Gender at Work

Founded in 2001, Gender at Work is an international network of ‘associates’ including four South Africans who work with unions, such as SACCAWU, BCAWU, HOSPERSA and SADSAWU; Sikhula Sonke, organisations such as Women on Farms Project, Justice and Women, Urban harvest’ and ‘Soil for Life’. and community based groups such as Remmoho, Vukani, Kganya Consortium, Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and the TAC. ‘The network was founded in order to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, and associates do organizational change work with a strong holistic body, mind, spirit focus.


The initial objective is to help organisations change their practice with regards to gender inequality and power relations, that is, how their practices are gendered and are in turn contribute to ongoing and daily gendering processes. As Michel Friedman, a senior associate explained, “What we want to achieve is to help organisations to create internal environments that can better role-model the ideas they espouse – and thus be better prepared to deliver their objectives (social justice / equality).” This involves asking ‘How do you bring what you do and what you want to see in the world together?’ Purpose and process (the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the work) are closely inter-related. Gender at Work assists people in organisations to see how gender is not separate and how gendering processes and relations are in everything.

Target participants

Community organisations, trade unions, non-governmental organisations; key decision makers in related social justice/development/rights communities

Focus area

Work has a strong focus on gendered / gendering relations of power and how these underpin and infuse everything we do. This includes investigating and challenging the patriarchal binaries of mind vs body, private vs public, nature vs man. Underlying the work is an analysis of common assumptions – particularly with regard to the quality of our daily interaction / relationships. An example given is respect: “ If we want men to be respectful to women then women must also model respectful behavior to/with themselves and men.”


Organisations learn the message and method by doing it: Gender at Work models relationships and increasingly, draws attention to process and ‘what we did so that it did what it did’ (ie participants can identify the process and tools that lead to the outcomes).

Gender at Work uses a counter-model to traditional gender-mainstreaming: realizing that only teaching theory or toolkits on gender don’t work they have an integrated holistic approach in which practice is rooted in peer learning, action learning, feminist theory and practice, body work. It is founded on anti-authoritarian values and beliefs: that the personal and collective are related, the personal is political, and respect means nurturing and embodying a great consciousness of not reproducing oppressive / abusive power relationships. As Michel described, “We use the dynamic in the room to expose the issue and release creative energy to work collectively.”

Tools / processes

The work with ‘Urban harvest’ and ‘Soil for Life’ is an example of a 2 day workshop to raise consciousness of gender relations both within the organisations and in their relationships to clients / constituencies. Workshops began with asking “What’s going on in your lives at home and at work (ie. in your organization)? What’s going on in the lives of the women and men who live in your constituencies?” and guided participants to reflect on the relationship between the three. On the basis of new insights gained, organisations could begin to see new ways of affecting structural and relational changes in their practice.

Understanding of popular education

Associates do not regard their work explicitly as ‘popular education’; however, their underlying philosophy, values espoused and exercises and their educational/ change practice are good examples of popular education. As Michel explained, “ The methods are similar to popular education - such as: starting where people are, building a bigger picture, reflection and information-giving - but with a narrower frame: we don’t necessarily do the big themes, such as food, housing etc ourselves, but we work with organisations who tackle those.”

Type of organisation: 
Women & Gender