I'm writing this blog 'free solo' or 'on the fly' rather than my usual strategy of agonizing over the format, structure and wording and pasting a completed document into this blog space. I am supposed to be giving a presentation (see powerpoint slides attached above) at Dalhousie University via skype right now. The technology failed so here I am listening in and learning from others about their experiences. Hopefully, those who wanted to hear my presentation can read this summary and view the slides. I was also interviewed by a television news correspondent on some of these points earlier today so the main messages are still in focus.
In the presentation (link above), I highlight a few arguments that summarize some of the critiques that have emerged about Canada's feminist international assistance policy. I also note the limitations of a critical discourse analysis. While the policy document is important, research must also consider how the policy is (if at all) translating into practice. I provide evidence from three countries where we have collected data through semi-structured interviews (Malawi, Kenya and Uganda) and summarize the country partner perceptions of a feminist international assistance policy.
I end my presentation with a few recommendations:
1. A feminist foreign policy must be more than just a discursive shift in language. Promises must translate into practice. We are seeing some evidence now from partner organizations that can inform our work on feminist international assistance. Learning from our partners is essential for improving our policy framing.
2. Acknowledging and building on best practices in gender equality programming over the past thirty years of Canada’s development assistance programming is important for demonstrating sustained commitments and enduring leadership.
3. Defining feminism matters. Addressing a feminist approach through a transnational lens is crucial for country-level success. Distinguishing between a liberal and transformational feminist approach is essential.
4. Translating policy into practice means finding strategies that reflect feminist principles and turning them into concrete strategies for advancing gender equality. The FIAP needs to include time-bound commitments that are specific to gender equality outcomes.
5. Investing in feminist principles means ensuring that knowledge experts are actively engaged in the design and implementation of gender equality programming.
6. A feminist approach is a process-oriented approach. It means more than just what we focus on (gender equality and related approaches to address it). It also means focussing on how we do gender equality programming, how we measure changes, how we research impact, and how we make sense of those changes.
A few papers that cover some of these topics will be coming out soon. I will update this blog post with links to those articles when they are open to the public.
Each year, I have the opportunity to participate on a panel and talk to members of Canadian and other national military officers about women, peace and security. The panel focuses on a range of vulnerable groups including child soldiers, women and girls, etc. I always start this presentation by stating that I do not consider women a vulnerable group, nor do I use the language of ‘vulnerable groups’, preferring instead the language of ‘people in (temporary) situations of vulnerability’. Women – like all people –have diverse experiences, depending on a range of societal, cultural, economic and political factors and at different moments in their lives. Therefore, categorizing women as “a vulnerable group” is both inaccurate and potentially harmful.
The problem with categorizing ‘women as vulnerable group’ is explained well by the works of Charli Carpenter who critically examines how ‘‘women make better symbolic victims, especially in wartime, precisely because they—either as bystanders or as mothers of helpless children—can be seen as innocent.’’
The symbolism of vulnerability serves a particular purpose for media representations of conflicts. Three common images pervade the widespread media focus on the impact of conflict and war: the destruction of infrastructure, soldiers in action, and the ‘vulnerable women and children’. The latter images are often of groups of women and children walking long distances seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, or large groups of women and children waiting for donor assistance (food, medical treatment, etc.) These images perpetuate stereotypes of women’s passivity and helplessness, denying them agency and power in the processes of change.
One of the practical implications of this pervasive imagery is that it can undermine efforts to protect men and boys, failing to show the different kinds of vulnerability they experience (including, for example, kidnappings and forced combat roles). Stereotyping and generalizing about experiences in conflict can also lead to inadequate policy and programming, or to insufficient – or inappropriate - action.
Resolution 1325 – the United Nation’s commitment to recognize and address women’s specific conflict-related vulnerability and the importance of women’s participation in peace processes – underscores how women “are most vulnerable to conflict-related sexual violence” and experience other vulnerabilities. Identifying these vulnerabilities can be a good starting point when they are part of a gender analysis of power relations and when they do not overshadow other roles and experiences women have/can have in conflict and peace processes. The emphasis on women’s vulnerability, as well as assumptions of the impact of increased women’s participation in peace processes, as outlined in Resolution 1325 can have other unintended gender consequences (as Haastrap examines here).
Some of Canada’s previous policies and guiding documents on peace and security have also employed a highly essentialist language with regular use of the language of programs targeted at “vulnerable groups such as women and children”, critiques that are elaborated here.
Targeted efforts to support people in vulnerable situations are central to our defence, security and humanitarian work. The challenge is to strike the right balance between understanding causes and consequences of vulnerability without labeling entire groups as vulnerable. Without consideration of the diverse gendered experiences of people living through – and rebuilding after – conflict, programs will continue to target different groups in distinct ways.
Several strategies to enhance our work on women, peace and security to ensure we address vulnerability through a gender lens are possible.
1. Employing a feminist epistemology foundation: As Emma Swan and I argue here, we must also address “the broad, latent, and pervasive nature of gender inequality from the grassroots through to state institutions and the UN”. A feminist foreign policy that addresses gender and security recognizes the diverse needs and roles of women as well as patterns of gender inequality and the need for strategies to tackle structural changes in power dynamics and gender relations.
Feminist scholarship on security and development is an important starting point for uncovering the complex ways that gender inequality contributes to the particular experiences of women, and to other groups.[i]
2. Bringing in different perspectives, voices and knowledge from community partners: As Beth Woroniuk (2016) argues, we need to shift the way we understand security by bringing in different perspectives including those of “women peacebuilders and gender perspectives to the centre of conflict prevention and response”. For example, efforts to recognize and legitimate the efforts of human rights defenders, including women, are central to reducing conflict and shaping new policy, legal changes and practice. For more on human rights defenders, see this blog post.
Canada’s civil society organizations, such as those actively engaged in the Women, Peace and Security Network Canada (WPSN-C), are playing a central role in shaping the way we address gender inequality in conflict. Their efforts to ensure the voices, perspectives and knowledge of people directly affected by conflict have led to initiatives to increase funding for locally-based or ‘grassroots’ women’s organizations. These women’s organizations can be instrumental in employing culturally-effective and comprehensive strategies to engage community members in gender equality practices.
As these examples demonstrate, there are ways of recognizing the impact of conflict on women, and the opportunities for their participation in peace building, without falling into essentialist language of ‘women as a vulnerable group’. We’ve come a long way in our use of language to define the challenges some people may experience without labeling entire groups or essentializing their experiences. It is essential that we continue to recognize the limitations of terms such as “vulnerable groups” and be more intentional and deliberate in our efforts to represent and include diverse voices and perspectives in peace and conflict work.
[i] See Smith, Heather & Turenne Sjolander. 2012. Canada in the World: Internationalism in Canadian Foreign Policy, Toronto: Oxford University Press; Turenne-Sjolander, Claire, Heather Smith & Deborah Stienstra. 2003. Feminist Perspectives on Canadian Foreign Policy, Toronto: Oxford University Press; Tiessen, Rebecca & Baranyi, Stephen. 2017. Obligations and Omissions Canada’s Ambiguous Actions on Gender Equality. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press; and Woroniuk, Beth and Sarah Tuckey (2015) “Looking Back, Looking Forward”, WPS-C here.
I work for a post-secondary institution in Ontario, Canada. Over the years, post-secondary institutions have been increasingly focussed on opportunities for experiential learning. In 2019, the Ministry of Education for the Ontario Government unveiled its strategy for funding post-secondary institutions and one of the metrics is “the number and proportion of graduates in programs with experiential learning”. What does it mean to have a program with experiential learning? What are the spaces where effective experiential learning takes place?
The Ontario government defines experiential learning as learning “beyond the classroom” including workplace tours, job shadowing, mentoring, cooperative education and other apprenticeship or workplace exposure programs. The rationale for the Ontario government’s initiative is that students benefit from learning that goes beyond the classroom because it helps youth understand the diverse industries and jobs, exposes them to career options they may not know about, develops workplace skills, facilitates the application of their learning to the workplace, and informs their career and education paths to facilitate a smoother transition into the workforce.
I don’t take issue with any of these rationales. They all have merit. However, I find this definition and description very limiting for two reasons: 1. Education serves a purpose beyond job-readiness. Education is an opportunity to exercise our brain, to develop our communication skills, to grow our understanding on a range of important topics, and to learn how to become better citizens who are engaged in - and knowledgeable about - a range of issues. Experiential learning can enhance these skills by giving students the opportunity to develop communication skills with diverse members of the community, to explore different topics from a range of vantage points, and to practice civic engagement through activism or practical work experiences. 2.Experiential learning does not have to take place outside the classroom. Skills-building can happen in a range of learning environments. University classrooms are an excellent space for building the capacities needed for excelling in work and in community life. I elaborate on the importance of the classroom space for experiential learning below.
During a discussion on experiential learning with my work colleagues, several examples of strategies used to promote experiential learning within the classroom were shared. These examples included simulations, case studies, pitching proposals to a panel of judges (similar to ‘The Dragon’s Den’), designing three-minute presentations, group projects designed to teach students team-building skills, etc. The skills learned in these experiential learning examples are directly related to the skills needed in the workplace. These transferable skills can be learned in the classroom.
One reason for growing interest in community-based or workplace-focussed experiential learning might be explained by student demand for such opportunities. I’ve reviewed more than 800 student co-op reports over the past four years and have observed a tendency among students to view job-related work as practical, and academic study as exclusively theoretical. However, we know this is not true. Course work requires students to develop a range of highly practical skills from communication competencies to teamwork skills. Even theory can be highly practical for informing critical thinking and problem-solving. Perhaps we could do more to deliberately reinforce these skills and explain how practical classroom skills are transferable to careers.
Another reason for the demand for workplace experiences can be attributed to the perceived networking opportunities that arise from linking up with potential employers before graduation. This could true but I am not aware of research that has documented job success rates comparing in-class experiential learning with workplace experiential learning. Nevertheless, the perception of the importance of networking and on-the-job exposure is prevalent. At the very least, students can list workplace experiences on their CVs. It is worth noting, however, that in many instances, students can also be coached on how to articulate their range of skills and competencies on their CVs in ways that more fully reflect their knowledge and skills beyond listing places of work.
The issue is then more related to deliberate efforts to mentor students on how to identify and explain their competencies. A lack of concrete examples and limited opportunities for students to express what skills they have learned and how they have learned them is a challenge educators need to address. One strategy is to have students write cover letters at the end of the course to explain (using examples) how the skills they have learned in the course have prepared them for a job in their field of study.
There is also a tendency to introduce skills-building and experiential learning in upper level courses. First and second year students are often told they will gain that exposure later in the degree. Students would benefit from experiential learning and intentional skills-building much earlier in their studies.
When opportunities for workplace learning are available (whether through cooperative education, community service learning, etc.,), there is no guarantee that students will have the capacity to articulate the skills they have learned. The ‘learning’ part of experiential learning requires reflection between the workplace and the classroom.
Skills development through experiential learning does not happen haphazardly. Well-facilitated learning requires resources and dedicated staff who carefully link skills-building across experiential learning and theoretical content. Education and employment are commonly understood as one-directional (courses are meant to prepare students for the workforce). In my experience, it is rare for students to consider their academic studies as a space to reflect on what they learned in their co-op program. Well-facilitated learning means that experiential learning coordinators can play a role in shaping the multi-directional flow of knowledge and reflection.
There are many ways we can enhance the student experience through diverse forms of experiential learning. Students will benefit from a range of options and diverse experiential learning experiences throughout their studies. However, we would all benefit from a refocussing on the classroom as a space for experiential learning. In the classroom, a range of experiential learning tools can be employed to develop the transferable skills students will need to market themselves when they are ready for the workforce. Courses offered in institutions of higher education can also be the spaces where reflection on a range of “outside the classroom” experiences are more fully learned through guided discussions.
The Ontario government and post-secondary institutions need to consider the range of experiential learning options (inside and outside the classroom, and between these spaces) when they apply the metrics for post-secondary learning outcomes. Counting the number of co-op placements students have taken part in or the number of workplace tours completed will not be a useful indicator of learning or skills development.
I like to joke that when it comes to international volunteering, I am a ‘repeat offender’. Of course, my hope is that I offended as few people as possible and preferably no one. I have been an international volunteer in some capacity for various lengths of times on five programs in Zimbabwe (with UNA-Canada), Malawi (twice with WUSC), Tanzania and Vietnam (with Uniterra). My goal was always the opposite of offensive behaviour. International volunteering taught me cross-cultural understanding, fostered life-long friendships and shaped my understanding of the possibilities for – and pathways to – solidarity.
So much of what I do (for my professional work and my ongoing community volunteering) and who I am now (how I see the world, what I value, and how I understand differences and commonalities) is shaped by those experiences in my 20s, and again in my 40s.
It turns out I’m not alone. Canadians who participated in international volunteering programs also spoke of their time abroad as transformational. In a survey completed by 450 returned volunteers, we learned a lot about the nature of that transformational experience and some of those finding are summarized here.
The study of returned volunteer experiences was funded by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). A survey was administered in 2018 with a goal of learning more about the long-term impacts of international volunteering on prosocial behaviours (including ongoing volunteering and giving in Canada and abroad). With the help of a research team, and with input from volunteer cooperation program organizations, the survey was administered in French and English, analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively, and summarized in this report on The Effects of International Volunteering on Community-based Engagement in Canada.
In total, 77% of returned volunteers considered their time as an international volunteer a “transformational experience”. For those who considered their experiences transformational, they were also more likely to prioritize global assistance and to prioritize prosocial study or career choices focused on helping others.
When asked: “In what ways was your life changed by your international volunteer experience?” several respondents expressed an enhanced awareness and understanding of social and economic development issues. Other impacts identified by the survey respondents included the development of enhanced cross-cultural communication skills; increased empathy and openness as a result of volunteering internationally; and having more friends, acquaintances and contacts who live in other countries. Some noted they had gained skills in social justice and ethics. As one returned volunteer expressed, the international volunteering experience put them “much more in tune [with] and aware of the plight of people around the world.” The returned volunteers used the language of compassion and empathy to explain how she felt about her prosocial contributions. The impact of this empathy and reflection is a sense of duty or responsibility to act on this knowledge and “to build awareness amongst people here about the realities that people face overseas.”
The impacts of international volunteering experiences can also be measured in the positive contributions returned volunteers make in their home communities in Canada. Examples of local commitments included contributions to Canadian community associations; volunteer work with political parties or elections advocacy efforts; civic engagement with socio-economic issues at home, particularly with immigrant and Indigenous communities in Canada; and support to First Nations organizations or projects. As one participant elaborated: “[From] my first experience, I would say that my volunteering in Canada became more politically and social justice focused”. Concern with – and prioritization of – global issues can therefore be embedded in locally-based prosocial activities and volunteer work. Several participants noted how the international volunteer experience inspired their interests in working with newcomer communities in Canada. These RVs considered the experience one that taught relational skills, and as one person said: “I could really relate to their [newcomers’] experience being in a new country that they didn’t know, that they couldn’t speak the language. I am now a social worker working with refugees.” In reflecting on other work done to support immigrant communities in Canada, another participant wrote that the international volunteer placement renewed their “desire to work with immigrants” specifically in the areas of literacy and economic opportunities.
Several participants identified additional commitments to both global and local prosocial efforts including activities such as “serving on a board for a struggling non-profit in Canada [while also providing]… volunteer support to another organization in the Caribbean.”
Other survey participants highlighted the way the volunteer abroad experience resulted in major changes in their study direction or career focus. The career changes focused extensively on helping professions. Beyond specifically mentioning international development career paths, numerous survey participants reinforced the value of the international volunteering experience in terms of careers that enable them to engage generally in prosocial work – or work that allows them to help others.
In terms of transformational experiences, a quote from one international volunteer sums up the survey data findings, and my own experience, very well when she says the international volunteering experience is now “woven into the fabric of my life”.
* The arguments presented here are summarized from a journal article (under review as of November 18, 2019) authored by Rebecca Tiessen, Katelyn Cassin and Benjamin Lough. The research was made possible by the outstanding contributions of several research assistants, in particular: Pascale Saint-Denis, Katelyn Cassin, and Calla Barnett and with the generous support of Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
* The findings from this study will be presented at the Association for Research on Non-Profit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) conference in San Diego from November 21-24, 2019. For a copy of this conference paper, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog 7: Comprehensive Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR): Canadian Organizations Leading the Way for Change
For nearly two decades, Canadian governments have made maternal health a central priority in development aid programs. The Muskoka Initiative (or Maternal, Newborn and Child Health – MNCH - Initiative) was a prominent set of commitments arising out of the G8 meeting held in Canada in 2010. Recognizing the particularly slow progress in meeting Millennium Development Goal 5, G8 countries promised to mobilize an additional $5 billion to reduce maternal and newborn mortality between 2010 and 2015.
Canada’s initial commitments to address maternal health, however, were limited. The early MNCH programs lacked the comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programming needed to address a range of women’s sexual health needs and gendered structural barriers. One of the most significant challenges of the MNCH Initiative wad the emphasis on ‘walking wombs’, for which women were essentialized for their biological roles in the birth of children, with little or no focus on the rights of women to make decisions about their bodies, including spacing or terminating pregnancies. Canada’s MNCH commitments, in fact, rarely referred to women at all, referring instead nearly exclusively to mothers. More on this can be found in this article: Walking Wombs: Making Sense of the Muskoka Initiative and the Emphasis on Motherhood in Canadian Foreign Policy
Other challenges identified in relation to the MNCH Initiative pointed to Canada’s limited efforts to support maternal health needs within Canada, particularly among underserved indigenous women – an analysis that we explore in greater detail here in this collection by Heather Smith and Claire Sjolander (2013), and the paternalistic focus on ‘saving’ women, denying them their agency, as outlined in this blog post from 2014.
Civil society organizations (CSOs) dedicated to the promotion of feminist principles, gender equality and women’s empowerment have long-argued for a more comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) including, but not limited to, maternal health. A focus on SRHR means that individuals are able to make informed decisions about their reproductive lives and sexuality, that rights are at the heart of these programs, and that decision-making is free from violence, coercion or discrimination. Achieving SRHR will only happen when gender equality is central to the strategies employed.
The Canadian government, in 2019, responded to these calls for scaled-up SRHR commitments with an investment to the tune of $700 million a year by 2023. The comments are expected to continue over a ten-year period and is a component of Canada’s new $1.4 billion global health initiative. The 2019 commitments prioritize neglected and stigmatized areas of SRHR including comprehensive contraceptive care, safe and legal abortion, and adolescent SRHR (including comprehensive sexuality education) and support for advocacy.
Beyond the financial commitments, Canada has committed to the empowerment of 18 million women globally by increasing their access to critical, life-saving, and empowering services and information. As such, this approach applies a human right lens to sexuality and reproduction and covers four distinct and overlapping fields: sexual health, sexual rights, reproductive health and reproductive rights.
A coalition of Canadian organizations are working together to improve SRHR programming around the world through the Future Planning Initiative. The six Canadian organizations leading this charge call for programming that addresses several neglected areas in SRHR including: advocacy for SRHR, comprehensive contraceptive care, safe abortion care, adolescent SRHR, and comprehensive sexuality education.
Several priorities must remain at the centre of SRHR work to ensure that gender equality and feminist principles are at the heart of Canada’s programming, including:
I’ve mentioned WUSC (the World University Service of Canada) several times in previous blogs. This organization has played a big role in shaping my knowledge and understanding of international development over the years. I’ve benefited from a range of WUSC programs over the past 26 years as a Seminar participant in Indonesia in 1993, as applied research intern in Malawi in 1996, as a Development Worker in Malawi from 1996-1998, as a Board Member, local committee member, local committee faculty advisor, guest speaker, and most recently as an international volunteer in Vietnam and Tanzania through a joint WUSC and CECI program called Uniterra. This most recent experience working with WUSC is part of a broader collaborative research project to study the role and impact of international volunteers (see Blog 1 for more details on the content of the most recent research). For this blog post, I will share some reflections on the scholar/practitioner collaboration and what we have learned in the process.
In a forthcoming article in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies, we outline some of the benefits and challenges of scholar/practitioner collaboration. \ The paper was written by a team of scholars and practitioners: Jessica Cadesky (PhD student and practitioner), Jim Delaney (WUSC and Uniterra program manager), Benjamin Lough (Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and myself.
In this paper we argue that scholar/practitioner research collaborations provide opportunities for improved knowledge development in the study of international development volunteering (IDV). Our paper draws on data collected from 22 scholars and practitioners involved in IDV research, as well as notes from a workshop with 40 stakeholders from the IDV community. The findings from this study provide insights into opportunities for enhancing effective practices and designing new collaborative efforts for engaging in scholar/practitioner collaboration in IDV. The paper ends with a number of recommendations for improved scholar/practitioner collaboration including:
Blog 5: Fostering Creativity and Critical Thinking in Social Innovation Projects in International Development Studies
In 2018/2019, the Faculties of Social Sciences and Arts at the University of Ottawa received resources to promote social innovation initiatives on campus through the Ventures Program. Resources from this program included support for educational and pedagogical development in first and second year courses. My course (Introduction to International Development Part 2: Policy and Practice in International development) was one of the courses selected for this initiative.
The goal of the social innovation program is to foster opportunities for hands-on learning and entrepreneurial thinking to address social issues. Students are expected to develop transferable skills that will make them workforce-ready and to gain capacities they need to address complex societal challenges. In my course, we used project proposal applications and project pitches as the main outputs to demonstrate this learning.
I have often included project proposal writing as a learning tool in my courses. Proposal writing allows students to develop a range of skills that are useful for careers in international development and related fields. These skills include: researching a societal problem, documenting existing knowledge on the issue(s), and proposing a solution based on extensive research. Students are required to prepare budgets and design the strategy for conducting the research or project proposed. For this course, the new focus on social innovation was an easy transition and it was made easier with the knowledge and support of the Social Innovator in Practice who came to the class to share his experience and knowledge about social innovation (successes and failures).
In the course we covered a range of social innovation proposals and examined them through a critical lens. Societal problems are called “complex” for good reason. There are no easy solutions to poverty, social inequality, conflict or environmental disasters. The difficulty of addressing these challenges is exacerbated by lack of cultural understanding. The allure of quick fixes is, however, prevalent. Examples of problematic social innovations such as playpumps or soccket balls remind us that ‘development solutions’ need to make sense for the communities, be sustainable over the long-run, and be designed with community-based capacity-building in mind so the beneficiaries of these technologies have the skills and knowledge needed to maintain them. These examples also remind us that small-scale innovations are often band-aid solutions to much broader societal issues that require much more carefully planned development support. For example, if lack of electricity is a problem preventing children from having enough light to do their homework, then infrastructure for electricity supply should be the goal.
What I learned from this opportunity to facilitate social innovation thinking among students is that attempts to problem-solve are often the best way to reflect on the challenges and limitations of development solutions. The one thing (I hope) the students took away from this course is the need to consult widely with diverse groups, communities and development organizations and to work in collaboration with ongoing efforts to address societal problems. New ideas and fresh perspectives are always welcome. However, solving complex societal problems in international development requires strategizing with diverse stakeholders and experts.
This course has been one of the most exciting and interesting teaching opportunities I have had. Students were encouraged to think creatively and to reflect deeply on the challenges of problem-solving. They were given feedback from diverse perspectives (the course instructor and teaching assistants, the Social Innovator in Practice as well as community partners – especially through support provided by the World University Service of Canada). The students learned important skills. They prepared 3-minute presentations, designed visual presentations of their work, pitched their work to social entrepreneurs from the business community in Ottawa, and prepared substantial written proposals that were evaluated by a panel of judges.
Reflecting on the first year of teaching this social innovation course, one of the biggest concerns I have is with what appears to be an embracing of the “gig economy” and a general acceptance of the reality of precarious work. In so doing, we fail our students by limiting the discussions to how to adapt rather than why and how to react/resist. Not all societal changes should be welcomed or accepted without question. Students should be encouraged to think creatively and critically.
Several prizes were awarded to the students and I summarize some of their projects here:
Congratulations to these nine students who won prizes for their project proposals and also to the 100 other students in this course who challenged themselves to think creatively and critically about development solutions to societal problems at home and abroad.
How International Exposure and Global Engagement Can Support International Development: https://www.mcleodgroup.ca/blog/
The comments I share in this blog draw on my presentation notes from a panel on qualitative feminist methodologies for the WED Lab Webinar series. You can listen to the whole 2 hour session here. In this blog, I will briefly summarize what I mean by a qualitative feminist methodology, give some examples of how I’ve tried to integrate a feminist approach into my research, and conclude with some thoughts on how to scale-up and broader qualitative feminist methodology for data collection across different sectors.
The beautiful thing about a feminist methodology is that it recognizes and celebrates diverse forms of knowledge and ways of sharing that knowledge.
Three principles of feminist research (as outlined by Michele Ollivier and Manon Tremblay, 2000) include: 1. The construction of new knowledge and the production of social change (an activist orientation); 2. The grounding of research in feminist values and beliefs; and 3. Inclusivity and collaboration as guiding frameworks (interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary and diversity of voices).
To be activist in orientation means to consider and address power imbalances in research and to be politically motivated to alter social inequalities. This means that feminist research should begin by including the experiences of women and other marginalized groups but must also aspire to actively involve marginalized groups in the process of data collection and the sharing of the information (including sharing ownership of the findings).
There are many benefits to a qualitative feminist research approach. It brings in diverse and unheard stories, and is rich in detail and analysis. There are also several challenges. Qualitative feminist research can be a long process, involving many choices and inputs from different stakeholders. Qualitative feminist research often benefits from a collaborative process, drawing on expertise of diverse knowledge holders and actively engaging these groups in the research and analyses stages. Therefore, feminist research partnerships can be labour-intensive and time consuming, often with lengthy training and mentorship components.
One of the biggest challenges of feminist methodology is that the target is always moving. Feminist researchers are continuously striving for more inclusive and participatory approaches to ensure shared ownership throughout the research stages.
I was part of a team of researchers who employed a feminist methodology for our research analysis in 2017. The research team (Kate Grantham, Ben Lough and I) hired, trained and mentored nine emerging scholars from the Global South to analyse data, prepare reports and communicate their findings in the form of sole-authored journal articles that were all published in 2018 in Voluntaris Journal. This research experience was highly rewarding but also limited by the fact that the research was designed exclusively by Global North scholars. The questions, the data collection, the research subjects, etc., were all selected by researchers in the North.
As an aspirational methodology, feminist research means finding ways to scale up our efforts and to do more to change the relationships of inequality. Moving forward, we are actively engaging in collaborations with Global South partners to determine what topics need to be researched, what questions need to be asked and how to design the research process with greater input from partners in the Global South.
There is even more to do. I continue to think about how to bring qualitative feminist research methods into other sectors. How can development practitioners and funding organizations employ the techniques of feminist methodology to inform monitoring, evaluation and learning processes? Fortunately, I get to work with development practitioners who share the same goals. I also get to work with outstanding feminist scholars and researchers who share my desire and aspirations for a more inclusive, participatory and equitable research agenda.
This morning I woke up to a Twitter thread titled: “Beliefs in academia that need to die… ”. One inspiring Canadian academic responded with the following: “That universities don’t need to teach careers skills because students inevitably acquire critical thinking, writing, teamwork, and/or numeracy over the course of their degree programs”. Her comment is the inspiration for this blog and it prompted some additional considerations that are at the heart of this blog post: how can we best teach the skills students need and what role do post-secondary institutions play in facilitating this learning?
In addition to those important skills mentioned above, students also need competencies to ensure they can work effectively in cross-cultural contexts and/or in teams comprised of diversity. Or, as stated in the Report of the Study Group on Global Education: “The current generation of young Canadians will need to be comfortable working with people from different backgrounds”.
In order for young Canadians to develop these cross-cultural skills and competencies they need exposure. There are many ways to facilitate learning with people from different backgrounds including ‘internationalization at home’ or locally based global learning through community service learning opportunities with newcomers and with other diverse groups (a topic for another blog so stay tuned). Here I address some core considerations for international experiential learning and outbound mobility.
In a 2016 study conducted by John Cameron (Dalhousie University) and myself involving survey responses from 1901 graduates of International Development Studies (IDS) in Canada, students highlighted the value of experiential learning for being competitive in the job market. Overwhelmingly, IDS graduates perceived experiential learning as beneficial for furthering their knowledge learned in the classroom, developing new skillsets, and networking with potential employers. The findings are discussed in greater detail in this paper.
International experiential learning and outbound mobility can be particularly valuable learning and skills-building opportunities. However, several barriers to student outbound mobility prevent Canadians from studying/working abroad including the cost of international travel (including the cost of giving up jobs or the expense of year-long leases), family or community obligations, and other concerns of perceived safety, accessibility, and implications for academic study progress.
Some of these barriers are being addressed through Canada’s recent initiative to increase student mobility opportunities. In 2019, the Government of Canada committed to $147.9 million over five years followed by $8 million per year of ongoing funding for its new International Education Strategy. The Strategy includes funding designated for Canadian students (particularly those students who face some of the biggest barriers to going abroad) to gain new skills through study and work abroad opportunities in key global markets around the world.
This is good news for Canada and for Canadians. The success of this initiative will depend, however, on a number of factors: