A Systems Change Approach in Action

Part 2 in a series of blogs by Scott Osborne, Member of Together Women Rise’s Grant Selection Committee

Last month, we looked at systems change and why that is such a powerful way to achieve our long-term gender equality goals.

A systems change approach says, in effect, let’s devote more time and resources to change the societies, economies, and laws that perpetuate gender inequality, instead of repeatedly helping each new generation of women struggling under these inequities. It says, let’s directly address the lower wages, the gender-based violence, the lack of land ownership, the unequal political representation, all the root cause inequities that women experience around the world.

This new direction will be the focus of Together Women Rise’s new Transformation Partnerships that we will launch in 2022. Transformation Partnerships will allow us to address the root causes of global gender equality, an approach that is exciting and has great promise. And guess what? Some of our former grantees are already working in this area. 

In February 2020, we funded Shared Interest for a project in Malawi to help support a women’s agribusiness and ensure women farmers have long-term supplies of seeds. But Shared Interest also works to get women equal access to agricultural credit from traditional mainstream banks, a critically important condition essential for women’s long-term financial equity.

Women’s Justice Initiative (WJI) in Guatemala, our 2018 Featured Grantee, trains local community advocates. But WJI also works on securing legal rights for women and changing the social norms that perpetuate the subordination of women, two root-cause issues essential to bring about long-term change in Guatemala.

Integrate Health, a Featured and Sustained Grantee, provided critical medications for Togolese women. But Integrate Health is also working with the Ministry of Health to develop training for community health workers and eliminate user-fees for pregnant women, two underlying systemic changes that have the potential to change women’s health care permanently.

These are small steps toward systems change, but they help point the way. With increased resources dedicated to this approach, we will have the opportunity to continue our work with former grantees who are eager and capable of doing the social change work necessary for gender equality. And, we can work with new partners who have a deep understanding of gender inequality and how to address it in their communities.

Still unsure about a systems change approach? A final analogy might help.

Many years ago, in the US, those in wheelchairs or using walkers could not get around our cities. Street corner curbs were too high; mass transit was completely inhospitable.

What did we all do? Did we devote resources to train people in wheelchairs to push harder up curbs? Did we encourage those with walkers to walk longer distances, faster, so they could skip the buses? Of course not. We created indented street corner curbs. We rewrote our laws. We designed buses that kneel! We changed our systems to bring about more equity for all.

We want the same approach for gender equality. We at Together Women Rise can be part of that change.