I think the process of transforming gender roles and norms is not a new one, though the terminology has gained much mileage in the last 10 years. Many of us in the women's movement have been striving to find that critical edge (gender transforming) in addressing women's empowerment ..striving to understand and address it in a more holistic approach. But some major questions still prevails in my mind as we endeavour to understand the transformational process.
Women have managed to fend for themselves in the best ways they know, within their given constraints. They create spaces for themselves, that may not seem always progressive to an outsider. But they are spaces nevertheless built by the dreams, songs and blood of other women before them ... each generation taking a small daring step so that the next can have a few extra moments to breathe. Armed with our baggage of knowledge, we endeavour to "empower women" taking their needs and priorities into consideration. But I have found inadequate evidence of where we have tried to understand what constitutes empowerment from the women's perspective and what are the safe/empowering spaces that women currently have in their lives that we can maximise upon.
While working with families, men and boys and policy engagement is extremely important, beaking social norms and taboos is extremely difficult. We may be able to achieve something within the project cycle that can be monitored and measured. But what then? Are our project duration long and intensive enough to bring about change that can be sustained by a community? With decrease in funding and shorter project cycles, target achievement is sought even before the project can actually commence. It is not possible to address underlying social norms and constraints in such an environment. Women and men, girls and boys have to be conscientised to demand better services, better opportunities, better laws and better futures before any policy can have an impact on the ground.
Gender education also is being seen as a possible intervention for transforming gender norms. However it cannot be a one off class but has to be sustained from junior to high school and at least cover the duration of an entire generation. Teachers have to be trained and sensitised to provide the required support in imparting this kind of education. All these things require time and most importantly a strong political will of all stakeholders.