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It is not just about “engendering” research projects for the sake of rhetorical equality; it is about how robust your research is.

Women play crucial roles in guaranteeing food and water security. In developing countries, they comprise more than 60% of the rural labor force and produce up to 80% of the world’s food. In Africa and South Asia, these figures are higher. Women act as custodians of water and food in their households, and they are responsible for feeding their families, even in times of economic stress and food shortage.

“If women’s gender roles disproportionately include maintaining food and water security, why are they not a disproportionate percentage of subjects for research?” asks Amy Sullivan, basin leader for the Limpopo and champion of a new CPWF gender team.

“Do we always ask, ‘have we designed this research to capture women’s contributions?’ For example, if you’re studying rice in West Africa, if you don’t disaggregate [your data] by gender, you’ve missed the story.”

According to Sullivan, the key question researchers should always ask themselves is whether there are barriers to women’s full participation in any specific activity – whether it is a workshop, adoption of a new technology, or even the CPWF research programme itself. “Posing that question in itself would satisfy me, even if the answers were no,” she says.

“And that would satisfy me, if the answers were [always] no,” she said.

Research is still too often skewed to exclude women in often unintentional but profound ways. Workshops require literacy or a level of education. Extension agents come at times when women need to fetch water, or there are issues with women associating with men other than their husbands. Technologies are at best gender-neutral, and innovations are rarely designed in with the female-majority populations they are designed to serve.

“The discourse is there, but the implementation and follow-through isn’t,” says Amanda Harding, a member of the CPWF management team.

During a group discussion session at the Forum on gender in the CGIAR and CPWF, it was pointed out that presently only one of the six management team members is a woman.

This gender imbalance may have repercussions on the type and quality of the programme’s research, according to Jackie Goldin, a South African professor and contributor to CPWF research.

“As a social scientist and as woman working on gender topics, I think there is a historical, deeply embedded skew towards men and technical and technocratic solutions,” she says. “I struggle with masculine ways of thinking, of rendering information, which leave very little space for doubt, even though we talk about uncertainties. It’s very defined by a masculine drive to have a yes/no answer quickly.”

But if people are consistently missing the story, how do you fix it?

Sullivan and Harding have begun to put together proposals to improve the recognition of gender in the programme’s work. Sullivan and Harding are suggesting a three-pronged strategy: first, a gender audit of projects to determine whether gender is present in research design, for example through gender-disaggregated data; second, a skills audit and training programme to determine what the staff researchers and managers know about gender and to improve their knowledge base; and third, a coalition of gender champions to continuously push and “mainstream” a gender lens in their basins.

“You have got to pour gender into the headwaters so that it goes everywhere,” Sullivan says.


View Amanda Harding’s Interview on Gender with Javier Baca

By Charlotte Lau