I’d like to start by asking you about your family background?
My dad’s origin is Iraqi Jewish and he was born in India (Calcutta), now living in Israel. He travelled to the UK by boat with his parents and some of his siblings in 1960, while others went to Israel. My mum’s parents were of Dutch and Russian origin but lived in East London. My mum is now living in Bristol close to my sister.
Could you tell us about your influences growing up in London?
I grew up in North London. I always found the socio-cultural and historical aspects of London fascinating. I also lived in Hackney and Stoke Newington for several years, which is one of the only places in the world where Jewish and Muslim people live together as one community. My background, in combination with growing up in London, always inspired me to work and travel, doing social stuff especially in Asia and Africa. However, I never thought I would end up living in Kenya working for myself in gender and social responsibility.
Did you encounter much racial or gender discrimination– and how did that frame what you’re doing now?
I don’t recall experiencing any gender discrimination, but I do remember seeing racism in school and experiencing some myself, being Jewish with a dad who was born in India. This was in the 1980s and 1990s when racism was more prevalent in London than it is today, although nationally and globally it is still at the forefront of global social and political issues. I am very proud of my heritage and love the reactions I get when asked where I am from.
Can you tell us about Rise and your role as a consultant?
I established Rise in October 2018 in Kenya to take on a fresh challenge and to broaden my service offerings. Previously, for 12 years I worked at an international sustainability firm called Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Projects at ERM included working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to integrate gender into their Fragile and Conflict States Programme, developing gender action plans and strategies for several clients, and mainstreaming gender into Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), management plans and others.
For the last year, I have supported Agence Française de Développement (AFD) as their Regional Environmental, Social and Gender Specialist, which has included managing related risks and integrating gender into their East Africa portfolio including in education, energy, transportation/infrastructure, water and sanitation sectors. Other projects have included developing a gender management system for a financial institution in Gabon, undertaking a social safeguard review on a smallholder tea farmer programme in Rwanda and acting as strategic advisor for impact assessment related to the refugee influx in Uganda for the World Bank, which included a component for gender and violence against children.
In short, Rise offers a broad range of social and gender development/safeguard services in Africa and internationally. This includes gender mainstreaming, risk review, due diligence, community needs assessment, impact assessment, management planning, livelihood restoration and resettlement.
Through the years, how has Rise impacted Kenya? What has changed and what has worked?
This is a big question for a young company. At Rise and during my time at ERM, working with E&S risk management and gender integration has influenced clients. For example, working with AFD and their government counterparts has allowed for capacity development in these areas, including enhancing female participation in decision making regarding project designs and mitigation measures, as well as increasing access to benefits through employment and other project impacts (e.g. access to energy).
From your experience, how can a baseline help to reduce gender inequality?
Having a baseline to understand the gender context is key to designing a project or a programme. It enables an understanding of the current situation in terms of roles and responsibilities in the household and community, access to education, participation in decision making, access and control of resources and assets (e.g. land, shelter, finances etc), and issues related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This allows us to identify programme outcomes, monitor and measure success and recognise areas for improvement related to project impacts and inequalities.
Community engagement seems like a key process to your work, could you tell us what types of projects you’ve been running?
For most projects that I work on, participatory and inclusive community engagement is essential. It ensures that everyone’s views and needs are considered, allowing us to build a connection and manage any risks that may block or delay a project. In many countries, it is a challenge to get a representation of females due to cultural factors, so having group discussions helps to alleviate this.
For the refugee project in Uganda, we focused on engagement activities. We met with key informants who specialised in gender issues, conducted separate focus group discussions with male and female refugees, and host communities to capture sensitive issues regarding their situation and gathered information relating to SGBV, violence against children and social inclusion. I also led social and gender aspects of projects in Malawi, Liberia and Sierra Leone where female participation in meetings is also very limited. The only way to capture their views was through focus groups and interactive data collection techniques.
Political will is key to how Kenya progresses. How much emphasis does the government place on mainstreaming gender into Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG)? Do you think enough is being done?
Kenya is a signatory to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979) and the United Nations Declaration of Violence against Women (1993). There has been a lot of progress in Kenya concerning gender resulting from the Sustainable Development Goals, which has led to the development of a number of gender specific policies and integration of gender in environmental and social legislation. As such and from experience of working with various agencies, I can say that the will to integrate gender in ESG is very much there. However, there is sometimes limited capacity to mainstream gender due to the number of projects that are running at the same time, and not enough gender specialists within agencies to meet this need.
How do you see gender playing a role in mitigating climate change?
In 2009, I undertook my masters' dissertation on ‘gender differentiated impacts of environmental change in West Bengal, India’. I also researched a policy paper for Oxfam on the linkages between gender and climate change in 2008. This topic area has been a priority for many academics and non-governmental agencies for over 10 years. Since women and men have different roles in communities, they are impacted in different ways and therefore are adapting according to their needs. For example, in rural areas, women are primarily responsible for collecting food, water and fuel (firewood) for the household, while men are usually responsible for income generation and farming activities (although women often take on this role in combination with their domestic role). Across Africa, many women are now selling and using energy-efficient cookstoves that minimise reliance on natural resources for fuel. Mini solar panels are also being used for lighting and mobile phone charging. Women are being trained in water management techniques, such as rainwater harvesting, to improve access and the safety of those that have to walk long distances, due to water scarcity resulting from climate change.
How do gender biases differ in rural vs urban life?
Patriarchy, cultural and traditional behaviour continues to play out more in rural areas resulting from poverty, lack of education and health facilities that compromise the position of females. This includes teenage pregnancy, SGBV, polygamy, and other issues. In urban areas, through social media and government initiatives, there has been a focus on encouraging females to complete education (e.g. through Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) programmes) and an incentive to take on professional positions. In Nairobi, many women are now in professional positions, such as managers, engineers and lawyers.
What other countries could we draw exampled form in terms of gender equity?
Rwanda is far ahead compared to other African countries resulting from gender integration in their development framework following the 1994 genocide. The World Bank gender portal suggests that women have 61% of seats in parliament, compared to its neighbours; 21% in Kenya, 34% in Uganda and 36.9% in Tanzania. There is a lot of focus on education. The UN Women report on Rwanda also states that they are leading on the numbers of signatories to the UN HeForShe campaign which aims at bridging the gender digital divide by tripling girls’ enrolment in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and eradicating gender-based violence in all its forms.
What has been your greatest challenge and how are you/have you overcome this?
Through my clients and network, the demand for gender mainstreaming in ESG and development is growing. So, I am currently working to build a network of experienced gender specialists in Africa and elsewhere to support this area of growth for Rise, covering all sectors. It is an area that I have always been deeply passionate about and I am determined to meet this important demand.
Youth exclusion at almost all levels is widespread. How do you convince a generation of young women that there is a better future for them?
Education and mentoring are the key to empowering young women to play more of a role in economic development. It is challenging to change cultural beliefs and social influences that often determine the role young women play, mainly in rural areas, and shift aspirations from young marriage and domesticity. However, if there is a platform where they can freely express themselves and are guided by mentors, then I believe this will empower gifted young women to fulfil their dreams and to inspire others. This includes young men who can also be vulnerable and sometimes engage in petty crime, alcoholism and SGBV if they feel that there are no opportunities and are unable to fulfil their social role.
I understand you’re also working Pan Africa and soon going to Sierra Leone – could you tell us about what you will be doing there?
I am leading social studies for an EU funded project aimed at constructing bridges at various points in rural areas to improve access. Currently, pedestrians and vehicles use makeshift cable ferries made from planks of wood. This is an important project for communities in these areas as it will open up the market, enhancing income opportunities, for both men and women in these areas, as well as improving access to education and other important services.
Where should we be drawing optimism from, that the ‘war’ against gender-based inequality, will be won?
If you look at gender indicators over time, positive changes are happening with education, employment and participation in decision making. The role of social media has a role to play in supporting this shift, without leaving men behind. This is crucial in the success of beating gender inequality as men face other challenges that are often hidden and must be addressed.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Natasha Ezekiel, Founder, Rise Sustainability Consulting