Cities Alliance Explores a Fresh Approach to Gender in Programming

The Cities Alliance partnership is trying to change attitudes on gender and be more aware of how it is represented in programming.


Gender is arguably the single most important dividing line in society, and it impacts many different aspects of development that are not often assessed.

The Cities Alliance partnership is trying to change attitudes on gender and be more aware of how it is represented in programming, especially now as countries and cities begin the process of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Within that context, Cities Alliance has prioritised gender in our Medium-Term Strategy for 2014-2017, and it is at the centre of our work programme for the first time. We are looking at gender on three levels: through our work programme, by engaging members, and within the Secretariat.

In order to begin thinking about how we can incorporate gender into our work programme, the Cities Alliance Secretariat held a gender workshop in Brussels 9-10 November 2015 for all staff members. The goal was to provide a better understanding of gender in development for staff with varying backgrounds and levels of experience.

The two-day workshop was ably facilitated by Mr. Julian Walker, Co-Director of the Gender Policy and Planning Programme at the Development Planning Unit of University College London. It also featured presentations by Ms. Jordana Ramalho, a PhD student in the Geography and Environment Department at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) who is researching the gendered dimensions of household adaption to extreme weather and climate-related disasters in the Philippines.

Tools for gender analysis

Mr. Walker and Ms. Ramalho presented an overview of gender approaches in development, and two different tools for assessing gender in projects: a gender analysis methodology and the web of institutionalisation. These tools can help challenge common urban planning assumptions, such as household structure and organisation of tasks within the household, and provide a better understanding of which elements to prioritise in a project. They can also help determine if a project made a real impact on gender or maintained the status quo.

It is not common for gender to be addressed as a matter of course in development, and that is what Cities Alliance is trying to change. 

The gender analysis methodology tool involves looking at a project from the angle of various roles – reproduction, production, community management and politics – and gender needs, both practical and strategic. (Practical needs relate to responsibilities and tasks associated with traditional gender roles or to immediate perceived necessity, while strategic needs concern the position of women and men in relation to each other in a given society and may involve decision-making power or control over resources. Of the two, strategic needs are much more challenging to address.)

The second tool is the web of institutionalisation, which can be used as a diagnostic to determine a strategic entry point for gender projects. Developed by Caren Levy, the tool suggests that the conditions for institutionalising gender are represented by at least 13 interlinked elements, each one representing a site of power and necessary to institutionalising gender. (For more about the web of institutionalization, please see this video of Mr. Walker explaining it in depth:

Key messages

The presenters’ key messages were that:

 - We need to take a nuanced approach to gender and disaggregate, especially when it comes to collecting data. For instance, economic data generally does not include much of the work done by women, such as caretaking, running a household, and volunteer work around the community. As a result policies often do not take them – and their contributions –into account. Taking a deeper look and counting not just how many women and men, but how they spend their time will provide much more accurate data as a basis for policy.

 - Gender projects must take both men and women into consideration. For example, a campaign to help reduce domestic violence is much more effective if it targets both men and women and addresses the underlying conflict. 

 - It is critical to do a gender analysis of a project and identify where the key priorities are. A 50-50 approach is not always the best way. There may be women in politics, for example, but that doesn’t mean that women’s rights or interests are being represented. 

 - In many cases there may be deeply held cultural beliefs at play, such as in the case of female genital mutilation. Claims for change must come from men and women themselves, and we can create the conditions and space to allow people to critically reflect on their assumptions.


It was the first time Cities Alliance has held such a workshop, and it was very well received by staff who enjoyed the opportunity to learn something new or get a refresher on gender thinking.

The Cities Alliance is also drawing attention to gender in development through our Joint Work Programme on Gender Equality, which serves as a platform for promoting the role of women in development and ensuring that gender equality is mainstreamed across Cities Alliance activities. We have also established a Gender Task Force within the Secretariat and formulated a Gender Equality Strategy to guide our activities through 2017.