Beyond the numbers


091514_2059_Goodpractic2.jpgSitting at a meeting a few weeks ago listening to a presentation on the gender results of a program, I was fascinated by the “fascination” with reporting gender outcomes from a numbers perspective. Despite there being so many opportunities and entry points for addressing gender issues in the program including working on gender and technology issues through addressing men and women’s priorities, addressing intra-household food allocation, increasing women’s autonomy and decision making, the main highlights of this particular presentation were all about the numbers—the numbers of women!

In an effort to keep the gender simple and straight forward, there is a tendency by donor organizations, research and development programs to focus on the numbers of men and women, accessing technologies, getting training, participating in project activities, male and female students who have been trained, the number of men and women in project teams, among others. Focusing on reaching women, given the historical disadvantage that women have faced in research and extension systems is important in its own right. But several issues are critical here: one is a focus on numbers can mask the underlying causes of gender inequalities which can often remain unchallenged; and second, it can reinforce the notion of women as victims and not important agents of change and active players in the research and development process. It can be a lost opportunity for organisations to more meaningfully address gender issues in agriculture and food security programs.

Five things that donor organizations can do to focus on the critical gender issues:

  1. Link gender to programmatic goals: Often, research has different programmatic goals such as improving nutrition, food security incomes, making agriculture production more efficient through technological advances etc. Linking gender to these programmatic goals can help researchers move beyond counting numbers by focusing on the impacts of on men and women with respect to these goals. Focusing on the impacts of technologies on men and women, for example can unmask differences in technology use, and implications of technologies on men and women’s labour. In market development, looking at patterns of participation by men and women in different parts of the value chain and why these patterns exit, the constraints and opportunities for men and women, and the income benefits to men and women is important. Although this still does not address the underlying causes of these differences, it presents a good starting point to move beyond counting numbers.
  2. Define non-negotiables: While a bottoms up approach is ideal for identifying gender issues in projects and programs, having non-negotiables during program design can be helpful. In order not to make this prescriptive, non-negotiables should be more principles and process based rather than prescriptive activities. These could include: involvement of men and women in program design, requirements for a gender analysis for every project or program, collection of sex disaggregated data among others. How projects and programs choose to do this can then be guided by their content and context.
  3. Define outcomes and measurement parameters: What gets measured, gets done and defining gender outcomes apriori, while recognising that some outcomes will be unanticipated, and that involvement of men and women smallholder farmers, entrepreneurs and consumers in the research process will bring out other outcomes is critical. For example, market development programs that have additional outcomes of increasing incomes under the control of women, and not just increasing incomes are more likely to initiate activities and address constraints to women managing incomes than those that don’t. The same applies to such outcomes as changes in gender relations, shared household decision making, equitable access to resources and technologies etc
  4. Build capacity: Building capacities in gender and agriculture, and for changing attitudes towards gender is crucial to integrating gender in programs. This should be based on the fact that gender is not just a technical issue but involves dealing with power dynamics, and sensitive and entrenched cultural norms. Building the skills of researchers to facilitate processes that question these cultural norms and that give voice to marginalised populations is an important component of the capacity building. This means that capacity building needs to go beyond the usual gender analysis and collection and analysis of sex disaggregated data.
  5. Work with partners that have the skills and capacities to address gender norms and relations: Often, researchers do not have the skills and capacities to address the underlying causes of gender inequalities or to facilitate community or household gender transformative processes. These skills however exist especially within NGOs and other community based organizations.

Jemimah Njuki, Editor in Chief- Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security


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