Dianova International – we need a gender-based approach

By Denise Nanni und Milena Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following, our interview with Montse Rafel, General Director of the organization Dianova International, operating at an international level in humanitarian, social, and health projects. Would like to thank Montse for her important impulses and suggestions.
What are the main aims of Dianova?
Dianova is an international NGO composed of associations and foundations operating on four continents (Americas, Asia, Africa and Europe). The Dianova Network’s ordinary members share a common mission to develop initiatives and programs with the objective of promoting personal self-reliance and social progress – however, they more specifically develop interventions in the health, social and humanitarian fields. Dianova’s purpose is based on the conviction that, with the appropriate support, each person will be able to find within him/herself the resources necessary to achieve success in his/her personal development and social integration.

What are your main actions concerning gender-related issues?
Gender equality is at the forefront of the policies of Dianova. We are strongly committed to the empowerment of women, actively combating discrimination and promoting access to education, particularly in rural areas, so that women and girls can more and more become a vehicle for cultural change and community development. In this respect, our goal is to mainstream the gender perspective into all of our actions. It is our understanding that in order to overcome gender inequality and discrimination we need to shift from a model which only addresses women’s practical needs to a comprehensive integration of the gender perspective throughout all of our programmes, at every level.
For example, we believe that when designing a project one must always consider the implications of the planned actions in regard to the different groups affected. One must consider their gender, ethnicity, class, religion and every other factor that may limit these groups’ capabilities to benefit from opportunities in an equal manner. The following step is to determine the measures that should be integrated into a given project in order to guarantee equal participation of men and women, to address the specific needs of each group, to eliminate barriers to women’s empowerment, and to overall contribute to gender equality among the targeted group and their community. The better we manage to address these issues, the closer we will get to beating the traditional gender norms and to achieving gender equality in all fronts.
At Dianova we are committed to applying this exercise both for internal policies and external programmes. At the organizational level, the member organizations of the Dianova Network have for example achieved full gender parity in their human resources management policy, and at the programme level, gender-sensitive approaches have been developed in their programmes: in Chile, for instance, a residential treatment programme specifically focuses on the needs of women in situation of social vulnerability and facing difficulties with substance use (alcohol and other drugs). This programme helps those women connect with social integration agencies and supports them in their efforts to improve their living conditions and regain control over their lives. Likewise, in Spain Dianova manages several centres for asylum seekers and other beneficiaries of international protection and their families. The two-phase programme is based on an intervention plan tailored to each person’s specific needs based on an individualized assessment of the latter. This model is particularly valuable for women and girls as it thoroughly addresses cultural and social barriers to women’s empowerment, thus facilitating their access to education and work.
Why are women refugees considered more vulnerable, as compared to men?
Conflicts, persecution, and political instability are putting the lives of millions of women, men and children at risk, generating a great flow of forcibly displaced people globally. The overall inability of governments to agree on coordinated measures to protect and assist this extraordinary amount of refugees in search of safety is making everyone vulnerable. In this context, different groups of people experience particular challenges related to their gender, religion, ethnicity, level of education, etc. Men are often targeted by the criminal justice system in countries of destination; Muslim groups face acts of xenophobia; and in many ways children are deprived of education, of public services, and ultimately, of their own childhood.
We strongly believe that women refugees are much more vulnerable than their male counterparts due to pre-existing forms of vulnerabilities. In many cases, these vulnerabilities have reached appalling magnitudes among women living in conflict zones, thus forcing them to flee their homes. Violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and assault, abuse, discrimination and neglect are added to the already critical pile of challenges shared by all people on the move, in temporary settlements, refugee camps, and reception centres, in their own or foreign countries. In this regard, the latest UNHCR Review of Gender Equality in Operations (2016) has shown that despite the existing efforts targeting women and girls in these contexts, the need to invest in their protection and empowerment is still extremely high.
Nevertheless, resources in refugee settlements and camps are often limited. Under such circumstances, rights have been prioritized sometimes unduly, and the voices and needs of women have often been left out of the decision-making tables. It is in this scenario that Dianova defends that efforts to achieve gender equality, promote women’s empowerment and protect women’s rights, safety and freedom must not be forgotten, undermined or eclipsed in face of the comprehensive list of needs experienced by all refugees. Hence the importance of mainstreaming the gender perspective in all policies and programmes addressing refugees as well as migrants.
The lack of responsiveness to refugee women’s specific needs is creating extra layers of vulnerability for this group: for instance, access to women specific healthcare services are limited or inexistent; women survivors of sexual and other form of gender-based violence lack accountability measures and they are often left unprotected, surrounded by the perpetrators and susceptible to further abuse; many refugee women are recruited in violation of the legal provisions that are in effect, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation of different sorts; in refugee camps, barriers for girls to access education can also be aggravated; etc.
Likewise, the disregard to the gender perspective in the design, implementation and evaluation of refugees’ programmes and policies contribute to the maintenance of traditional gender relations, norms and roles. Such blatant disregard of gender perspective therefore contributes to maintaining the barriers that prevent  refugee women and girls to thrive, whether in the settlements they are placed in while refugees or afterwards. It is for these reasons that Dianova will take advantage of the 61th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women to call upon Members States to address the specific needs of women refugees and migrants in the programmes and policies discussed at the United Nations and other international fora.


Why should drug abuse be considered through a gender perspective?
Women in particular appear to face numerous barriers to treatment. According to the World Drug Report 2015, even though 1 out of 3 drug users is a woman, only 1 out of 5 drug users in treatment is a woman.
Addressing addiction from a gender perspective allows clinicians to consider the effects of gender socialization. Clinicians need to identify the specific issues that affect women, and the effects of undergoing socialization as women. These issues and effects influence women’s histories of using drugs (motivation, relapse process, substance use patterns, etc.)
One of the main obstacles to women entering a treatment programme is the lack of appropriate services (for example, it is difficult to find child care or accommodate fixed schedules). To meet these needs, Dianova’s programmes may include children as a part of the intervention. This entails providing physical spaces for children (day care) and staff who specialize in caring for children. Programmes also include development workshops dedicated to promoting adherence to treatment and to providing tools that encourage healthier relationships. These strategies help avoid repeating childhood patterns affected by violence or negligence.
Programs have also flexible schedules and provide better access, with clinicians going to the homes of users. This is especially important for mothers with infants, who may not be able to leave their homes. Flexible schedules include longer hours that allow access for users who work and are unable to visit a clinic during normal business hours. Consequently, compliance among these patients has improved.
In Dianova Chile Dianova offers long-term residential treatment program for women with or without dependent children, or pregnant. With a 47-people capacity, three facilities incorporate children into treatment and help promote parental bonding and attachment. Together with the treatment programme, women in these centres receive training and raise their awareness towards gender issues (such as violence, women and children rights, etc.) and are able to help other women in their respective environments.
How do you advocate women’s rights at the international level?
Dianova has a strong and growing presence in civil society international platforms and in transnational organizations. In addition, we participate in a number of thematic technical commissions at the national and international levels. Individually or organized in networks of NGOs, Dianova advocates for personal, social and community development at international organizations such as the Unites Nations and the Organization of American States.
In New York, Dianova is an active member of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, joining civil society efforts year round to push for women’s rights and gender equality at the United Nations. Likewise, Since 2013 Dianova’s representatives have attended the UN yearly sessions of the Commission on the Status of Women in NY, addressing member states with statements, organizing parallel events with partner NGOs, and this year also being involved in the preparations for the civil society fora taking place during the two-week long sessions in March.


Furthermore, Dianova advocates for women’s rights and gender equality in all international platforms we are part of, pushing for the mainstream of gender perspective in thematic debates related to migration, education, substance abuse, and mental health. We build and strengthen Dianova’s relationships with NGOs and international organizations in order to boost international campaigns, release joint statements, and enhance our overall capacity to influence political decisions at all levels and secure an equal and fair society for all.