Advancing gender equality through agriculture and natural resource management

ADVANCING GENDER EQUALITY THROUGH AGRICULTURE AND NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

by Evgeniya Anisimova

A recent policy seminar at IFPRI presented an upcoming CGIAR publication on the topic  

What does research reveal about how agriculture and natural resource management can advance gender equality? And why is it important to ask this question, rather than the more standard question of what gender analysis brings to agriculture and natural resource management? This was the focus of an Oct. 30 policy seminar, organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), to present key reflections from an upcoming publication on the topic.

Seminar recording and presentations >>

The publication is a joint effort by authors from all CGIAR centers and research programs. The initiative is led by the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, hosted by PIM.

The authors aim to achieve three main objectives, said Rhiannon Pyburn of the KIT Royal Tropical Institute and Coordinator of the Gender Platform, in her introduction. First, to synthesize what we already know from the research undertaken within CGIAR. Second, to stimulate creative perspectives and new insights on this body of research. And third, to set a forward-looking agenda for gender research in the areas of agriculture and natural resource management.

The work is organized around nine topics, analyzing how research on agriculture and natural resource management (NRM) can advance gender equality through: (1) breeding programs; (2) seed systems; (3) value chain development; (4) natural resource governance; (5) nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs (NSAPs); (6) climate change mitigation; (7) examining evidence on the “feminization” of agriculture; (8) assessing women’s empowerment; and (9) engaging with constraining norms through gender transformative approaches. Five of the topics were presented at the seminar.

Accounting for gender differences in the distribution of property rights for water, land, and forests and participation in resource governance institutions can improve outcomes of policies and interventions, said Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Scientist Iliana Monterroso, co-author of the chapter on natural resource governance. Research on forest rights devolution and collective water governance has shown that increased women’s participation in collective user groups leads to improved outcomes for the whole community— as well as to women’s empowerment. Sustainability requires men and women to work together to protect and enrich the natural resource base, Monterroso said. Thus, she noted, research and development interventions should stop treating gender and environment as two separate, parallel agendas.

While nutrition-sensitive agricultural programs (NSAPs) can contribute to women’s empowerment and gender equality, this does not happen automatically, noted IFPRI Senior Research Coordinator Hazel Malapit, the lead author of the chapter looking at gender and nutrition. What we’ve learned so far, she said, shows that even when NSAPs consider gender roles in their designs, they may only seek to “reach” or “benefit” women, but not to empower them. Furthermore, even nutrition-sensitive programs that do aim to empower women might not include the necessary indicators to measure and evaluate empowerment, and thus are unable to ascertain whether their interventions were successful on that front. Going forward, Malapit said, it is important that NSAPs assess women’s empowerment as an outcome in its own right, not merely as an instrument for achieving nutritional outcomes, and adjust program interventions accordingly.

IFPRI Senior Research Fellow Katrina Kosec examined the evidence on the “feminization” of agriculture, i.e., how gendered patterns of agricultural labor are changing, and how these changes affect gender equality, both in terms of work and agency. Women are increasing both the amount of time and range of activities spent in agriculture, adding to their workloads, Kosec said. Yet men’s and women’s agricultural labor often remains segregated, with men accordingly capturing better opportunities and higher wages. Nonetheless, women’s increased engagement in both agricultural decision-making and paid work opportunities has the potential to change social norms and more broadly to empower women and make progress toward gender equality. In order to support this, we need more intersectional analysis and better data, Kosec stressed, including the qualitative data to understand not just outcomes, but also processes of change.

Policy Seminar: Crafting the Next Generation of CGIAR Gender Research

We need to position women’s empowerment in agriculture in relation to other aspects of women’s lives, as agriculture may be just one of many spheres in which empowerment can happen, noted International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) Social Scientist Jennifer Twyman, co-author of the chapter on assessing women’s empowerment. This is a complex phenomenon to measure, and while several tools have been tested and widely used, the challenge remains to develop tools that can assess the multiple dimensions of empowerment at different levels while also capturing adequate detail and context. It is also important to better understand situations where women “choose not to choose” (do not wish to be involved in some types of decisions), she said.

Finally, Dina Najjar, Gender Scientist with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), presented the chapter analyzing gender-transformative approaches (GTAs), which focus on creating an enabling social environment and more equitable formal and informal institutions that expand life choices for both women and men. GTAs use a combination of tools to lead participants through a process of change and allow for existing norms to be challenged in a safe environment. While several CGIAR research projects have shown success with GTAs, there is still much to be learned, including how to achieve lasting transformation at scale, Najjar said.

Patricia Van De Velde, Gender Lead in Agricultural Practice at the World Bank, provided her reactions to the report, noting that CGIAR has always been instrumental in supporting the World Bank in both big and small projects and providing insights into what works and in which contexts. She praised the initiative for this publication, which will help “unpack the implications of our work, and what policy changes bring to the actual farming lives.” It’s a real paradigm shift, she said, that we now "ask not what [gender] equality can do for agriculture, but rather what agriculture can do for equality."

In her remarks during the Q&A, Cheryl Doss, Associate Professor and Senior Departmental Lecturer in Development Economics at Oxford University, noted that while much has been written about women’s empowerment, very little of it is actually about gender equality. The question, Doss stressed, is how we ensure that in all the processes of rural and structural transformation both women and men are being empowered. In response to an audience question, she noted that it should not simply be up to women to overcome what the questioner called “the gender issues”; rather, we need to restructure the system so that opportunities are available to both women and men.

See our live tweets from the event here (click to access the thread):