UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
You are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.

Swiss National Commission for UNESCO
MOST Committee
Christine Verschuur and François Hainard


12-17 November 2000
also available in French

  1. Introduction
  2. Objectives of Meeting
  3. Course of Events
  4. General Appraisal
  5. Appraisal of Research Results
  6. Assessment of the Network
  7. Draft Agenda for Phase Two
  8. Preparations for Phase Two
  9. Disseminating Research Results
  10. List of Participants

1. Introduction

The UNESCO-MOST Programme approved the Cities, Environment and Gender Relations project—submitted by the Swiss National Commission for UNESCO— in June 1996. The following year, a network of seven teams of researchers embarked upon three years of comparative research that continued through to the end of 1999. Its findings, delivered in 2000, have been collated and are due to be published shortly.

MOST proposed to arrange a network meeting in Cuba, where the head of one of the research teams is based.

2. Objectives of Meeting

The meeting set out to:

  • Appraise the network’s first three years of research action;
  • Foster network-wide thinking on how the findings can be incorporated into the defining of new public policies;
  • Prepare a follow-up phase of network research and action, with priority areas defined according to phase one findings and the priorities of MOST and DDC (the Swiss cooperation agency).

3. Course of Events

The meeting took place in Havana (Cuba) from 12 to 17 November 2000. It included:

  • A brief round-up of progress since the São Paolo seminar (17-25 September 1999), and a general team-by-team appraisal of the research;
  • A brief introduction to the work/programmes of guest participants not belonging to the network: women’s labour and globalization in Mexico, including recent developments in the maquilas, etc.; gender mainstreaming and the UNCHS/UNEP Sustainable Cities Programme; UNESCO’s Unit for the Promotion of the Status of Women and Gender Equality;
  • Visits to districts of Havana where the Dominican Republic team manager has been working for a number of years, and where a range of interesting initiatives have sought to foster grass-roots participation in neighbourhood renovation;
  • A round table session at UNESCO Havana Office to present the main findings;
  • Critical analysis of the network’s functioning;
  • Discussions about the project’s future (DDC having accepted the principle of a second phase just two days before this meeting was due to begin).
The list of participants (see Appendix) included the Latin American and African research team managers, the project co-ordinator at UNESCO-MOST in Paris, and the Swiss-based project co-ordinating team. Also participating in the round table debate at UNESCO Havana Office were a number of Cuban municipal managers and social scientists, members of the UNESCO Havana Office staff, and a representative of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) who had been visiting Cuba at the time to work on issues relating to participatory urban planning.

4. General Appraisal

The field visits—given Cuba’s unique socio-economic and political context—were of great interest to all participants. They shed new light on questions raised within the framework of the project’s research.

Conceptual exchanges were highly enriching. They showed how much thinking had been done during the course of the research; the level of research capacity-building that most teams had attained; the importance of a network conducting research built on common conceptual foundations; the wide-ranging experiences of local populations in the various survey fields.

In-depth, qualitative research conducted over a lengthy period of time was clearly seen to provide a useful illustration of the work and thinking that can be developed by operational programmes not adhering to the same perspectives. And the way those programmes perceive social transformations can, in turn, serve as interesting inputs for our research.

The co-ordinating team regards such meetings—between researchers conducting in-depth studies of transformation processes and managers of rather more "condensed" programmes—as having much to gain from broad-based group discussions. Original plans to bring municipal managers (in charge of technical and policy-related matters) together with representatives from the grass-roots organizations studied, however, proved unfeasible. This was unfortunate, as an exchange of ideas between those actors seems to be a prerequisite for debating the construction of new public policies. That said, we were able to count on the extremely useful presence of new participants belonging to international development agencies.

5. Appraisal of the Research Results

Each team gave an account of its research of the previous three years, presenting, inter alia, the questions it had set out to investigate, and its main conclusions. Appraisals of the network’s functioning were reserved for discussion later in the week.

To set an agenda that will guide us through phase two of our research, we must extract the findings that the various team reports had in common, and highlight the new questions raised through the comparison of ideas, survey fields and issues that has been made possible by working as a network.

  • Notwithstanding their role in defining and implementing environmental or neighbourhood management initiatives, and despite their desire for a say in decision-making, women find themselves prevented from playing a full and active part in public life alongside the men by all manner of obstacles and resistance: identity-related, cultural, social, economic, political.
  • When women are found to be engaging in policy-related activities, it tends to be a "covert" involvement that never earns them recognition or legitimacy. It makes those activities—major openings though they may be—hard to institutionalize and sustain.
  • When politics is shown not to be restricted to either the formal or exclusively public arena, changes in—or the upkeep of—traditional gender relations within the private sphere are seen to impact on the public and vice versa. This tallies with our theory that for the emergence and confirmation of changes in development paradigms to occur, there must be changes in gender relations as well, and vice versa.
  • Changes in gender relations and environmental changes are closely related and must be compounded with the question of greater gender equality in decision-making (especially environment-related).
  • Aspects such as bolstering women’s economic or organizational capacities (women’s groups, associations, networks, etc.) have, in combination with other factors, a decisive influence in efforts to redress gender-biased access to decision-making.
  • Training, in combination with other factors, remains essential to help remove the obstacles.
  • A political will on the part of the authorities, in combination with other factors, serves to further the necessary changes in gender relations for more gender-balanced participation in public life. There generally tends to be some reluctance to allow a significant transfer of jurisdiction and power to other governing bodies. This prompts us to consider the issue of urban governance through the prism of gender and the environment.

6. Assessment of the Network

This being a critical assessment, greater attention was paid to network dysfunctions and shortcomings than to positive aspects. Since results, on the whole, were satisfactory, we begin with a brief look at the latter:

  • Working together as a network has proved conducive to innovative thinking;
  • Network seminars (four global and two regional to date) have given the various research teams an opportunity to exchange thoughts, ideas, points of view, methodology notes etc., and to visit the other teams’ survey fields. It has provided them with food for thought, opened their minds to different approaches, and allowed them to engage in ever-enriching and beneficial mutual critique;
  • Links—both working relations and bonds of friendship—have been forged across the network, and have withstood the inevitable outbreaks of dissension caused, in the main, by inter-cultural communication difficulties. These links have assured the continuity of the network’s research in all its varied yet interrelated forms. This is seen in the constant interest shown in these privileged spells of network exchange, and the positive appraisals made of them at the end.
Problems, however, have arisen in the following areas:
  • The confusion of roles played by the co-ordinating team—running a network, directing the research at a scientific level, managing project administration, etc.—has been detrimental. Inspecting research expense accounts has been the most difficult area of all, creating unease in some quarters and making teams feel that the co-ordinators do not fully trust them;
  • The smooth running of the network has been beset by a number of technical problems: a weak command of computer-based tools; floods of incoming e-mail messages; difficulties with written French; remoteness of certain survey fields from the researchers’ homes; some teams having trouble at times with the intense pace of the work; budgets in some places failing to account for the cost of living;
  • Separate objectives exist for DDC and for MOST. Both seek to make substantial contributions to the network’s themes, the main aim being to produce knowledge. While MOST pays particular attention to the processes aimed at building scientific networks likely to support decision-making, as well as to exchanging research data and findings, however, DDC’s interest lies in networks producing knowledge that can enhance its development cooperation practices and support its thinking. These two objectives need to be even more clearly expressed for the sake of harmonious progress. Capacity-building is another shared objective that is conducive to network research;
  • Inter-personal relations have also been known to impede the smooth running of the network. As this is a fairly young network (none of the teams had ever worked together prior to joining the project, or had personal contacts with anyone other than the co-ordinating team), it is going to take time for it to reach maturity, and for the group to begin operating as a bona fide network. Inter-team relations, and the composition of some of the teams, have made it difficult at times to assure regular exchanges within the network. And network relations have occasionally been soured by traditional North-South divisions and gender-insensitive attitudes, which can stimulate feelings of inequality—even within the framework of the research—and cause a breakdown in communication;
  • Differences between teams are not recognized. And yet the network’s teams must advance at the same pace because if any fall behind, it will jeopardize the progress of the whole project. Avoiding such an outcome has been another of the co-ordinating team’s roles, and some teams have had trouble accepting being made to keep up with "outsiders". The teams’ differing working conditions have been the source of further difficulty. Most of the researchers do not belong to an institution that supplies them with a steady income, meaning that they are forced to take on other paid work in order to secure enough money to keep themselves—or even the research—alive. They then end up seriously overworked, which is detrimental to the smooth running of the project;
  • The network has been functioning in a centripetal manner, with too little exchange developing between the teams themselves. The co-ordinating team’s attention has been focused above all on keeping the research on track: scientifically and with respect to bureaucratic requirements. It has circulated team reports and documents for discussion, but these have rarely been read from start to finish, and feedback (comments, analysis, etc.) has been scarce. Lack of time may well be part of the reason, but the root cause most probably lies in a general lack of full commitment to the network. Its goal, though, is to create a new form of knowledge production and exchange, a new style of research work. Members must therefore begin asking themselves some serious questions about the attitude of dependence that has appeared within the network;
  • Individuals on the network have not been kept well enough informed of the mass of tasks and duties performed by the co-ordinating team, rendering them prone to misunderstand its demands. Network members recognize the need to retain a centralized co-ordinating unit and a degree of verticality in certain areas, so that the project as a whole can remain on course, maintain its scientific rigour, sort the information to disseminate, keep track of the work, and marshal its relations with financial backers. Meanwhile, the co-ordinating team must encourage the teams to engage in constructive mutual criticism that is ongoing, and not just confined to annual seminars.
A wide range of suggestions have been made to enhance the network’s efficiency and usefulness: e.g. increase the number and frequency of regional and global seminars, and ensure that both network members and outside speakers are given a chance to deliver formal presentations; encourage participation in other seminars tackling similar themes to our own; encourage network members to exchange interesting articles, website addresses, etc.; set aside time for more—and more varied—field visits, which are unanimously agreed to be most useful and enriching; link up with other networks, and encourage everyone to contribute.

The meeting proposed a draft "network charter" geared to remedying its observed shortcomings and improving its usefulness.

Makings of a "Network Charter"

  • Network members must feel that the Network is theirs. It belongs to each and every constituent team and co-ordinator. It demands pro-active involvement, and must not be looked upon as a source of assistance. In other words, members must, inter alia, strive to exchange information and documentation, find funding for their activities, and help organize seminars (both regional and global).
  • Network performance will gain by linking up with other networks. Information-sharing will serve to make it all the richer. Each and every researcher will need to play his or her part in this.
  • Network members must take note of the critical observations made during collective discussions in Havana, so that the Network can remedy its technical, managerial, scientific and methodological shortcomings.
  • The future performance and strength of the Network depends on its ability to foster an atmosphere of mutual trust and to manage and resolve conflicts.
  • Network members must strive, collectively and individually, to enhance the Network’s assets for the good of one and all (on the Network and beyond).
  • A common conceptual framework is the precondition for progress. It must be designed by consensus and sustained by the collective pooling of knowledge. The Network will interact within it, focusing on a common set of questions, and sharing a common expectation: that it will enable its members to gain the influence, legitimacy and institutional weight of recognized researchers. Knowledge produced and exchanged within this framework will serve to bolster the position of actors on the ground (researchers included) when faced with the task of having to negotiate with decision-makers.

7. Draft Agenda for Phase Two

Based on the findings presented in section 5, the meeting proceeded to outline a draft agenda for the next phase of research:

Analyse, on the basis of the research carried out on gender relations and the urban environment, how women and men access and participate in decision-making processes in cities, particularly at grass-roots level and with respect to the environment.

Identify the mechanisms that can support women in their efforts to gain access to—and a recognized place in—decision-making.

To that end, pinpoint the obstacles and resistance, and the innovative strategies inherent to the social practices that play a part in the reformulation of urban policies, and that help foster urban governance conducive to fair-minded, participatory and sustainable urban development.

A great deal of importance is attached to pinning down the various forms of resistance. For the problem with cities tends to be one of management rather than means. The authorities need to act as "facilitators" rather than the mere "suppliers" of means: efforts to bolster the negotiating skills of people—especially women—currently excluded from the decision-making table could, for example, hinge on encouraging them to cease being dependent, find new sources of finance for their activities and obtain the necessary authorization.

Research centring on the notion of gender must also seek to restore as much room as necessary to the value of conceptions and dreams inherent to that notion, and to approach questions in a manner that is holistic and attuned to the realities experienced by the women.

The environment is a good analysis means which—with the notion of gender—serves to further a cross-disciplinary approach to social practices revolving around everyday problems, conflict management and, ultimately, prohibitive access to decision- and policy-making processes.

This calls for a more systematic crossing of the three variables—urban issues, environment, gender relations—and an effort to explore such specific questions as:

  • "upscaling": how to secure the bottom-up spread of innovative urban environmental policy-related strategies with a gender perspective;
  • mainstreaming: how to promote widespread integration of a gender perspective into urban environmental policy-related decision-making;
  • indicators: singling out and/or building indicators capable of gauging gender equality in decision-making.
Meanwhile, on the action front, the project will continue to support women’s empowerment and changes in gender relations (not to mention in the construction of masculinity), and pave the way towards urban governance based on new development paradigms. The actions in question will be geared to making headway in three key areas: economic capacity-building, organizational capacity-building, and training.

8. Preparations for Phase Two

A fresh programme of research action is being prepared; it will be based on the draft agenda outlined above (section 6).

On returning from Cuba, DDC confirmed that funding would be made available to support the project’s work in three main areas:

  • More in-depth research on a set of priority issues aimed at fathoming the obstacles and resistance to gender-balanced participation in urban environmental policy-related decision-making. Thinking will continue to centre on the themes of empowerment and governance.
  • Support for the actions of local populations, in line with project recommendations.
  • Collective thinking on recommendations for new, gender-sensitive, urban policies.
Phase two of the project will run for four years, and enjoy a similar amount of financial backing as phase one (which ran for three). Some survey fields will be altered in order to address the questions raised by conclusions reached at the end of phase one more effectively. Survey fields must also try to coincide, as far as possible, with the countries that DDC classifies as "pays de concentration", or particularly interesting in terms of their potential to serve as a "model".

Cuba definitely will figure among the new survey fields. Not only does it offer a particularly interesting context, with its grass-roots participatory neighbourhood development initiatives and special pressures on the urban environment; but it is also already "in sync" with the other existing fields, thanks to the fact that the team working on the Dominican Republic has carried out a research-action project in a district of Havana. Experience gained in Santo Domingo, and some of the field’s findings, will serve to build a strong and competent new team in Havana (partly staffed by some of the same members).

Among the other new survey fields under consideration is Gaza (Palestine)—a choice approved by DDC—where a research group with whom we are in contact could usefully benefit from our support, and where the singular context could shed new light on our areas of interest.

Modifications may need to be made to the Eastern European fields, to enable them to adapt to the new research-action priorities, and to contribute to the project’s thinking on empowerment and governance. This point is still under discussion.

The other fields (Argentina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Senegal) will see a number of minor changes in such areas as their scope of research and action, for example, or the teams’ line-up.

With new modi operandi in place, the Cities, Environment and Gender Relations project will strive to foster collective commitment to the network, a shared sense of responsibility.

9. Disseminating Research Results

Part of the action agenda of our research-action project is devoted to disseminating the researchers’ fieldwork and analysis findings, above all to development actors and decision-makers. This is in keeping with the directives of the MOST Programme, which prioritizes the transfer of such findings in order to contribute to the formulation of new public policies.

The Havana meeting agreed to a number of proposals for disseminating the results of the project’s first phase of research, emphasising the need to promote shared responsibility. These proposals were then used to outline a project.

Target groups
Our priority is to address:

  • decision-makers
  • the scientific community, networks
  • grass-roots organizations and local populations
  • development workers, students, experts and members of the general public aware of development problems.
A range of different media have been suggested, each suited to specific target groups: a. a book summarizing the main findings (150 pages): for development workers, the general public;
b. a book containing all of the findings in full (300 pages): for the scientific community;
c. an illustrated brochure (50 pages): for decision-makers, international agencies, NGOs;
d. general or field-specific articles: for the various readerships of the journals/reviews in which they are published (through opportunities open to each individual team);
e. videos: for decision-makers and grass-roots organizations (with a different style of presentation for each);
f. publications containing training material/information: for grass-roots organizations;
g. a leaflet presenting the project and network: for general distribution.
One of the singular features of this project has been its use of the French language for communication. In view of how little research on gender relations has been produced in French, we shall attach great importance to disseminating information in that language.

Since a number of our survey fields are located in Latin America, a region where the circulation of findings on this subject has been equally scarce, research results will be translated into Spanish. And we shall also be publishing in English in order to reach the wider scientific community as a whole.

Christine Verschuur and François Hainard will be co-ordinating efforts to ensure that all the various members of the network are made aware of these proposals.

12 - 17 November 2000

Field Managers:

Argentina: Alvaro San Sebastian
Gral. Enrique Martinez 542, 1426 Buenos Aires
phone/fax: 54-1-553 12 37
e-mail: asanse@fadu.uba.ar

Brazil: Sonia Alves Calio
address (home): rua Dr. Cicero de Alencar 96 , 05580 080 São Paolo SP
phone (home): 55-11-210 90 67
fax: 55 - 11 818 43 08
e-mail: socalio@altavista.net ; socalio@uniube.br ; SoniaCalio@aol.com

Burkina Faso: Kadidia Tall
03 BP 7170, Ouagadougou 03
phone: 226 -36 21 58
fax: 226-36 30 32
e-mail: kadital@fasonet.bf

Cuba: Isabel Rauber
calle 15 n° 6809 entre 68 y 70, Playa, Ciudad de la Habana, Cuba
phone: 537 - 23 57 29
fax: 537 - 24 51 98
e-mail: rauber@ip.etecsa.cu

Senegal: Karim Dahou
Programme Prospective Urbaine, ENDA, B.P. 3370, Dakar
phone: 221 - 822 59 83 / 24 96
fax: 221- 822 26 95
e-mail: karim@enda.sn


German Solinis
fax: 33 - 1 - 45 68 57 28
e-mail: g.solinis@unesco.org

Cities, Environment and Gender Relations:
François Hainard
Université de Neuchâtel
Pierre-à-Mazel 7, 2000 Neuchâtel, Suisse
phone: 41 – 32 – 718 14 25
e-mail: francois.hainard@seco.unine.ch

Christine Verschuur
5 chemin des Vergers, 01210 Ferney Voltaire, France
phone: 33 – (0)4 50 40 10 17
e-mail : christineverschuur@compuserve.com

Guests Participants:

Jean-Christophe Adrian
UNCHS, Sustainable Cities Programme
P.O.Box 30030, Nairobi, Kenya
phone: 254 – 2 – 62 32 28
fax: 254 – 2 – 62 37 15
e-mail: Jean-Christophe.Adrian@unchs.org

Olivier Berthoud
BUCO (Bureau de Coopération Suisse)-Cuba
COSUDE co-ordinator in Havana
calle 18, entre 1a y 3a, Miramar, edificio PNUD, La Habana
phone: 24 15 12, ext 57.
e-mail: habana@sdc.net

Luisa Gabayet
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social de Occidente
Av. España 1359, Col. Moderna, 44190 Guadalajara, Jal. Mexico
phone: 3 - 810 79 42
fax: 3 - 810 83 26
e-mail: gabayetl@foreigner.class.udg.mx
e-mail: Lgabayet50@aol.com

Lydia Ruprecht
Bureau de programmation stratégique, Division genre, jeunesse et groupes prioritaires
UNESCO, 1 rue Miollis, 75732 Paris Cedex 15, France
phone: 33 – 1 – 45 68 13 42
e-mail: l.ruprecht@unesco.org

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