefore, further inequality.
I would strongly encourage organizations to strive for equitable opportunities and equitable outcomes. This means that organizations need to recognize that women and men are different and that they have different gender roles, identities, priorities and needs.
The most gender responsive organizations not only recognize but also strive to ensure that these differences are valued equally and reflected in the organization’s structure, policies and practices.
Can you discuss the types of changes you achieved in a particular organisation as a result of your work on gender issues?
GEI has a very strong track record in facilitating substantive and measurable changes in organizations striving to promote gender equality across their organizations.
In 2006 we worked with Oxfam Canada to conduct an in-depth Gender Audit which assisted the organization to set about transforming not only their programming but also internal structures, culture and practices to be more inclusive and respectful of women and men in all their diversity. The results and recommendations outlined in the report below give you a concrete sense of the depth and breadth of changes that have were facilitated as a result of our work with Oxfam Canada.
What are some gender mainstreaming processes which you advocate for organisational leaders to use? How do you, for example, institute gender equity in retention policies in workplaces?
Mainstreaming gender means integrating gender considerations systematically across organizational policies, structures, culture and practices.
In day-to-day terms this means asking how does this area of work affect women and men differently? What sex-specific or gender related issues / considerations do we need to take into account to ensure that we are reflective and inclusive of women and men’s differences; what barriers or constraints do we need to address for women and men to ensure equitable access or control over workplace resources, benefits and decision-making? Would our work and the way we do it be different if we were being inclusive of the differences between women and men?
Based on the model provided by the Commission for the Advancement of Women (CAW), successful gender mainstreaming requires investment in political will, technical capacity, accountability mechanisms and organizational culture. GEI works with individual clients to determine what is already in place in each of these areas, what the gaps are and how to move forward in a coherent and strategic manner to ensure sustainable change.
How is gender work different from diversity initiatives which also aim to include marginalised groups such as women?
Gender is one of the many facets of diversity.
Gender work tends to focus specifically on power differences between the sexes and the impacts of sex-based and / or gender-based discrimination.
The tools and methods used to address gender issues are easily adaptable and can be used to identify and address other diversity issues.
Diversity initiatives can help to map multiple forms of discrimination (including gender based discrimination) and can contribute to a fuller understanding of the complexities of gender relations in a specific context.
Both gender and diversity tools and lenses should be used to complement each other.
When working in this area in a developing country, how do you tackle inequitable differences between men and women acknowledging that they are rooted in the culture and are not western values?
I start with the recognition that gender equality looks different in different contexts.
For example, in urban Canada, gender equality is often described in terms of women having equal access to income, employment opportunities and decision-making roles that are traditionally or generally perceived as being held by men.
However, in a project I worked on in rural Brazil, gender equality was described by women and men villagers as having the ability and means to fulfill traditional roles (women cooking and looking after children and men fishing, providing food and income) with the specific goal of families and communities stayed intact.
In some cases I have found that inequitable differences are a result of unconscious gender-bias and that once community members have an opportunity to examine their unconscious beliefs, attitudes and practices through a gender lens, they are very often willing to realign themselves to be more ‘equitable’.
In other case I have found that challenging inequitable differences among women and men are maintained intentionally and that there is conscious resistance to addressing this inequality. This is often a more delicate situation and the key strategy in this case is to determine the most constructive strategy keeping in mind that we don’t want to cause a backlash or undermine any opportunities for change in the longer term.
What suggestions do you have for those interested in developing their sensitivity to gender in the workplace?
GEI provides sensitivity training to many of individuals – so far mostly men – who have been mandated by the Ontario Human Rights Commission to undergo sensitivity training as a result of gender-based discrimination in the workplace.
Below are a few of the key take-away tips and strategies that we provide to clients in our training:
Gender sensitivity in the workplace means recognizing that:
1. Women and men work differently – value different ways of working and focus on achieving the results as opposed to how those results will be achieved.
2. Women and men have different gender roles – identify more flexible work arrangements to reasonably accommodate gender-based responsibilities and duties
3. Women and men communicate differently - practice active listening and effective communication skills
4. Women and men deal with conflict differently – develop effective conflict resolution skills
5. Women and men bring unique, often complementary strengths – invest in team-building and help create a team focused on win-win results as opposed to focusing on maintaining status quo within the team groups.