CGIAR on International Women’s Day – a day to educate and to celebrate

In advance of International Women’s Day this year we spoke with our Director Karen Brooks about the gender research in CGIAR, its role in PIM, and why, in Karen's opinion, "quality, opportunism (in the good sense of the term), and voice" are important for the gender research to achieve the greatest impact.


Why does gender research matter for the work of CGIAR?

CGIAR is the premier global scientific body undertaking applied agricultural research. Our mandate is to reduce poverty, improve food security and nutrition, and safeguard natural resources for sustainable use. Women and men working separately and together are the ones who do the heavy lifting to make a food secure and sustainable future possible. CGIAR contributes new seeds, breeds, management techniques, and ideas, but it is local people in rural communities who put the innovations to the test. When women are constrained by regulations, norms, bias in public investment, and power dynamics, they do plenty of heavy lifting, but face a counterweight that reduces their effectiveness. As a consequence, the combined effort of men and women together is reduced, poverty grinds on, nutritional deficits persist, and natural resources degrade. Gender research reveals how constraints on women impede achievement of shared goals, and how they can be lifted or lessened. When deeply entrenched gender inequality is a main reason for persistent poverty, food insecurity, and deteriorating soil, water, forests, fish stocks, and biodiversity, CGIAR must understand the gender dynamics central to its mandate in order to work effectively. Our work necessarily entails contributing toward gender equality with a deep understanding of what that means in rural communities.

Does gender research have specific relevance to policies, institutions, and markets—the research mandate of PIM? 

Policies, institutions, and the performance of markets are the architecture of food systems. Agricultural technologies, infrastructure, and people may be the building blocks, but the architecture determines how they fit together, and whether the building stands or falls. The architecture can showcase doors of opportunity for women and men, or, alternatively, place blank walls in front of either. Very often women face the blank walls. For example, women have more restrictive access and rights to agricultural land than do men. In many localities, women cannot hold bank accounts in their own names, or they are prevented from traveling alone to the market towns where banks are located. Male extension agents are in many cases uncomfortable working with women, or simply unwilling to do so, and women are thereby denied access to crucial information about new varieties, pest control, and weather forecasts. These are all examples of gendered barriers embedded in policies, institutions, and markets. Because the gender dimension is so important to our work, PIM has a history of strong emphasis on gender research, and a wealth of products and applications to inform CGIAR and the development community. PIM hosts the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research.

How does the work of PIM relate to the theme of International Women’s Day 2018-- Time is Now: Rural and Urban Activists Transforming Women’s Lives?

The part of the theme that jumps out to me is “Time is Now.” This expresses urgency and immediacy. Much of what we do in PIM requires a longer time frame for application, since research results must be conveyed to people in a position to change policies or regulations, and their efforts, in turn, must wend through the political process. But some of what we do can have much faster impact, and that is very important. For example, our findings from a study in Latin America that well-designed social protection programs can reduce intimate partner violence can be put into practice quickly and change the lives of many women. What can be more empowering than living without fear of violence at home? Similarly, our findings in Uganda that bringing banking to women in their villages instead of requiring women to appear physically at a branch were adopted by local banks quickly, and allowed many women to have their first bank accounts. The challenge of finding jobs and livelihoods for the roughly 100 million young African women between the ages of 15-24 (and the same number of young men!) is a long-term challenge that needs solutions now and in the three decades ahead. Our research on the participation of young women along the value chain is helping to address immediate needs, and will inform more gradual changes in norms and expectations relevant for future cohorts of young women.

How can gender research achieve more impact?

Gender research already has significant impact, and we should be careful to frame the question in a way that validates that reality. I would prefer to ask, “How can gender research achieve the greatest impact?” I would emphasize quality, opportunism (in the good sense of the term), and voice, in that order. Research can have impact only if it is of high quality, tested through peer review, and presented in a convincing way. Opportunism enters because of the need for selectivity in how we apply our efforts. We in CGIAR face many topics that could be researched, and have to be selective to zero in on the ones for which a constituency actively seeks evidence to guide change. Studies without constituencies can occasionally be picked up and used to great effect later, but too often they lie dormant past their use-by dates. Voice enters because we have so many opportunities now to communicate that were not there even a decade ago. This is true in poor countries as well as rich. Research findings can reach many audiences if they are framed suitably. And researchers, in turn, can hear feedback and comments from rural men and women that would have been hard to pick up without mobile phones, texts, DIY videography, and other media.

Why is International Women’s Day particularly important for CGIAR? 

March 8 is a day when CGIAR has a platform to emphasize how important agriculture and soil, water, forests, fish, and biodiversity are to hundreds of millions of poor women around the world. It is also a day to showcase the innovations that women are implementing to secure health for their families, communities, and the planet. It is a day to educate and to celebrate, and we approach it with enthusiasm each year.

Learn more about PIM's work on gender here and check these selected publications on women’s empowerment in agriculture and gender and land rights. 

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