Polishing the gender lenses

A gender learning event with Cheryl Morden and Rosemary Vargas-Lundius

By Maria Hartl, PTA, and Anja Lund Lesa, SKD

On Wednesday 28 January 2015, IFAD's Thematic Group on Gender bid farewell to two of its most active members who retired at the end of January:  Cheryl Morden (Deputy Director, Office of Partnership and Resource Mobilization & Chief, North American Liaison Office) and Rosemary Vargas-Lundius (Senior Researcher, Strategy and Knowledge Department). The Thematic Group on Gender organized a learning event to honour and celebrate their efforts and achievements in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment. Over many years, both Cheryl and Rosemary have been pillars of IFAD's Thematic Group on Gender and global gender champions at policy and operational levels. The event was dedicated to conversations and storytelling about their personal experiences, and reflections on how IFAD can engage further in supporting efforts to promote gender equality and empower rural women.

Rosemary Vargas-Lundius, Maria Hartl and Cheryl Morden.

The event began with two video interviews where Cheryl and Rosemary introduced themselves and reflected on their long careers in IFAD. For both women, gender equality has been a driving force throughout their careers, in and outside of IFAD. For Cheryl, the focus has always been the policy engagement and how global policy processes have influenced the work of IFAD. In this regard, IFAD's Policy on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment has been an important milestone, both for the operational work, as well as for institutional processes within IFAD. A great part of Rosemary's work has focused on field operations, and in particular on developing and introducing gender mainstreaming based on the needs of rural women and men. Working in El Salvador, a post-conflict country, IFAD was one of the first donors to implement a participatory approach, listening to the women and men and designing projects based on their needs and building capacity, not only in El Salvador, but across Latin America.

During the conversation, Cheryl and Rosemary provided insights on what has changed since they began their careers in IFAD. Both emphasized how the image of women has transformed over the years and that women are now perceived as key actors and protagonists in development programmes. The nature of IFAD's work, working with poor women and men in the rural areas, forced the organization to invest its resources in an inclusive manner and to put gender equality at the centre of the development processes. Cheryl and Rosemary also highlighted that gender equality is now part of the IFAD mandate, included in the policies and in all the operations. The role of leadership was underlined, and they both commended the current senior management for embracing gender as a central theme in everything IFAD does.

On the biggest highlights of her career, Rosemary pointed to the lessons learned from the field: "The main highlights of my career were when I was at the field, in the communities, working with the women and listening to them, to their aspirations, but also seeing how much I had to learn from them, how ignorant we were in so many things." And it was during a workshop in the field, that a project director brought attention to the issue of women's workload, and how important it is to reduce the time women spend on household chores to enable them to participate in productive activities – an issue which is now one of the strategic objectives of IFAD's Policy on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment.

Cheryl highlighted a project she was involved in while working for the International Centre for Research on Women, looking at linkages between agriculture and nutrition from a gender perspective. Besides gathering important evidence for policy making and advocacy, the project also provided a number of lessons learned on gender sensitization and how important this is in order to move forward with gender mainstreaming: "At some point, we realized that we couldn't go further on this until we made time and space for everyone, but for the men in particular, to reflect on what the implications of this gender equality was on their own lives."

Cheryl and Rosemary also provided some important insights on how IFAD can move forward regarding the work on gender equality. The issue of resources was underlined, and in particular the need for allocating more time and resources for dedicated gender focal points. The need to look at gender issues from a strategic perspective was emphasized, together with the importance of bringing gender to the advisory level of the organization. They also stressed the need for IFAD to start addressing some of the more difficult cultural aspects of gender equality and to bring the gender perspective into all aspects of the institution.

When asked what advice they would give to young professionals in IFAD, and in particular to young women, Cheryl and Rosemary agreed that it is important to stay true to yourself and to be brave. Cheryl added: "Have the courage to speak your truth. Find your voice. Always listen carefully, because you will be more effective when you speak if you have listened carefully. But speak your truth and speak up and support one another." A formalized approach to the mentoring programme was also highlighted as a way to support young professionals. Both Rosemary and Cheryl have mentored many young professionals during their careers, and it was suggested to adopt an organization-wide approach to this issue.

Commenting from the audience, Josefina Stubbs, associate vice president of IFAD, thanked Cheryl and Rosemary for their commitment and contribution to gender equality. She emphasized the responsibility of making sure that the institutional progress which has been made remains, and the responsibility of looking into how women's lives are transformed to ensure that they are economically and socially empowered.

With their passion and dedication, Cheryl and Rosemary have inspired colleagues in IFAD for years, and the Thematic Group on Gender will continue to build on their achievements, and will keep polishing the gender lenses.