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The e-Newsletter of the Gender Network

August 2012 | Vol. 6, No. 2

Q & A with Jeremy Stickings


How did you begin working in the field of gender and development? Almost by accident. My first degree was in English Literature, and I had a fondness for Middle English and particularly Chaucer. By the end of that course I had become very interested in language and wanted to study cross-cultural linguistics, so I moved to the London School of Economics (LSE) as a postgraduate student in Social Anthropology. But after a year or so at LSE I found myself being drawn away from linguistics towards more mainstream social and economic anthropology, and I was offered the chance to undertake field research. After studying colonial and missionary archives in the Netherlands, I chose North Sulawesi in Indonesia (just south of the Philippines, across the Celebes Sea from Mindanao) as the location for my fieldwork. My wife and I spent a very happy two years living in a coastal village where I spent plenty of time out on small outrigger fishing canoes with a crew of four or five and a large net, or in the rice fields and coconut groves. It always surprised me how many anthropologists dont much enjoy their fieldwork and regard it as a necessary chore, but for us it was a privilege and a very enriching experience. It certainly taught me far more about development than any book or lecture course and particularly about how women and men cope with poverty, the livelihood strategies they adopt, and why they see some options as just too risky, even if those options seem to outsiders to be real opportunities for advancement. By the time we came home to London I was hooked on development and working with poor people, particularly with women and girls (when we returned to visit the village thirteen years later, it was very striking how many of those we had known as teenage girls had died in childbirth, lacking basic health care). I started working as a freelance consultant, first back in Indonesia and then in many other countries for more than ten years before joining the Department for International Development (DFID) as a Social Development Adviser (SDA). In DFID we dont usually have advisers specializing only in gender it is part of the responsibilities of SDAs along with participation, poverty, exclusion, voice, etc. It is a different approach from ADB where many are focused on particular themes like gender or indigenous people and involuntary resettlement. How would you describe your experience working on gender and development issues at ADB? I love working in such a multi-cultural environment (I had worked previously at the European Commission but ADB is much more diverse) and with such an interesting group of colleagues with an extraordinary range of experience. On gender I do feel there have been significant advances recently at ADB, and managers know this is something they have to take seriously. Theres quite a strong perception of an ADB way of doing things, and you have to establish credibility by showing you can work in that context and help deliver better projects which meet the objectives of governments, beneficiaries, ADB donors, and ADB itself which are not always the same. It is a challenge to avoid falling into providing late gender add-ons to projects which are already largely formulated instead of trying to play a more strategic and
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upstream role, influencing country and sectoral strategies and the programmes that flow from them. What has been the most fulfilling part of your work? Fortunately, Ive had the opportunity to manage a couple of country gender assessments (CGA) and feed their findings into country partnership strategies. In the Kyrgyz Republic, we led a CGA to which the World Bank, UNDP and DFID also contributed. This has been particularly fulfilling and its good to show partners how ADB is changing. Work on gender and climate change has also been exciting and innovative as awareness grows that adaptation can only succeed if local women and men are fully involved. In Central Asia, where so many men are away working in Russia and elsewhere, its women who have to make many of the key decisions despite often not having access to the information they need. And of course its very satisfying ensuring that womens concerns are fully incorporated into our projects, whether its their desire for improved access roads to help them realize the benefits of a main road, or making sure they get a share of the project-related employment opportunities they want so much, or enabling them to overcome gender-specific obstacles to setting up small businesses and accessing finance. What has been the most frustrating part of your work? Central Asia is in many ways a fascinating and rewarding place to work, but it is frustrating to see the extent to which conservative attitudes to womens roles have gained ground since independence. Economic decline and lack of jobs have contributed to a widespread sentiment that a womans place is in the home. Closure of kindergartens and the cost of child care also severely limit womens options. In the development community at present it is frustrating how little attention is paid to men and masculinities. Gender is of course about both women and men, and the relations between them. Not only do we need to involve men in efforts to achieve womens empowerment and gender equality, but we also need to be aware of those deficit areas for men such as educational achievement and health (associated with risk-taking behaviour e.g., with alcohol, substance abuse, or driving). Moreover, the failure to achieve the cultural expectations of their role for many young males (often because they cannot get jobs) leads to serious loss of self-esteem and sometimes to violent expressions of their disenchantment. These are areas that need to be addressed.

Jeremy Stickings is a Senior Social Development Specialist (Gender and Development) in ADBs Central and West Asia Department. Hes seconded from DFID to ADB.

The views expressed in this paper are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), or its Board of Governors, or the governments they represent. ADB does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this paper and accepts no responsibility for any consequence of their use. The countries listed in this paper do not imply any view on ADB's part as to sovereignty or independent status or necessarily conform to ADB's terminology.