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Originally published on ADB Avenue, 29 March 2017

Unsung gender equality hero: Andrew McIntyre

We honor Asian Development Bank (ADB)s unsung gender equality heroes. They went the
extra mile to change womens lives through their work in development projects. Andrew
McIntyre shares insights from implementing various projects that aimed to mainstream
gender, including unsuccessful ones.

Why do you advocate for gender equality in your


projects?

For me, mainstreaming gender in all projects just makes


sense - it is a no-brainer. The level of disparity that exists in
all facets of our work is just incredible; and often so, hidden
and not conscious. For example, in urban planning a
seemingly gender neutral domain we see often how plans
are developed that exclude the views of women, children,
the elderly or if they do, are ignored, or countered by
rational approaches.

What challenges have you encountered?

Even the best intentions can have consequences if not considered well. My first aha
moment was in 1985 while working on an ADB rural development project in the
Solomon Islands. The previous loan had focused on cattle development as a way of
improving nutrition and incomes in rural communities, and was a replication of a
project that had succeeded in Thailand. It was now in many countries (we still often
use this model of blind replication) including across the Pacific. As cattle were the
cash business, it was seen as the domain of the men to manage, which is already not
gender neutral. However, it was the logistics of cattle management that had the most
adverse impact actually exacerbating infant mortality rather than improving
community nutrition. You see, the Solomon Islands are very mountainous, with
limited flat land. Cattle cant climb hills well, so pastures were restricted to the small
level areas near the villages. This was great for the men as they didnt have to walk far
from the village to see their cash investment. Meanwhile, the women were forced to
go further and further up into the mountains to conduct their subsistence agriculture,
even when pregnant or breast feeding. The spikes in infant mortality and other health
issues for women were eventually detected, and linked to these changes resulting
from the project. Mothers simply did not have the calories to both carry or nourish a
baby or infant and complete their work for the village.

There have been so many similar stories since then, where projects seemed to just be
planned and implemented just for less than 50% of the population. For me, now,
gender is not just about achieving good, considerate, integrated, and comprehensive
planning although it is all of that. It is about being excited and curious to listen and
really hear and understand the full symphony of the voices from men, women, and
other genders; different cultures; the elderly and youth, about work that we do and
the ways that we can improve and make the world a better place. It is not a zero sum
game a matter of us and them (I hate how people - men and women - often try to
polarize or make the discussion a competition) as it is all of us that need to learn from
each other, irrespectively.

How do you go about doing this in your work?

Just like any other area, whether it be environment, economy, or production


coefficients, gender is a key factor to be
considered intrinsically in all facets of our work.
It is not to be seen as an onerous, check-the-box
activity, but an intrinsic, positive, proactive
normal way of preparing and implementing
projects to make sure that project impacts
and outcomes are the best for all and they are
always demonstrably better when gender is
consciously and fully integrated.

But its not just in projects that we have to do better. Championing and highlighting
gender and associated issues in the ADB workplace and in all projects are intrinsically
related activities. Without staff that understand both, neither can occur effectively.
For a long time I have been inspired by ADBs Gender Equity Thematic Group, which
strikes this wonderful balance of proactive and practical gender mainstreaming in
both projects and the ADB workplace. Patiently (okay, sometimes impatiently)
explaining to both women and men why gender mainstreaming is not only essential
for project success, but also makes projects better for all. Their ability, and others
who work with them, to reach across the complex and multi-sectioned gender divides
amongst ADB staff and our projects is so often under-recognized but has achieved
so much.

For the first time in 7 years we will be unlikely to meet our 45%-at-entry
gender mainstreaming target in 2016. What is your view about this?

It is very disappointing that ADB will not achieve the 45% target this year, but it is not
surprising. While the efforts of the gender team have been exemplary, it has become a

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tick-the-box exercise, without the real heart and understanding behind it. While
there is still an emphasis in ADB on simple investment and disbursement metrics, and
not on wider impact and result quality, effectiveness and sustainability; the emphasis,
and indeed the incentives for staff and clients, will always be on ensuring bigger
project investments and simpler implementation.

I draw parallels with the environment movement in ADB 20-30 years ago. While there
was lots of early resistance, it has now become an inherent part of almost every
project. Yet there are still those who resist it as tick the box, or too onerous for proper
project processing. As it is with genderyes tick the box, continue the metrics but
we need to find some way of overcoming the bias, the inherent resistance by showing
that it just makes good economic, financial and social sense, and makes your projects
(and with incentives, your career) so much richer, sustainable and effective. Isnt that
what we all want as development professionals?

What keeps you going ?

To those that are not convinced, think of gender as music. So many of our projects
are like listening to a single channel, music track same technology and approach in
the same city for 30 years. Its more like you
listening to your 5-year old playing an old tin
recorder over poor speakers, with faulty cabling;
its horrid, right? Instead, think of the best
speakers, the widest, richest track, playing the
music played by the most incredible symphony
ever heard. Literally, your ears are having an
orgasm of sound, beat, perception and
understanding of what the music originally
intended. And so it is with gender its that mindset people need to foster in
themselves: to be curious, compassionate, and constructive; to strive to hear the
whole richness rather than the narrow and distorted. Its something we all start with in
this business as young idealistic development professionals, but that can so easily
erode as we (both men and women) entrench ourselves in a narrow technical
channel.

Andrew McIntyre is a Senior Urban Development Specialist at ADB.

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