Researchers reflect on what inspired them to work on gender
08 Mar 2021
© UNICEF/UN056313/Gilbertson VII Photo
To mark International Women's Day 2021 we asked three Innocenti researchers to share what inspired them to work on gender issues.
Alessandra Guedes (centre), Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF Innocenti
Alessandra Guedes has dedicated 20 years of her professional life to promoting children’s and women’s rights and health, including working intensively to end violence against children and against women.I actually didn’t intentionally set out to work on gender and came to the issue in a roundabout way. I often joke that while I started out by studying what, in my opinion, is arguably humanity at its best (I have a degree in studio art!), I ended up working with humanity at its worse: violence against children and against women. How did I get here? Few things are as important to me as social justice and once I started working on the issue of violence prevention over 20 years ago, there was no turning back.
globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and protect them: their partnersMy journey started haphazardly when I was offered a position to work with International Planned Parenthood setting up services for women who had experienced violence within reproductive health clinics in Latin America and the Caribbean. It didn’t take long to become obvious that women’s rights and gender-based violence were areas of work that were spearheaded primarily by women. Women have spent centuries (millennia?) protesting all kinds of injustices committed against them simply because they are women. The same impetus to fight for women’s right to vote or to drive is what keeps us working to change the fact that, globally, one-third of women continue to experience violence at the hands of those who should love and care for them: their partners. While this is the most common form of violence against women and girls, plenty more females experience other forms of gender-based violence, including femicide. While I started working specifically on violence against women and girls, I’ve come to understand that these forms of violence are intimately connected with violence against children and that many drivers are shared across these manifestations of violence. Equipped with this knowledge, I’m supporting UNICEF to address the gender dimensions of violence against children, including looking for ways to end violence in the home. I am both inspired and grateful to all of the women on whose shoulders I stand. Many have been imprisoned, some have been killed, fighting for equality across gender, race and ethnicity. I hope that my work will add a grain of sand to their heroic efforts. See an example of Alessandra’s research on violence against women and violence against children.
Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed, Gender and Development Research Manager, UNICEF Innocenti
Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed has extensive experience in women's rights and gender equality across organisations and within large-scale development projects.Today, I can say I am a researcher – a qualitative researcher – exploring gender, care work (paid and unpaid) and social protection. But my inspiration started small, and with no name. Growing up I had no terms to make sense of the world I lived in, the world people I knew lived in, the world people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in. But there was curiosity, a lot of it. I would search for answers – mostly through books. When I got older, and a little less shy, I ventured beyond the books and would speak to others to find out a bit more. Still, there was no name. Let me dig a little deeper. After all, what is research if not trying to uncover what is unknown and make sense of it? My inspiration really started with what I would observe inside and outside homes: what girls would do, what boys would do, what women would do, what men would do. Or more, what could be done, and what couldn’t be done. Still, I had no name. Only what I saw (or maybe also what I didn’t see).
Over time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homesOver time, I found the words, the terms: that what could or couldn’t be done forms part of the unequal division of labour inside and outside homes; that the activities that boys and girls, women and men are often told they can do feeds into our understanding of care work in homes, paid work outside the home, and also that sometimes these unpaid care activities are commodified, in the form of paid care work. So, what really inspired me to do research on gender - home: the home I lived in, the homes people I knew lived in, the homes people I didn’t know, but would observe, lived in; and over time the people who left their homes, who worked in homes, and those who lost homes. See an example of Zahrah’s research on gender and unpaid care work.
Elena Camilletti, Research Officer in Gender and Adolescence, UNICEF Innocenti
Elena Camilletti conducts research on the political economy of gender in social protection, unpaid care and domestic work, and gender norms, in low- and middle-income countries.My commitment to gender equality, and my interest in making that my career, has come gradually over time, but it goes back to my adolescence years. During that time, as it’s often the case for all adolescents, I started to become more aware of the world around me, the inequalities and injustices that I was seeing, in my family, in my community, in my country, and beyond, as I was growing up. When it was time to choose my University degree, and later on when applying for jobs, I knew I wanted to pursue a career where I could make a small, humble, contribution to the fight against those inequalities, those injustices.
Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders.Gender inequalities specifically remain, in my opinion, the main obstacle to a world that’s just and caring, where equal opportunities exist for all genders. And research on gender inequalities is the first step to being able to make a difference: understanding their prevalence, for example the amount of time that women and girls spend on unpaid care and domestic work; investigating their root causes, for example unpacking the social and gender norms that drive gender inequalities; and identifying interventions that work to change those, sustainably. But ultimately what brought me to a career on gender equality and children’s rights, is the potential to use the evidence generated to raise awareness on these gender inequalities, and inform action, for current and future generations to benefit from. Something that I’m proud we at UNICEF Innocenti are committed to doing! See Elena’s research on adolescence and gender.