Gender and Social Inclusion at RECONOMY: Right Size Fits All
For Market Systems Development (MSD) programs that embrace learning, the end of the inception phase offers an excellent opportunity to pause, reflect, and pivot. RECONOMY — an MSD program of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), implemented by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation in the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkan countries — seized this opportunity and commissioned a study of its inception phase. The RECONOMY’s Inception Phase: Lessons on how to navigate complexity case study yielded several insights including one which focused on the program’s Gender and Social Inclusion (GSI) work. Since the publication of the case study, RECONOMY has made some operational adjustments.
This piece showcases some of these pivots and provides examples of RECONOMY’s inclusive approach in action, with a focus on gender and social inclusion.
How RECONOMY is rightsizing GSI Resources
From the beginning of the inception phase, RECONOMY has been clear that GSI is everyone’s responsibility. Messages from senior management have reinforced the idea that GSI requires the engagement and contribution of every team member as well as implementing partners. By acknowledging shared ownership in promoting GSI, RECONOMY assists partners to design interventions that are genuinely inclusive. However, the program recognized that as interventions mature and greater facilitation is required to drive systemic change, it was necessary to strengthen existing capabilities with a full-time GSI Manager. This additional capacity will enable the program to be more responsive to the opportunities presented by implementing partners and market actors.
Crafting Definitions of Inclusion, One Country at a Time
RECONOMY incorporated the case study recommendations to improve clarity over what groups it intends to target across countries. There is now a shared understanding that RECONOMY aims to positively impact women and youth, including the most disadvantaged and excluded. The latter are being identified in each country against three drivers of exclusion: socio-economic status, location, and health. The process emphasizes the importance of grounding definitions to the various contexts and taking intersectionality into account. This will enable RECONOMY to design interventions that effectively address the challenges faced by the most disadvantaged and excluded, promote their inclusion in the economy, and work towards sustainable and equitable growth while accounting for contextual differences in each of the targeted countries.
Countering Stereotypes that Undermine Women’s Role in High-Value Activities
The program has piloted several successful tactics that promote access to high-value opportunities for women. Some of these include:
Removing barriers for women to access high-value economic sectors. Women continue to face challenges and barriers in the field of programming and IT in the countries in which RECONOMY operates. Gender stereotypes perpetuate the belief that technical fields are more suitable for men, resulting in a significant underrepresentation of women in the sector. This lack of representation is further reinforced by the scarcity of visible female role models. RECONOMY is committed to breaking this vicious cycle. To tackle this, the program is exploring opportunities for targeted advocacy efforts aimed at challenging gender stereotypes in education and in the labor market. This includes partnering with education institutions and the private sector to create awareness and promote inclusivity, emphasizing the negative impact of losing talent, skills and overall diversity in the industry. RECONOMY acknowledges the importance of inclusive and targeted advertising to boost women’s enrollment in training opportunities focused on professions traditionally perceived as male-dominated. This involves motivating training institutions to post advertisements for training opportunities on platforms with a significant female viewership, such as social media platforms, online communities, and relevant websites catering to women’s interests and professional development. Additionally, featuring success stories of women who have excelled in the field related to the course can serve as inspiration and motivation for prospective female participants. This video shows an example of RECONOMY’s innovative work which resulted in the training of Ukrainian refugees in UI/UX design in Moldova by the Beetroot Academy.
Victoria—one of the training participants in UI/UX design
Raising the visibility of ‘mompreneurs’. Cultural and social expectations deter mothers from returning to work by placing greater emphasis on their caregiving responsibilities. Similarly, the lack of accessible daycares and support networks restrain mothers’ ability to return to work. A freelancing career, while not being a solution to all such issues, offers several benefits to mothers, including a flexible schedule and the ability to work from. However, many women are hesitant to pursue a freelance career due to the belief that it is out of reach for them. RECONOMY challenged this misconception and supported the representation of women in IT by showcasing the potential of a freelancing career for women. In North Macedonia, RECONOMY worked with Women in Tech, a partner organization to host a ‘mompreneurs’ event during the Global Entrepreneurship Week. The event aimed to attract as many mothers as possible to join the freelancing community. Four exceptional mother entrepreneurs and company founders served as role models, attending the event, and sharing their success stories. Through their testimonials, they helped overcome doubts, build trust, and inspire other attending mothers. This event challenged the prevailing misconception that a freelancing career in tech is out of reach for women.
Women in Tech event
Promoting lasting inclusivity in female-dominated sectors. MSD projects often assume that by targeting sectors which mostly employ women, such as the textile industry, they will achieve inclusive outcomes and promote women’s economic empowerment. But this assumption rarely holds true: despite women forming the backbone of the textile industry’s workforce, gender inequality in the sector tends to remain pervasive. Women are frequently paid less than their male counterparts, occupy lower qualified and lower paid positions, face limited career advancement opportunities, and experience workplace violence, harassment, and discrimination. Additionally, they often lack representation and influence in decision-making processes. Furthermore, as sectors undergo transformation, including growing digitalization, there is a risk that traditionally female-dominated sectors, such as textiles and apparel, becoming less inclusive by demanding competencies primarily found in male-dominated fields like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Mathematics). In response, under a pilot intervention in Armenia and Moldova, RECONOMY partnered with eight large textile companies in the two countries where skilled designers and students supported the factories to develop collections (180 women trained throughout the project). Under another pilot intervention targeted towards the textile sector, female employees and freelancers were supported in applying social media skills, innovative digital solutions, as well as an upcycling approach meeting the increasingly green requirements from consumers (111 women trained).
Social Media Marketing course
Want to know more?
These are just some examples. Visit the Inclusiveness and Equality section of the RECONOMY Knowledge Hub to learn more about RECONOMY’s GSI work and insights and stay updated on progress and results.