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Being born female shouldn’t mean having less access to healthcare, education, or safety. Unfortunately, that is the experience of women and girls all over the world.

Some experts estimate that more than 70 percent of people living in absolute poverty are women and that two-thirds of uneducated children are girls.

That’s why the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) has made gender equality a central component of all its programs. It’s also why a team of CRWRC staff and partners met in Senegal to review gender programs and share best practices.

“In many parts of the world women are seen as second-class citizens,” said CRWRC-Bangladesh staff member Kohima Daring. “But women are valued by God, and CRWRC’s job is to help communities understand this and work for gender equality.”

During its time in Senegal, the gender evaluation team reviewed case studies of CRWRC programs around the world. In Niger, for example, CRWRC staff visited communities and encouraged leaders to get input from males and females alike. They also addressed community needs, including issues that were important to women.

When women saw that they were heard and included, they began to speak up. As men saw how improvements for women made positive impacts on families and communities, they became more open to new ideas.

“Women in savings groups were initially awarded smaller loans than men, due to pressure from the men in the group,” said CRWRC-Niger staff member Harouna Issaka. After two years, the women had demonstrated that they were just as capable of managing loans as were the men. Today, gender makes no difference in loan amounts.

The evaluation team also visited project sites to talk with program participants.

“This program has changed the way I feel about myself, encouraged me to share with my parents, given me courage to tell men to leave me alone, and now I can make good choices and decisions,” said a teenage girl who is part of a youth program organized by one of CRWRC’s partners, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Senegal.

Through the process, the team gleaned successful methods, techniques, and activities to share with the whole organization and made recommendations for how CRWRC can enhance gender-equality efforts, including surrounding the work with prayer, increasing staff knowledge and skills, and reminding staff to be sensitive to context while also challenging cultures with God’s truth.

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