Keeping a balance between mainstreaming and strategic gender research

Agriculture, Gender, Women

Jemimah Njuki

051914_1854_WomensAgenc1.jpgFor social scientists working on gender research in international and national agriculture research centres, creating a balance between strategic gender research and mainstreaming gender into existing programs is walking a tight rope.

In research programmes gender mainstreaming  refers to the the way in which research programmes incorporate gender perspectives so that the overall research framework, approach and methodologies employed to conduct the research are clearly gender sensitive. Gender mainstreaming is important because it incorporates the fundamental principle that women and men experience different conditions and opportunities in life, have different interests and needs, and are affected in different ways by social, political and economic processes, as a direct result of their gender.

The business case for gender has dominated much of the recent discourse on gender in agriculture. The idea that addressing gender inequalities in agriculture will lead to increased productivity, improved food and nutrition security, economic growth and a reduction in poverty is appealing to managers of organizations who have these as their core mandate.

An approach to integrating gender with these key strategic areas would include;

(i) describing how and why the research area is gender relevant, taking into account any existing gender specific theories and literature, as well as the context in which the research is to be conducted; (ii) outlining some of the core research questions through a gender sensitive perspective; (iii) developing a gender sensitive conceptual framework and methodological approaches that will make sure that the perspectives and needs of women and men are taken into account and are properly represented in the research approach; (iv) ensuring that gender is mainstreamed into communications and capacity building strategies; (v) ensuring that the research programme has access to gender mainstreaming expertise; (vi) ensuring that principles of gender equality are enshrined in research programme management to ensure equal opportunities of women and men, including also reasonable balance of women and men in the research programme team at international and local levels; (vii) considering the need for gender specific research looking at gender within a given context as a key objective.

It is the last step-considering the need for specific gender research looking at gender within a given context as a key objective that can often fall through the cracks. And yet, it is so important. It may include research on women’s voice, or on social and cultural norms that cause gender inequalities, exploring patriarchy, or gender based violence and its links to development among other things. More and more we are seeing a focus on this in certain programs. A case in point are Aquatic Agriculture Systems work of the CGIAR on gender transformative approaches, or the World Bank Report on Voice and Agency.

For biophysical scientists and research managers, their priority is an analytic approach and questions that are appropriate to the specific concerns being addressed such as adoption of a particular technology. What a lot of organizations are not prepared for is that mainstreaming can reveal a need for changes in goals, strategies and actions to ensure that both women and men can influence, participate in and benefit from development processes. This may lead to changes in organizations – structures, procedures and cultures – to create organizational environments which are conducive to the promotion of gender equality.

A number of social scientists working on gender research often focus on this as it provides an opportunity to conduct strategic gender research and contribute to the intellectual discourse on gender and development. Several scenarios arise from this that can be problematic: these scientists may be accused of pursuing their own agendas that have nothing to do with the strategic objectives of an organization; they may focus on this at the expense of gender integration within existing organizational programs and therefore alienate themselves from biophysical or other scientists working on such issues as technology development. And yet there has to be room for this kind of strategic research.

What can be done to achieve this balance? Biophysical scientists or those working on issues such as nutrition, tehcnnology development, value chain development etc have to understand gender and how a gender perspective can strengthen their analysis, implementation and outcomes and provide new insights. They must be prepared for the fact that their research questions might change as a result of integrating a gender perspective, the way they implement their research and what outcomes to measure and the way they measure them will change. A gender perspective cannot go with business as usual. Gender and social science researchers need to strike a balance, focusing on both the gender integration and the gender strategic research. This way, they achieve the dual objective of using gender analytical approaches to achieve program or organizational objectives while at the same time exploring gender issues that may be outside of these objectives but add to the intellectual knowledge on gender. Research teams should have enough gender capacity. Gender cannot be left to one scientist, or junior scientists that do not make decisions in a program or organization. Gender scientists must be in management committees of research programs where decisions on what research will be done, how it will be done and with what resources, are made.

Any strategy of gender mainstreaming should not in any way preclude the need for specific targeted research and interventions to address women’s empowerment and gender equality.

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