Not so long ago I was a development worker for Progressio, working on gender-based projects in Nicaragua with our partner organisation Puntos de Encuentro, writes Jean Casey. I worked there for five years.

What attracted me to Progressio in the first place was their strong gender profile – being an NGO that supports cutting edge gender work and builds strategic alliances with progressive grassroots organisations such as Puntos, who are widely regarded for their innovative approaches to advancing women’s rights and creating social change. 

I was involved in various gender projects with Puntos over the years, all of which had the overarching aim of strengthening the capacities of young women and girls to help them find their voice, and provide them with the knowledge support and resources they need to defend and exercise their rights, in a country where the culture of machismo can cost young women and girls much suffering. 

Since returning from Nicaragua I became involved in supporting Progressio Ireland (sister organisation of Progressio UK) and for one year now I have been serving as a board member. Most recently, I have been working with Progressio UK on a short project to analyse the advances, challenges and opportunities of mainstreaming gender across their insitutional themes and country programmes, producing a set of findings, recommendations and opportunities for the organisation to strengthen their gender work institutionally and across programmes. 

In this report I bring together the evidence that shows that Progressio has, for the large part, been successful at cross-cutting gender – which means, away from the jargon, making sure that all its work, even if it isn’t specifically targeted at women’s rights, includes an awareness of gender issues and a focus on gender equity.

What are some examples? There’s solid evidence of good practice and significant advances in gender equity within each of the three core institutional themes (environment, HIV and participation), from contributing to policies that lead to increased participation and representation of women in parliament in Yemen and Somaliland, to increasing the socio-economic empowerment of women in Hispaniola and Zimbabwe.

The concrete advancements of gender work in programmes can be traced to the expertise and commitment of Progressio’s country representatives and development workers to advancing gender across their programme work, together with the intuitions and efforts to support this work. The challenges faced by Progressio’s programmes are for the large part external, contending with the traditional and cultural barriers that on the whole see ‘gender’ as a foreign or alien concept, and the lack of funding dedicated to gender by development donors. However, the country representatives are remarkably creative in their means and ways of overcoming such barriers and making sure gender finds a way onto the agenda. 

Although Progressio can boast a long standing and impressive history of advancing gender equity across its programmes, working in solidarity with women’s organisations and strategically supporting the advancement of women’s interests, care needs to be taken to ensure that gender does not slip through the monitoring and evaluation net, reducing the impact and visibility of Progressio’s transformative gender work.

What’s impressive about Progressio is they continue to take a firm stand on gender. Their commitment to successfully cross cut gender has meant that gender stays firmly on their agenda at a time when many NGOs have let the gender agenda slide.

Jean Casey was a Progressio development worker in Nicaragua for five years. Photo: Two women who participate in running a handicraft cooperative in Nicaragua (photo © Nick Sireau/Progressio)