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Originally published on ADB Avenue, 4 May 2017

Unsung gender equality hero: Anouj Mehta

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. Anouj
Mehta shares why gender equality matters in his work as a finance professional.

Why do you advocate for gender equality in your work? Why does it
matter to you personally?
I cannot say that I am a gender professional who is well
versed in all technical aspects of gender mainstreaming.
But I can certainly say as a sustainable finance professional
that any project needs to be devised not for building assets
but for delivering services to its end users equitably,
efficiently, effectively and with dignity. In every project we
do, we have very different user needs among different user
segments—within a women’s group there are subsegments
of working women, older retirees, entrepreneurs,
etc. Their requirements for services—say transportation,
water supply or health services—vary based on cultural
norms, regional differences, aspirations, safety concerns,
etc. There is no question that we must devise hard and soft components which
address these concerns, meet the needs, and actively help the most vulnerable
segment meet their aspirations and goals. That's what development should be all
about. Ignoring a likely 50% of project users would be a failure on my part as a finance
professional to make these projects truly sustainable and developmental.

I remember working on an ADB Bangalore Metro project in India and a sanitation
project for the World Bank where I met women users of the project as well as
impacted women being resettled. Resettled women, mostly from slum areas, received
a proper housing unit in a safe area, sanitation facilities, and clean running water as
part of the project and are on record about how their lives were positively impacted
by the project. Women constituted a major part of the users at different points in the
day in both projects. They needed safe access, secure seating, lighting, affordable
fares and connectivity infrastructure not at the project site, but from their homes.
These features were incorporated in project design and operations for effective use of
assets. Today, the metro project, through the hard work of the government, is
exceeding expectations in providing a safe working environment for women in the
city. It had instituted a 30% reservation for women locomotive pilots but, in fact, 59%
of its recent recruits are women. This is a very inspiring project result. Our recently
approved Guangxi Regional Cooperation and Integration Promotional Investment
Program project in the People’s Republic of China is also an inspiration, assisting SME
businesses, a large portion of whom are women entrepreneurs in the border areas.

How do you go about doing this in your work?
I normally try to work on our projects with a business strategy approach -- Porter's
five forces are very useful in segmenting user groups according to their needs and
then trying to build a business case for the project to meet these various needs.
Spending time on the ground and meeting potential users and potentially impacted
groups is the key to really understanding what we can achieve developmentally. It’s
that bit of personal inspiration that keeps the project real since, in the end, it’s not
about engineering or finance but about people. Lastly, comparison with similar
projects done elsewhere and their effectiveness helps a lot in understanding go and
no-go areas for project design as well as mainstreaming of gender and user impacts.

What challenges do you face?
Challenges are mainly time related, constrained local knowledge, and sometimes, the
views of governments we deal with. It’s not that governments are anti-gender, but
they can be so focused on asset construction rather than on end-use services that it
gets difficult to bring in any innovations, whether on financial sustainability, gender,
or others. Another major challenge is a lack of time to really develop the business case
and understand the users and markets. One cannot simply replicate a gender solution
from some other project without doing this.
However, I also know that with credible knowledge, and a clear strategy for gender
inclusion which makes sense for the project's business case, governments are always
more likely to listen positively. I led the development of a discussion paper in 2014 on
EnGendering Infrastructure for private-public partnership (PPP) units in the
Government of India which aimed to develop ideas and projects that would
mainstream gender proactively, not just as a safeguard but as an opportunity. This led
to much discussion and to the development of at least one solid waste management
project in Mumbai with a clear focus on improving lives of women rag pickers which
was bid out for a PPP bid. I also used Manila Water's Water for the Poor program
which proactively focuses on training women on managing bills as an example to be
considered when designing policy for an urban funding program for India.

For the first time in 7 years we will be unlikely to meet our 45%- at-
entry gender mainstreaming in operations target in 2016. What is your
view about this?
This is certainly a challenge and needs to be corrected, but it is also an opportunity. I
am very much a fan of a pull, rather than a push strategy. For me the former is all
about making gender inclusion an attractive proposition for a project's business case.
But in that case it needs to take a holistic approach. Developing a business case in
itself for a project is a challenge. I suggest creating 2-3 project business case

templates which include gender mainstreaming. For instance, linking revenue and
cost models in a water project or an urban transport project to women usage and how
slight changes in gender designs could improve the overall project sustainability. Then
link gender to project sustainability. Where there are additional costs for gender
design, link up with local corporate social responsibility funds which aim for women
empowerment and are looking for project opportunities. Having some specific and
ready models would be a good way to force staff to think on project designs.

Anouj Mehta is Principal Financial Management Specialist at ADB’s Financial
Management Unit.

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