Unit 10: the role of the gender focal point

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Learning objectives:

After completing the unit the participant should be able:

  • To present an argument for the structure of the gender team within the energy organisation

  • To identify initial steps the Gender Focal Point can take to begin the mainstreaming process

Time schedule:

  • 90 minutes

Study of the theory: 60 minutes;

Discussion points: 30 minutes;

Aim of the unit To outline the role of the Gender Focal Point within an energy organisation
Key concepts and ideas introduced in this unit:

The role of the Gender Focal Point

Topics in this unit: Appointing the Gender Focal Point: Initial Decisions

The Gender Focal Point: Getting Started

1. Introduction

The Gender Focal Point is the key staff member within an energy sector organisation for ensuring the success of the organisation’s gender mainstreaming programme. This does not mean that the GFP is responsible for implementing all activities within the programme. On the contrary, this would be counter to an aim of gender mainstreaming that all staff members should incorporate gender into their work content and processes. Therefore a GFP also spends part of her/his time supporting and building her/his colleagues’ capacity for gender mainstreaming.

In this unit we will look at some of the broader areas that a GFP will be involved with as part of their duties. A major element of a GFP’s tasks is the coordination of the development and implementation of the Gender Action Plan (GAP) which is dealt with a separate unit.
2. Appointing the GFP: initial decisions

Once a policy decision on gender mainstreaming has been taken at the top of the organisation a number of key decisions have to be made about an appropriate structure and location for gender expertise within the organisation as well as the nature of the appointment of a gender focal point.

Should a special gender unit be set up within the organisation, or should larger units within the organization have a gender specialist attached directly to them? Small organisations are unlikely to have specialist departments, indeed the GFP can be someone who has to combine gender mainstreaming with other duties which can be disadvantageous in terms of trying to support other colleagues but advantageous in that at least one member of staff is mainstreaming gender into their work! However, for large organisations the choice has to be made about specialist units or dispersed specialists. There are advantages and disadvantages to both models. There is a danger that a special, separate gender unit may be marginalised within the organization; on the other hand, if it is well managed, it might have sufficient resources to build up a good documentation centre and form a recognised focal point within the organization. In comparison, the distribution of a handful of gender experts over the whole organisation could lead to less visibility and accessibility, especially if they do not have regular support. Much depends on the existing culture of the organization concerned and its normal working procedures: if it is quite normal that inter-departmental committees exist and if they are effective in other areas, then a 'spread-out' model of gender expertise might be the most effective. Organisations with decentralised departments located on dispersed sites would benefit from having a gender specialist at each location whose expertise could be matched to the specific tasks of that department.
Even when the dispersed model is chosen there should still be someone who is recognised as the GFP for the whole organisation and that there is a coordinating team/committee that meets on a regular basis. The team should be a mix of male and female, junior and senior, and professional and general staff. This team would be responsible for coordinating, monitoring and evaluating the GAP.
The next decision is about the background of the person to be appointed as the GFP. Partly this reflects the tasks they are to carry out (a sample terms of reference is given in the appendix). In a highly technical sector such as energy there are arguments for and against having a social scientist: they have a better understanding of gender issues at the micro-level which is so sorely lacking in the sector. On the other hand, a technical person with training in gender is able to speak the ‘technical language of energy’ and might be more easily accepted by colleagues with a technical background.
It is not essential that the GFP (or departmental gender experts) be female. There are increasing numbers of men profiling themselves as gender experts. The advantage of a male GFP is that often men listen to and respond positively to men, particularly in areas to do with personal behaviour. If the GFP is a woman, it is important that a man on the staff (technical or non-technical) should be made her deputy with co-responsibility for gender. This arrangement helps overcome the notion that gender is 'women's business' and therefore that only women need be concerned about it. If the gender mainstreaming is seen as such by the majority of (male) staff members, there is a strong possibility that efforts to mainstream will be marginalised. In the dispersed model, it is good strategy to rotate responsibility every two or three years and to avoid consistently appointing young women.
If the GFP is appointed from outside they come as strangers, lack initially a friendship and support network, and can be subject to widespread suspicion. If they are appointed from within the organization, they are often uneasily aware of carrying out a job that is like no other in the organization, that some will even suspect as a non-job, with no guidelines for doing it. If they do well they may become alienated from some former colleagues. There are also fears that being appointed a gender focal point can jeopardise a person’s career. Ensuring, as part of gender mainstreaming, that annual reviews of staff performance encourage and reward integrating gender into a staff member’s work can help overcome resistance to being appointed as a focal point.
Discussion question 1

Do you consider the best gender mainstreaming structure for your organization: a central gender unit or specialized gender staff spread out in every subsection? Why?

Do you think it makes a difference to the mainstreaming process if the GFP is a woman or a man?

There are a number of activities that the GFP can initiate without waiting for the complete development of the GAP. Getting started in this way can help overcome any initial isolation and send a positive signal that the GFP ‘means business’. These activities, which can be integrated into the GAP, include:

  • ensuring that there is continuous visible support from the top

  • preparing a manual setting out gender analytical procedures for the organisation

  • instituting an on-going training programme

  • establishing a list of gender consultants and rewriting standard ToRs

  • establish a special gender fund

  • networking among other energy sector and gender organisations

  • monitor and evaluate progress

  • developing a communication strategy

These activities are outlined in the next section.

3. The GFP: Getting started

i. Ensure that there is continuous visible support from the top

In order to ensure that staff accept the need for gender mainstreaming and recognise the benefits it brings (both personal and to the organisation as a whole), it is essential that the gender mainstreaming process begins with a policy statement from the top, the senior management board of the organisation, which is clear and definite about what the policy is. Such a policy statement should state not only the organization's policy on gender in general, but also on the strategy, i.e. how it intends to ensure that a gender sensitive approach is followed. The policy statement may be rather specific about the procedures which it expects staff to follow in this regard. The policy statement should also indicate the commitment of policy to gender mainstreaming by indicating that staff will be evaluated and promoted on the basis of their implementation of the gender approach (as well as on other criteria). The policy statement should be distributed and discussed throughout the organization.

The GFP should develop a strategy to ensure that this does not become a ‘one-off statement’ but that the Board continues to public support gender mainstreaming. Regular short reports with examples of successes can help keep the board supportive.
ii. Prepare an operations manual

One of the reasons staff can appear to resist incorporating gender into their work is that do not know how to do it. Therefore having clear methods that can easily be integrated into the work of the organisation can significantly contribute to reducing resistance to gender mainstreaming. For this a manual or handbook which fits the specialised work of the organization concerned can be prepared. The manual should cover how to integrate gender into all aspects of planning including policy and project formulation, appraisal, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Methods to be used must be clearly defined and their uses explained in a short manual which should be distributed to all departments together with the policy directive on gender. The manual can be revised from time to time to reflect experiences which can also be used to provide examples of methods in practice.

Where staff experience difficulty in applying the methods, it should be clear to them to whom they should turn for advice, and to whom they can express suggestions regarding the appropriateness of the existing methods or make requests for new ones.
The manual can be the basis of training sessions and requests for help can be part of identifying the type of training and back-up support staff need.
iii. Institute an on-going training programme

It is important that all staff at policy and implementation levels receive some training on the need for gender mainstreaming and how to incorporate gender into their work. Training a not a 'one-off' exercise: it may be necessary to repeat training sessions or design more advanced ones for some or all staff, as the need arises. This monitoring of training needs is an important task for the GFP.

Training should relate as directly as possible to the work of the staff concerned. It should therefore be based on the concrete gender procedures adopted by the organization, and illustrated with exercises and discussion on projects or programmes which the organization is actually involved in. Early preparation of an in-house manual on standard procedures to be used will obviously assist in focusing training on the reality of staff work (see above). However, experience shows that gender training even when based on procedural matters and how to carry out routine analytical tasks, often overflows into much more general discussion and learning as regards gender in society in general. Since gender training is in essence not just skills, but also attitude based, it is very important that sufficient time is allowed in the training sessions for discussion and critique.
The ideal group size for training is 12-15 persons, but training programmes can vary from half a day to two weeks in length. It is possible to train each unit within the organization separately - which has the advantage that training case studies can be used that are directly relevant to the work of that unit - but mixing staff from different units is also interesting. Whether or not staff of greatly differing rank are included in the same workshops will depend on the level of communication that is to be expected within the sessions. It is essential that all participants in the training workshops feel able to express their opinions, and if presence of senior staff suppresses the ability of junior staff to speak out, it is more sensible to provide training sessions based on function.
The training can be carried out by either in-house staff or it can be hired in. The ideal trainers would be a team of one man and one woman; this combination helps to reinforce to participants that gender is not just about women. Although the basic training materials may be standard, care should be taken that the case studies or examples used are as close to the normal work experience of the participants as possible. Case studies which the participants have to analyze themselves, using the standard procedures adopted by the organization, are considered the most effective way of learning.
iv. Keep a list of available gender consultants and rewrite standard ToRs.

Whether for training or for carrying out specialised tasks it is important that the organization maintains links with a number of gender consultants who can be called upon as and when the need arises. These consultants may be persons hired in an individual capacity or via other institutions such as universities.

In addition, it would be wise to review the standard guidelines used by the organization both for hiring consultants and for bringing in regular staff to assess whether or not they need to be rewritten. Guidelines tend to be based on the ideal candidate as male which can be re-enforced by the small number of women with technical backgrounds suitable for working in the energy sector.
v. Ensure earmarked funds for gender mainstreaming activities

The GAP should have its own dedicated funding. However, if possible establish a special fund to cover other unexpected gender related activities such as small seminars, visits of specialists, sending staff to occasional training outside the organization, purchase of books etc.

vi. Networking

The GFP should develop a Network with other organizations that are attempting to bring in a gender-sensitive approach to planning in general and the energy sector in particular. Make sure that there are lines of communication to important gender groups such as the Ministry of Women's Affairs, major women's NGOs and other technical ministries. This can be useful for new ideas and support. Opportunities may arise for joint training initiatives, workshops and meetings.

Discussion question

What opportunities do you see for networking with other organizations on gender planning?

What other organizations do you know of that may already be involved in this? Have you any regular contact with them up to now on matters other than gender?

vii. Monitor and evaluate progress

Monitoring and evaluation are key components of the GAP. Monitoring the progress made in implementing a gender sensitive planning approach within the organization has a number of benefits including allowing for timely adaptations when necessary, identifying new training needs and providing data for reporting to the board as well as reminding colleagues of their obligations and commitments to gender mainstreaming.

viii. Communications strategy

The communications strategy1, again part of the GAP, will help convey the right message to the right people, and as such will influence the processes and outcomes of efforts to mainstream gender in the energy organisation. These messages will also be appreciated by other GFPs within the energy sector who can use the information within their own organisations.

4. Concluding Remarks

In this unit we have looked at where the Gender Focal Point can be located within a large-scale energy organisation. There is no magic formula for this – ‘where’ depends very much on the characteristics of the organisation.

There has also been some discussion about the type of person who should be appointed as the GFP. This might be considered a rather idealised description. All too often the GFP can be an existing member of staff who has the job ‘thrust upon them’ and who is expected to take on this work on top of their normal duties. The person can be a junior inexperienced member of staff who is also uninformed about gender. One can question the motives of the organisation at this point that it is ‘going through the motions’ of meeting an external directive to comply with CEDAW or the Beijing Platform for Action. On the other hand, one could ask as to whether or not the organisation actually understands what is required of the function and when it is done well the benefits it can bring to the organisation. In part this may be a failure of the Gender Machinery of the national government to engage with the energy sector. For the staff member who ‘becomes’ the GFP improving their position within the organisation can be through an effective communications strategy to win the backing of the senior management of their organisation and through networking. The latter may make it possible to improve their situation by gaining the support of the Ministry of Gender/Women and international agencies who can bring pressure to bear on the senior management.
Some suggestions have been given for the GFP to start the mainstreaming process. These should not be seen as separate from the Gender Action Plan which may take time to develop particularly when a participatory process is used or there is a need for data gathering. Indeed some of the activities can be eventually integrated into the GAP.


Scope and required tasks

The Gender Focal Point will be responsible for the implementation of the gender mainstreaming programme of the Ministry of Energy as set out is the Ministry’s Gender Action Plan (GAP). The Gender Focal Point will report to the Minister of Energy.

The specific tasks of the Gender Focal Point:

  1. Advise the Minister of Energy on gender equality issues, practices, and policies relevant to gender mainstreaming in [country] energy sector;

  2. Coordinate the development and implementation of MoE’s GAP

  3. Assess energy proposals/documents for inclusion of gender issues and where appropriate suggest ways in which gender can be incorporated.

  4. Lead the initiatives on gender training for staff of MoE and other energy sector agencies

  5. Develop a communication strategy related to gender and energy activities

  6. Liaise with Ministry of Gender/Women and Development to inform and involve them of MoE's gender activities

  7. Liaise with World Bank, UNDP, UN Women on Gender, and other development-partners.

  8. Liaise with local communities to support their initiatives in energy

  9. Report quarterly to the Minister of Energy on progress with implementation of the Gender Action Plan.

Required qualifications for Gender Focal Point:

- At least five years’ experience in gender analysis, training, gender planning, integration and implementation in organisations and projects

- Some understanding of women’s energy use in [country].

- Experience in working with government and international development institutions.

- Fluency in [local language] and English/French

- Knowledge about National Policy and Legislation related to gender mainstreaming

Experience with gender mainstreaming in the energy sector, while not essential, would be an advantage.


The following are tips from a major international development agency on organising training for building capacity in integrating gender into the policy content and procedures of an organisation based on experiences with their own staff2:

  1. There must be an explicit mandate for gender training from the top of the organization. This mandate must be clearly communicated to all various departments within the organization. It must be clear that gender training is for the entire organization and not only for the gender office(r). A broad range of people has to be trained to ensure that gender issues become a normal part of the operations. Directors and administrators must attend the training: they need to learn the language of gender issues and at the same time, make a statement by their presence that gender training is indeed important to the organization as a whole;

  2. Training can serve as an effective mechanism to integrate gender perspectives and gender analysis into the operations of an organization. However, training is a process and requires sufficient time to achieve full impacts;

  3. Gender training must be managed and backstopped by strong, qualified professionals within the organization;

  4. Someone from within the organization may need to have full-time responsibility for training if the organisation is large (e.g. an entire ministry);

  5. Training is more effective and efficient when the same team or at least a core group of the same team conducts the training over the initial training period during which gender analysis is being introduced to the organization;

  6. Training of trainers is a critical element for achieving long-term integration of gender issues and analysis in large organizations;

  7. Every training course needs preparation time;

  8. Training must be financed, and costs for a training programme must be comprehensive;

  9. Trainers require adequate resources and support personnel;

  10. The case method approach is particularly well-suited to training in gender analysis, because it avoids lecturing to participants, actively engages participants in learning as individuals and in collective groups and provides realistic examples in relation to gender analysis in development efforts;

  11. It may not be necessary to develop new case studies in order to begin training in gender analysis. Existing gender case studies can be used in initial training activities.

  12. Selection of participants is crucial to a successful training course or programme;

  13. It is essential to provide participants with an analytical framework for gender issues and analysis. This framework is not a checklist or a recipe, but a tool that enables critical diagnosis and analysis leading to better project design and implementation;

  14. There is no single training strategy that will fit all organizations: each organization needs to diagnose the internal situation in order to design an effective training strategy that will successfully assist in the process of integrating gender analysis within the organization, and overcoming the resistance towards gender issues.

1 See separate unit on Communication Strategy

2 For a full report on gender training within donor organizations, see FAO (1990).

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