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Originally published on ADB Avenue 13 March 2017

Unsung gender equality heroes: Karin Schelzig

In celebration of Gender Month, we are honoring Asian Development Bank (ADB)s


unsung gender equality heroes. Through their work, they have proven that anyone can
advocate for gender equality, even without a formal title. Southeast Asia Department
(SERD)'s Karin Schelzig shares her insights.

Why do you advocate for gender equality (mainstreaming) in your projects?


Why does it matter to you personally?

I work for an organization that aims to reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth,
so advocating for gender equality is honestly a
no-brainer! There are still too many gender
gaps in access to capabilities, resources, and
opportunities. And too many girls and women
still dont have equal access to the benefits
created by ADB investments, like training and
capacity development opportunities,
scholarships, or jobs.

Gender equality matters to me personallyand


should matter to everyonebecause it is a
fundamental human right. And yet millions of women and girls still experience
economic and social discrimination and end up with fewer and poorer life choices.
This in turn leads to negative outcomes for their children, contributing to a vicious
cycle of poverty and inequality. There is all kinds of empirical evidence out there
proving that investing in women and girls pays off, and I try to bring this evidence into
my work wherever possible.

In my early days at ADB I had an amazing mentor in Shireen Lateef, who became my
division director when the Mekong and Southeast Asia departments merged. She
advocated tirelessly for gender equality, and I was lucky to work with and learn from
her.
How do you go about doing this in your work?

I work in the social sectors, mostly on social protection initiatives and on education.
One would think that ensuring equal opportunities for girls and boys and women and
men in the social sectors would not be tremendously difficult, but our region is still
home to some fairly entrenched social and cultural biases and gender stereotypes. I
always try to advocate for an equal share of any scholarships or stipends going to
women, for example, or for an equal number of women getting the opportunity to
participate in training, or study tours. I encourage women to contribute their views
during meetings, whether in formal settings in the capital city or during community
consultations in the field. This is not always easy.

I also try to work with civil society and non-government organizations as much as
possible, as they tend to bring a deeper appreciation of gender issues to the table. We
just signed a contract with BRAC USA to help design and implement an innovative
new approach to poverty reduction and sustainable livelihoods in the Philippines.
BRAC not only developed an approach that emphasizes womens economic
empowerment, but they assembled a strong team that is 100% female.

Empirical evidence and impact evaluation are also important advocacy tools for
gender mainstreaming. ADB supports a large social assistance program that makes
cash transfers to poor families in the Philippines so they can invest in their childrens
health and education. About 9 out of 10 of the grantees are women. Detractors
sometimes claim that the grants are wasted, or that the money is spent on alcohol or
gambling, but through the rigorous impact evaluation built into the program from the
start, we have hard evidence to prove otherwise. Based on the evidence, the program
has withstood two changes in administration and continues to benefit more than 9
million poor children by keeping them healthy and in school.

What challenges do you face? Can you give us an example of a successful


advocacy to get gender integrated into a project?

It can be frustrating when you ask government counterparts to nominate an equal


number of men and women to participate in a training program, and they respond
with a list of men only. Or when you suggest that 50% of education stipend recipients
should be women, and a ministry official counters that maybe the target should be
reduced to 25%. Sometimes if you ask a woman to share her opinion in a village
meeting, the village chief answers for her. Ive had rural women tell me they would
love to be able to get local construction jobs, only to have urban government officials
and construction managers claim that women dont really want these jobs.

Changing traditional mindsets can take a long time, but we can do more to
incorporate elements of behavior change communication and social marketing into
our work. For not a great deal of money, I once hired a social marketing firm to do
some formative research and develop and test communication materials around
promoting womens access to road construction jobs in Cambodia, with positive
results. A new technical and vocational education and training project I helped design
in the Lao PDR includes both a significant communications component and stipends
to attract disadvantaged young people of whom half will be young women to the
courses.

For the first time in 7 years we will be unlikely to meet our 45%-at-entry
gender mainstreaming in operations target in 2016. What is your view on
this?

This is disappointing news. It is surprising how many projects are still classified as
having no gender elements at allI honestly find it difficult to understand how that
can be possible. In what countries, sectors or lending modalities are we falling short?
Do we need more targeted outreach to ADB country and sector directors and mission
leaders on how to make sure their projects and programs address inclusion, facilitate
women's involvement, and ensure tangible benefits to women? Or more gender
capacity development for our government counterparts to strengthen the demand for
gender mainstreaming in ADB projects and programs? I have always found ADBs
gender checklists and toolkits to be very useful; perhaps there could be more internal
and external advocacy around those. Of course this will require resources. It is
unfortunate that the Gender and Development Cooperation Fund no longer exists,
this was an excellent resource to strengthen the gender impacts of ADB operations.
But I am pleased to see that more and more resident missions now have national
gender specialist staff positions. That is definitely a step in the right direction.

Karin Schelzig is Senior Social Sector Specialist at SERD, ADB

Learn more about how ADB supports gender and development.