Project A was designed to respond to institutional strengthening needs of an association of professionals – let’s call it Stars Alliance – and to contribute to improving the quality of the profession. Gender mainstreaming was included in the Project’s Work plan as a cross-cutting theme, yet its practical implication remained to be investigated and followed-up. The Project indicators were not gender-disaggregated at the start of the Project.
During its inception phase, the Project team used the stakeholders’ analysis to understand their roles, needs and situation. At the start of the Project, 30% of the Stars Alliance members were women. Yet, there were no women on its board and there were less than 10% of them in other internal management committees. Women have organised themselves into an association, let’s call it WLA.
WLA was established in March 2015 by 8 women lawyers. It was a young and small association with high aspirations to promote gender equality both within Stars Alliance and on the legal services market. The WLA was marginalised within the Alliance and its voice was weak. None of its initiatives, including gaining equal treatment of women professionals within social security, were supported by the Alliance.
The Project’s Stakeholders Analysis increased the understanding that for the gender mainstreaming to be successful, the WLA voice had to be heard and its capacity had to be strengthened. Moreover, including WLA in the Project meant that it would have the same effects and impact on men and women, both at the level of capacity and skills. A number of gender sensitive indicators were introduced, for example the number of women in the Bar pool of trainers; the number of women candidates to management positions and the number of women elected/selected in management committees.
Thus, the Project team pursued a pro-active role in involving WLA in the Project. The Project insisted on including WLA in all consultations organised to prepare the Stars Alliance Management Road Map, draft it organisational Strategy for 2017-2022 and its Communication Strategy. The Project also included consistently WLA representatives in all Project workshops, conference and seminars, breaking down little by little the isolation previously experienced. WLA was also included in the Project’s Steering Committee enabling the organization to make contributions and participate in decision making.
In addition to that, the Project implemented a number of activities designed specifically to strengthen WLA capacity as an organization. As a result of these, WLA prepared its own Strategy for 2018-2023, started to collaborate with a similar organisation at the European level, organised its general assembly on a regular basis, multiplied by ten the number of its members, gained space on the Alliance website (where it can regularly publish its news and make itself visible and heard); presented an alternative report on women rights situation in the country at the UN Committee for Social, Economic and Cultural rights in Geneva.
All of the above contributed to making the WLA voice heard within the Alliance and externally, empowering it to take gender mainstreaming forward to the benefit of the profession.
The Project’s approach to increase the capacity of WLA brought two lessons learned:
a. the Project had to be ready to mitigate risks of occasional disengagement from the Alliance management in Project activities, when WLA lead-activities were perceived as challenging to the institutional culture that existed since its establishment.
b. helping WLA to form partnerships – e.g. with the European women professional associations – was an important part of the sustainability of the action, as it anchored it in a network of organisations, which share similar challenges and aspirations.