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Originally published on ADB Avenue, 27 March 2017

Unsung gender equality hero: Mohd Sani Mohd Ismail

We honor Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s unsung gender equality heroes. They went the
extra mile to change women’s lives through their work in development projects. They have
proven that anyone can advocate for gender equality, even without a “gender” job title.
Sani Ismail shares his insights on gender mainstreaming in ADB projects.

Why do you advocate for gender equality in your work?

My advocacy stems from 2 reasons. First I passionately believe in gender equality.
Second, I also believe that any social change requires a
critical mass taking the initiative. That is, if you cherish a
value, then you have to take the initiative and be
proactive to uphold it.

Any example of a successful gender
mainstreaming initiative?

I'm particularly happy that the technical assistance grant
we implemented in Lao PDR contributed to a significant
increase in the number of registered small and medium
sized enterprises owned by women from 43.9% to 54.8%.

How do you go about doing this in your work?

It just requires thinking on issues from multiple angles. It's taking technical expertise
in a particular sector to a deeper level by also brainstorming on what is the impact of
these reforms on women and what can be done to increase the benefit or mitigate the

What challenges do you face?

Sometime we do face resistant from government officials. There are those who
believe that focusing on women means that we are sacrificing meritocracy. I often
find that, generally, those who oppose the issue can be persuaded when we show
concrete facts on the benefit of the policies we advocate. It is important not to take
their opposition personally and argue on an emotional level (even if you get

For the first time in 7 years we will be unlikely to meet our target of
45% gender-at-entry mainstreaming in development operations
projects. What is your view about this?

This is unfortunate. I do believe that part of the reason is that some mission leaders
may not be proactive in pursuing the goal. They may view gender mainstreaming as
just another category determining exercise with not much consequences. At the same
time, mission leaders are often also bogged down with preparing documentation, so
some assistance and suggestions from the project operational gender focal point or
ADB’s Sustainable Development and Climate Change department would be very
helpful and may trigger the interest to pursue the issue more seriously.

Mohd Sani Mohd Ismail is Financial Sector Specialist (Capital Markets) in ADB’s
Southeast Asia Department.

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