Jijiga Refugee Camp (Ethiopia)

Gender, rights and development

The main framework guiding all our work is the Gender, Rights and Development approach developed by KIT Gender in collaboration with leading southern and northern organisations in the field of gender and development and women’s rights. While several strands of thought and practice have been brought together in its development, this framework draws on gender and development theory and practice, human rights and feminist methodologies to address a practical question: how can development organisations make rights real for the majority of people in a gender-just way?

Why the framework

This framework was developed in response to three problems that gender and development practice has encountered: first, that gender mainstreaming in development has neither retained its transformatory potential nor obliged institutions to respond to and correct gender inequalities; second, a focus on rights in development has not automatically furthered women’s rights and promoted greater equality; and finally, despite the global rights talk there has been consistent failure of rights implementation through development.

What is the framework

Rights are justified claims that one person has over others – other people, groups, organisations, states –  and ‘human rights express the bold idea that all people have claims to social arrangements that protect them from the worst abuses and deprivations – and that secure the freedom for a life of dignity.’ (UNDP, Human Development Report 2000, p 2). However, not all people are recognised as rights claimants by those institutions responsible for development resources.

The Gender, Rights and Development approach is premised on the conceptual understanding that peoples’ ability to be recognised as rights claimants and make claims for distribution of development resources (as for example health, education, agricultural and financial services) is affected by their social position. Gender as a social relation positions girls/women and boys/men in hierarchical relations produced by the perceptions of their relative worth and treatment by families, communities, state and market institutions. This affects opportunities they can access and constraints their experience and limits a girl’s agency relative to a boy’s in claiming rights, for example, the right to education.

Rights implementation in development occurs at three levels: the policy level which sets up the nature of the entitlement, who is entitled to programme resources, and the nature of the obligation; the administration and planning level which decides on how the entitlement is delivered, and in so doing interprets the nature of the entitlement and who is entitled; and finally the implementation level which further interprets what the right is and who should have it through the actions of programme staff. This means that in order to implement rights there is need to ensure that there are mechanisms for participation and ‘voice’ expression of affected groups, while at the same time putting in accountability mechanisms at each level to ensure that those responsible are answerable for the outcomes promised in the right.


We have applied the GRD approach in capacity building programmes for large multilateral institutions,  and international NGOs. The common problem they faced was despite gender policies and corporate commitment, programmes were failing to address gender inequalities. Our approach assisted these organisations to understand the relevance of gender equality outcomes to their mission; to articulate equal rights in concrete programmatic outcomes; and to specify accountability mechanisms.

The GRD approach has also been used in research as for example in investigating issues affecting girls’ access to and completion of lower secondary education. Our starting point was to frame the research topic in ways that allowed for an investigation of the recognition and redistributive failures at different institutional levels leading to girls not being able to access their right to secondary education.

We have also been able to use this approach in policy work as with the  policy paper developed on Gender, rights and energy commissioned by Danida for Rio+20 and which has resulted in new perspectives of looking at gender and energy going beyond simply adding gender to the mainstream analysis of the energy sector.


Gender and Rights A resource guide