Reflections from 7th South Asian Regional Meeting of the Think Tank Initiative

20 March 2018

In More women in government, more women in think tanks, Ruth Levine writes:

Once think tank boards and directors understand the value of recruiting women as scholars and in other senior positions, they have to take intentional actions, some of which can be borrowed from academic settings that are seeking ways to provide opportunities for talented women.

I can’t help but wonder: is this true for think tanks in South Asia?

This past February I attended the 7th South Asian Regional Meeting of the Think Tank Initiative (TTI) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where I met a group of female thinktankers and think tank leaders. Meeting them, in a way, confirmed what I had read in Ruth Levine’s article: leaders of think tanks in South Asia (male and female) have to provide opportunities for talented women to thrive.

The meeting included a session on gender, which was a pleasant addition to the agenda. The session addressed two main topics:

  • Gender in research, and
  • Gender in organisational excellence.

Gender in research

This topic revolved around the need to understand and build the gender factor into research. This includes gender budgeting, women’s contribution to the economy, the subtleties of female labour market, amongst others. The workshop was an opportunity for members of different organisations and teams to discuss key points regarding gender in research:

  • How is the gender aspect addressed in research work?
  • What themes, within gender, are considered most important and are they addressed?
  • Is there a particular methodology to deal with gender issues?
  • How are gender issues perceived and approached?

Representatives from various think tanks shared case studies on their experience addressing some of these questions.

Gender in organisational excellence

In this practical session, participants broke off into groups to take a closer look at some of the issues related to gender. The workshop questioned if think tank policies (human resources, paid or unpaid leave, travel, etc) were gender sensitive.

As with most meetings of this sort, unplanned discussions also emerged. During a lunch hour, I joined a discussion on how mobile technology has empowered women in Bangladesh. It was interesting to hear that women, particularly from marginalised groups, use mobile technology not only to communicate, but also as a tool for income generating activities. For example, women who own mobile phones rent their phones by the minute to women who want to speak to their children studying in another city or town. Women also use mobile technology to source information for agricultural products they are producing- to understand market movement, avoid middle men, and perhaps become better entrepreneurs. In 2010 the Cherie Blaire Foundation and the GSMA Development Fund published the report  Women & Mobile: A Global Opportunity. This report addressed the gender gap in mobile technology across developing countries, stating that by extending the benefits of mobile phone ownership to more women, a host of social and economic goals can be achieved.

To read more about gender and think tanks visit our women in think tanks series.