On International Women’s Day, let’s think about gender equality

On International Women’s Day, let’s think about gender equality

On International Women’s Day, Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) partnered to think about how and why gender matters in agriculture and natural resource management (NRM), and to acknowledge those women who, through their work, contribute to research for development.

We interviewed our gender leaders Marlène Elias (M.E.) of Bioversity and Jennifer Twyman (J.T.) of CIAT, who advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment, particularly in different spheres of agriculture and NRM. They both agree that the role of women is key to achieving game-changing benefits in society and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Q: What exactly is gender research, what is it about? What kind of work does CGIAR do to promote gender research?

M.E. In the fields of agriculture and NRM, gender research looks into how the interactions between women and men of different social groups (age, economic status, ethnic group, etc.) impact agriculture and NRM. It also examines how agriculture and NRM contribute to shaping what it means to be a man or a woman in the contexts where we work.

CGIAR’s gender research often analyzes the inequalities among gender groups and among different groups of women and men, with regard to agriculture and NRM. In doing so, it adheres to a normative commitment to make societies more gender equal and inclusive. CGIAR aims to advance three gender-related development outcomes:

  1. Gender-equitable control of productive assets and resources2)
  2. Technologies that reduce women’s labor and energy expenditure developed and disseminated
  3. Iimproved capacity of women and young people to participate in decision-making.

These are some of the areas targeted by gender researchers in their work.

Q: How does CIAT carry out gender research?

J.T. CIAT has addressed this kind of social problems for years. Today, CIAT’s gender research seeks to identify gender inequalities in the agricultural and rural sectors and also to highlight the contributions of women to agriculture and rural economy (because their contributions often go under-recognized and under-valued).

Agricultural systems, as any other economic system, depend not only on production activities such as crop cultivation, but also on a range of household chores.

We conduct gender research using both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative methods include conducting surveys; when possible we like to use intra-household surveys so we hear from both men and women to better understand their perspectives, concerns, and opportunities. Quantitative data is analyzed using descriptive statistics and in regression models to understand how intra-household dynamics relate to other development goals. Qualitative methods are also often used to get a more in-depth picture of what gender inequalities imply in a given context and to gain a better understanding of all the different roles women and men play in agriculture. Qualitative methods include focus group discussion, participatory workshops, in-depth interviews, and life histories.

Q: What does it mean to “close the gender gap” in agriculture?

J.T. Closing gender gaps is about reducing gender inequalities. Thus, to close gender gaps, we must first identify the gender inequalities that we want reduce and then identify the underlying causes of those inequalities so that we can look for sustainable solutions. In general, we have to gain a better understanding of the social norms that regulate what men and women should do. Sometimes these norms are so deeply rooted that we believe they put a limit to what women and men are capable of doing. Realizing how these norms influence our behavior and the impact of our research is a first critical step towards making a real positive change in people’s lives. We can only start to change gender norms if we are aware of them.

That is why gender research is not only for women, it is also intended for men. But perhaps most importantly, it is about acknowledging the needs, preferences, and challenges of both groups.

Q: What are the challenges and opportunities facing gender issues in the spheres of science and agriculture?

M.E.  When it comes to gender, there are many challenges in agriculture and NRM. These range from unequal access to land and other productive assets by women and men; gender norms imposing a heavy workload on rural women, which makes it difficult for them to pursue personal development activities; income generation opportunities that are more limited for rural women than for men; gender inequality in access to information and extension services; to the often limited voice and influence of women in decisions important for their own lives and the lives of their family and community members.

Norms that undervalue women’s work, knowledge and contributions to society are deeply rooted in agricultural systems.

The SDGs include “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” as a goal per se (SDG5), and the international development agenda supported by multiple donors acknowledges that gender equality underpins the achievement of almost all development and environmental goals. This means that resources are being allocated for research endeavors aimed at promoting the strategic interests of men and women, boys and girls. Policy making across several countries are increasingly gender sensitive, even though related policy implementation often runs behind of schedule. The growing number of girls receiving formal education is also creating opportunities for fostering gender equality.

“Specifically, as agricultural researchers, we can make information, technologies, innovative solutions and opportunities available to women and men of all ages, ethnic groups and races, which can help make a positive difference in their lives. We must continue to work directly with rural communities, listen to what the different groups of men and women need and desire, and thus understand how they envision their future. By listening to them, we can deliver information and research better aligned with their thinking,” said Jennifer Twyman.

We invite you to join us on Friday, 8 March, in this global campaign to celebrate International Women’s Day and to forge a future together in which “women and girls play an active role in building more inclusive systems, efficient services and sustainable infrastructure to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs and gender equality” (http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/).