Objective, Process, and Recommendations.
The objective of the PGN Harvard Roundtable was to define common priorities faced by women in the three PGN countries that could be addressed constructively by the network members and to develop a 1-2 year work program for PGN within its available resources. Several presentations were made to take stock of gender issues in the PGN countries. While there are undoubtedly a host of important gender issues, women's economic empowerment (or lack thereof) is central to addressing the multi-dimensional challenges women face in these countries. It was agreed that though the starting point, dynamics, and needs of the three PGN countries differ, there is considerable scope for mutual learning across the three countries. Several breakout groups were organized around the three themes of employment, self-employment, and entrepreneurship, as well as group discussions by country. Breakout groups presented their recommendations. The participants then voted on the priority operational activities that could tackle the above themes. These can be grouped under:
- Development of a website/portal as a repository of research, data, and information in Persian, English, and other languages about the PGN countries. The website would build on the existing Persian Gender Portal. It would include a repository of expertise among the members, listing their expertise, competencies, and interests. It would be searchable among members and would facilitate interaction among them. Moreover, the website would provide a shared space for members to post their work under specific categories. The website could serve as a platform to launch surveys on specific issues among members.
- Knowledge about ongoing research and data gathering. Participants expressed interest in knowing the types of research that were being conducted by network members so that, if possible, they could embark on collaborative research within and across countries, using similar methodologies and survey questionnaires, and even adding questions of use to other members to planned surveys, to facilitate comparative research. The research would not only encompass work carried out in PGN member countries or by PGN members, but also other relevant research in other regions that could be relevant for addressing PGN gender issues.
- Capacity building and training was highlighted as another priority area. Building up the capacity of researchers in cutting-edge techniques would be critical. Similarly, practitioners such as women entrepreneurs may have various needs for training. To the extent possible, PGN will itself organize or co-sponsor future events on specific substantive themes and learning. However, PGN's resources are limited to meet the potential demand of its members. It was suggested that those members who belong to various other professional networks that have rich offerings, could share information and open doors for PGN members to participate.
Several questions came up regarding the name of the PGN and whether its name signaled inclusion or exclusion of certain groups in Afghanistan, Iran, and Tajikistan-given that other languages are also spoken in these countries. It was agreed that all interested members are welcome. Nevertheless, PGN would be language-based, around the common use of the Persian language. To facilitate the membership of other language groups inside and outside these countries, PGN would function in both English and Persian.
It was agreed to form three groups/committees around website, research, and capacity building to discuss details and propose specific content and actions. A coordinator has been identified, Dr. Roksana Bahramitash, to activate and interact with the different groups to "populate" the three action areas. One of the first actions is to establish the website and a membership roster.
A number of questions were raised about the governance of PGN and the responsibilities of the members vis-à-vis the network. It was also decided to form a governance group to address these issues. As a starting point, a draft statement of mission, objectives, main activities, and membership rules will be sent to the participants for feedback (Appendix II). It was also recognized that PGN could learn a great deal from CAWTAR's modus operandi of the Arab Gender network. To the extent possible, PGN will function within CAWTAR's framework, and CAWTAR's framework will serve as a default, until and unless PGN establishes its own guidelines. The World Bank reserves itself the right to address any issues that may conflict with the objective and rules for the funding for PGN. Lastly, the participants were very supportive of the concept of PGN and noted that it could provide a much-needed link among diverse groups of experts and practitioners. PGN's success depends on the active involvement and voluntarism of its members. It was suggested that to the extent possible, small PGN "chapters" be formed in different countries and cities on an as-needed basis, to spur face-to-face discussion and collaboration which could in turn stimulate the content of various PGN subgroups and the website. Contributions to PGN activities are voluntary.
Activities of the Network
Over the next two years, the network will concentrate solely on establishing the membership roster and an infrastructure for information sharing:
- A website and an electronic membership database (i.e. a professional social network that links experts within the network). The website will include a virtual library.
- Knowledge about ongoing research and development projects by network members and a mechanism through which to share experiences, findings, and resources.
- Information about conferences, training, and funding possibilities of relevance to network members, to expand the outreach of network members.
- A periodic newsletter (perhaps within CAWTAR's existing CAWTARIAT Newsletter).
- A periodic Conference.
Given PGN's limited financial resources, the network's success and outreach depend largely on its members' enthusiasm and voluntary cooperation. PGN particularly aims to promote and deepen group work across countries, within as well as across countries and disciplines.