Long Read

A Women-centred Approach: the needs of women and girls as starting point

Simavi focuses on improving the lives of women and girls specifically, because they face greater challenges in achieving a healthy life than men and boys. To ensure that women can pursue their right to health, it is essential that their specific needs and priorities are taken into account.

To realise that, women need to have the same opportunities as men, equal access to resources and be able to equally participate in decision making processes. The realisation of equality between women and men, and the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women are fundamental human rights and United Nations values.

Despite this, persisting gender inequality prevents women from realising their sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as well as their rights to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). Therefore, we are committed to working towards gender equality and to do that, we place women and girls centre stage in our work.

What is a Women-centred Approach?

Simavi uses the term Women-centred Approach when referring to a way of working that responds to women’s and girls’ needs, strategic interests and priorities, as defined and brought forward by women themselves.

We test our assumptions on women’s and girls’ needs and priorities, ask how they experience existing gender roles and equality, and ask for their feedback on the solutions that we have in mind. To do this, we invest in finding ways and means, to engage the women and girls themselves what their experiences, realities, barriers and perceptions are. We listen, often with, or through, our implementing partners or other human rights organisations, to understand, recognise and respect that each woman’s needs and lived experiences are different, unique and complex.

A feminine lens: engaging women at every stage of our programmes

With our Women-centred Approach we aim to engage and involve women at all stages of our programmes. This means that when designing them, we make every effort to collect existing data and research, conduct needs assessments and bring women and girls together in groups to create a safe space, to identify their needs and priorities.

Where possible we further engage women and girls in the design of programme interventions to help ensure that these meet their needs. Throughout the programme, we seek to find innovative ways to include women and girls in monitoring activities and regularly ask their feedback on the implementation of a programme. Throughout the programme and during evaluations, we also ask for feedback on what interventions worked well and what was less successful. And lastly, we ask for suggested improvement.

Inclusion from a Women-centred perspective

For inclusion we take into account that women and girls are not homogeneous groups and make every effort to include women and girls who are most marginalised in their communities. When adopting a Women-Centred Approach, we acknowledge that women have diverse interests and needs, based on differences in ethnicities, age, education, geography etc. Because it’s important to understand the women we work with, who they are, what they do, their Sexual Reproductive Health needs, their opinions and what they want to achieve.

Involving men to fulfil Women-centred needs, interests and priorities

Working through a Women-Centred Approach does not mean we exclude men from our programmes.

It just means that we make an extra effort to put women at the centre of our work. Very often, men hold key positions in the communities we work in. Through those positions, they play an important role in providing women access to information, health services and participation in decision-making. In our programmes, men are thus an important target group and can become ‘male change agents’ capable of challenging other men, and therefore supporting a shift to equal access and participation of men and women.

A Women-centred Approach: methodologies and tools

There are several methodologies that we use as part of our Women-Centred Approach. For example, in designing our programmes we use ‘personas’. Through the design of actual ‘personas’ that are based on information from research, the tool helps us to understand the needs, priorities and risks of specific groups of women we work with, in their own context. The personas have for example been used by Simavi in the Our Lives, Our Health, Our Futures programme.

Other powerful tools are the EA$E (Economic and Social Empowerment) and EMAP (Engaging Men in Accountable Practices) methodologies designed by the IRC that Simavi adapted and uses in the Golden Line programme.

Both models are proven to be effective in reducing violence and increasing women’s decision-making autonomy. The EA$E groups provide community women a safe space where they share and learn from their experiences and needs and where they build relationships, gain trust and feel solidarity. The EA$E groups also include a saving and building business skills component. And additionally, women in these groups are informed on their sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Start the conversation

Share this article

Related stories