Gender refers to the social relations created between men and women, boys and girls. However gender cannot be discussed in isolation - gender relations are context specific. A gender analysis looks at how gender interacts with other types of oppression such as class, race, caste, age, religion and sexual orientation. Gender relations differ according to the specific cultural, economic, political and social context. While no power analysis is complete without looking at gender, no gender analysis is complete without examining how gender interacts with other dimensions of power.
Why is gender so important? Analysing power imbalances and empowering marginalised people is central to Reflect. Exploring gender inequalities is an essential aspect when looking at power. Gender relations and gender oppression were often sidelined in early Reflect projects and in other popular education programmes. Crucial questions about: power; access to, and control of resources; gender violence; and the sexual division of labour were overlooked. However, individual transformation is as important collective transformation, and this is particularly true when looking at gender.
Gender in Reflect: Fundamental to a gender approach in Reflect is the need to be context specific, given the multiple manifestations of gender oppression. This approach recognises the fact that different types of oppression are present in the Reflect circle, hence one cannot assume a false similarity of experience and unity if it does not exist. Oppression and power must not be simplified, but rather made more specific so as to understand their complexity. Although a gender approach points to the importance of locating oppression contextually, it is crucial not to lose sight of the broader picture, the wider structures of society which create the specific oppression.
Power differences and stratifications are present in all communities, however invisible they may seem. It is essential to examine the sources of power, rather than in pretending that they do not exist, It is particularly important with regards to gender oppression to focus on the 'private' sphere in addition to 'public issues'
Many Reflect programmes have designed new PRA tools to examine the private sphere A gender analysis, however, can be applied to existing 'community' focused PRA tools as well. A discussion on gender might lead to a 'Gender Action'. This could mean a change in attitude or awareness, something intangible and difficult to evaluate, but which is often just as important as concrete 'community actions'.
Distinct gender approaches are suitable for different contexts. Reflect participants and facilitators decide what type of gender focus and method is best suited to their situation. This flexibility is at the heart of Reflect. Gender is an implicit part of the Reflect process at all levels. The Reflect facilitators, along with the staff of the funding or implementing agency, need to understand and internalise the implications of a gender analysis.