Gender in Dutch international capacity development programmes: scholarships
This is Part 1 of a two-part blog summarising the lessons that Nuffic has learned with regard to mainstreaming gender in three key programmes of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Part 1 focuses on the scholarship-based programme NFP while Part 2 focuses on the project-based programmes NPT and NICHE.
A learning organisation
Many of the capacity development programmes managed by Nuffic have explicit gender-related specifications and targets (defined by the sponsors) to ensure that women and men benefit equally from the interventions. In this two-part blog Nuffic looks back on the lessons it has learned with regard to mainstreaming gender in international capacity-building programmes in higher education.
In both blogs we discuss the following:
- what the gender equality objectives and requirements are for the three programmes;
- how Nuffic has interpreted and translated the objectives and requirements in the programmes;
- the challenges that Nuffic has experienced in mainstreaming gender in the three programmes;
- how Nuffic has dealt with these challenges; and
- where there is room for improvement.
For each of these programmes, an analysis has been made from the perspective of the most important stakeholders in the programmes (Nuffic as programme manager; the Ministry as programme owner; Northern and Southern project implementers; and in the case of NFP, the fellows).
All these experiences have been documented in the publication “Complexities of gender mainstreaming in higher education capacity development programmes”.
Challenges faced in NFP
One of the policy requirements within NFP is that at least 50% of the fellowships should be allocated to women. However, it is not always easy to achieve the target in practice. Data from 61 countries over a seven-year period show that only 29% of the NFP fellowship applicants were women. Various factors may come into play:
- In some countries, the number of women in the pool of eligible applicants is low. This is partly due to the low labour involvement rate of women in eligible organisations. NFP focuses on mid-career professionals in employment.
- Until 2009, NFP required applicants to have an employment record of at least two years. This eligibility requirement has since been raised to three years. A two or three-year work experience profile may be easier for men to achieve than women, particularly in situations or societies where the number of women joining the formal labour market, or obtaining a tertiary degree, has only recently started to increase.
- Due to gender discrimination, women may have more difficulty in obtaining support from their employers to apply for a fellowship (employer support is a requirement for an NFP fellowship).
- The majority of NFP study programmes are required to be undertaken in the Netherlands. However, socio-cultural factors (including family and religious pressures) may inhibit women from going abroad for long periods of time. If the threshold is too high, women may refrain from applying for a scholarship.
Achieving gender-specific targets in NFP
Unfortunately, Nuffic is not always in a position to influence factors that hinder women from applying for a scholarship, since most of these factors are socio-cultural, and inherent in the society within which the potential candidates live. Various strategies could result in higher participation by women in NFP:
- Although applications from females do not exceed 30%, Nuffic will adjust its selection process so that eventually 50% of the fellowships are awarded to women (i.e. affirmative action). However, this is only possible at the overall programme level. At the country level, some differences may still exist and targets may not always be reached.
- Country-specific strategies could be developed for countries where too few applications are systematically received from women. These strategies would have to focus on removing obstacles that hinder women from applying for a scholarship. In some countries, the strategy may simply entail the embassy giving more local publicity to the study opportunities offered by NFP. This is relevant for countries where there are sufficient eligible women in the labour market but where no or very few applications are received. For francophone countries, a short English language proficiency course could be offered to female applicants to raise their confidence in applying for a study programme in the Netherlands. Many of the study programmes for which a fellowship can be obtained are offered in English. For countries which belong to the top five participants in NFP, where sufficient eligible women are available and yet where female participation has historically not exceeded 20% (e.g. Ethiopia and Ghana), quotas could be introduced. If the female quotas are not used up they would be forfeited and would not go towards covering applications from males. This would encourage employers to nominate females as well so as not to waste the study opportunities.
- Avoiding gender discrimination by male employers may also require removing the necessity for a recommendation from an employer. This would allow women who are deterred by such discrimination, to apply for a scholarship.
- Increasing the number of female applicants may also require removing the three-year work experience requirement for women so that those who have just completed their bachelor’s degree and entered employment are also eligible. These women are often younger and often do not yet have families and children. Their mobility potential, therefore, is high and they face fewer restrictions in studying abroad. They are more likely to apply for a scholarship. Women with some work experience (i.e. the current NFP focus group) are generally older and in a phase where they have young families. Commitment to family can form an obstacle for participating in study-abroad programmes. For this group, in-region study scholarships would be more suitable as they would allow the women to stay in the vicinity of their children while studying.
- In cultures where religion does not allow women to travel alone without (male) accompaniment, in-region study scholarships could also help. These women have a better chance of being allowed to study if they stay within a region with similar socio-cultural beliefs. Not acknowledging the cultural constraints and customs of some societies and responding to these accordingly, can only lead to a sustained low number of applications from females from these cultures.
Continuous tuning of scholarship programmes
This year marks Nuffic’s 60th anniversary. The organisation has vast experience in programme management, yet we keep learning as the environment around us changes. Obstacles faced or lessons learned during the execution of the individual programmes are continuously communicated to the relevant programmes sponsors. Where possible, adjustments are effected during the course of programme implementation. Where more serious policy-related changes are involved, such information is used by the programme sponsor to fine-tune planning for future versions of the programmes.
The lessons learned from NFP are also relevant and applicable to other scholarship and cooperation programmes outside the education sector. At least where they have the intention of promoting gender equality.