Gender-transformative learning and training: what it is and how to get there

05 December 2022

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Gender-sensitive, gender-responsive, but what about gender-transformative as the true path towards equality? Over the past two decades, the term has gained traction among policy-makers, organizations, civil society, and others, but its implementation is not keeping pace.

To accelerate progress in training and learning, the 2022 annual Learn4Dev meeting embraced gender-transformative teaching and learning as its overall theme. Hosted by IIEP-UNESCO and the French Development Agency (AFD) in cooperation with the International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization, participants, from more than two dozen organizations involved in learning for development, discussed how to promote gender-transformative learning and training environments.

The path toward gender equality

Across the globe, various obstacles and biases continue to hinder gender equality putting Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 5 for education and gender equality at risk. Learning and training environments are no exception and enabling a gender-transformative approach in such environments can have transformational power – for trainers, trainees, and their institutions. If implemented systematically, it can also positively change the attitudes of learners and impact society.

How does it do this?

A gender-transformative approach allows for a critical examination of inequalities and gender roles, norms, and dynamics. It not only recognizes – but strengthens – the positive norms that support equality. It also promotes the position of women, girls, and all marginalized groups, helping to transform the underlying social structures, policies, and social norms that perpetuate gender inequalities in our world.

What’s holding us back?

However, some tensions, and even critiques, about using a gender-transformative approach have emerged and held back progress because of many resistances, lack of understanding, tools, financial and human resources, and skills for its implementation. Consequently, institutions are developing some accommodating approaches, which could be considered gender-sensitive or gender-responsive at best. This approach may not be harmful, but it falls short of tackling greater systemic issues that contribute to inequality.

What do we do?

To advance gender-transformative training and learning, there are a number of steps individuals and organizations can take. First, it’s important to know that gender-transformative learning and training are informed by feminist pedagogy, which is rooted in feminist and intersectional analysis and practices. The key principles include:

  • Participatory learning and a recognition that both the teacher/trainer and the participant have the knowledge to share and can and do learn from each other through active participation of all.
  • Validation of personal experience and that this is a valued form of knowledge.
  • Encouragement of social justice, activism, and accountability and embedding feminist pedagogical principles to ensure that all stages of the training cycle are geared towards gender-transformative change and establish how feminist pedagogies can be best employed to support participants in enacting change at different levels – personal, institutional, and societal.
  • Promote critical thinking and open-mindedness and resist the impetus to oversimply and de-politicize gender issues.

What approaches and tools can be used?

A gender-transformative approach to training covers everything from what is taught, who is taught, who is doing the teaching, where, when, and how learning happens. It digs deep into gender dynamics, roles, and expectations that impact the learning experience, as well as the teaching methods, content, and learning materials and how they respond to the needs and interests of all participants. It also pays attention to this during every stage of the training cycle, from planning to evaluation.

To further support this, training organizers should:

  • Ensure that there is broad representation, including women and participants from different backgrounds and with diverse experiences.
  • Use methods that increase the active participation of both women and men, and that address different learning capacities.
  • Guarantee a learning environment suitable and safe for both women and men.
  • Adopt attitudes and behaviours that value differential experiences and perspectives and ensure listening and respect for each other’s experiences and views
  • Facilitate good communication practices in which misunderstandings, insults, blaming, and demands are recognised and resolved

Gender-transformative training goes beyond looking at who is present in the classroom, training venue, or virtual learning platform. Instead, it looks more profoundly to ensure that participants all have equal opportunities to participate actively and benefit from the learning process.

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