In 2011, the CPWF Innovation Fund was established with the goal of spurring innovation and catalyzing change in CPWF research for development projects by building capacity and supporting emerging and unanticipated opportunity. One of these projects was titled ‘Mainstreaming gender in the CPWF: Benchmarking and addressing immediate needs’. Learn more about the project and it’s outcomes on the Mainstreaming Gender page. In this blog post, one of the project leaders, Amy Sullivan, discusses the evolution of thinking on gender in agricultural research and development.
Gender seems to be back on the agenda. Organizations, institutions and programs in our business are investing in gender again. Over the last 40 or so years some excellent minds (starting with Ester Boserup in the 1970s) have tried to make sense of women’s invisibility in agriculture and natural resources related research and development. Still more have spent the last 20 years trying to come up with ways to improve the lives of rural women, their families and their communities.
What we know now is that gender is about power.
While gender has been defined as a social construct of roles and responsibilities of males and females, and explained as being context specific—gender is ultimately about power. Gender, in agricultural research and development, is about who contributes to and benefits from livelihoods. Gender is about who decides. Gender awareness in rural development emerged from failed interventions, unintended and often negative consequences and wasted investment. Early gender work focused on diagnosing farming systems and rural livelihoods in terms of the division of labour between women and men. The focus was on who did what, when and where. Roles were observed and delineated – making it easier for development interventions to reach the ‘right’ people. From this came awareness and recognition of women’s “triple roles” –the admission that they were more than wives and mothers and did more than just support men and boys in their activities. Like men, rural women engage in production activities for subsistence and sale; but they also engage in reproduction activities for family replication and survival; and social or community support activities akin to networking and risk mitigation.
As women’s roles, and eventually contributions to rural livelihoods and household and community survival became more clear—calls were made to better support women. But supporting women by fully recognizing their standing and position really means understanding gender. Making the world better for female farmers means working with and impacting everyone else around them—as well as women themselves. Gender matters in fields, pastures and markets. Gender matters just as much in project teams and board rooms. Increasing women’s access to productive resources (land, labour, capital and water, for that matter) may mean reallocating some of them. Increasing women’s power in decision making often means challenging existing power structures, within the household, the community, the department, the division or management team. Phase 2 of the CPWF probably did not clearly define its target, in terms of gender, early enough in the process to identify and allocate sufficient financial and technical resources to getting it done. Without a strong legacy to build on from CPWF Phase I, it did manage, however, to raise awareness, generate interest, and support some excellent gender work. Whether or not there is sufficient interest, momentum and resources to keep that learning alive and position it for future use remains to be seen.