Limited access to assets, opportunities, and decisions around food systems holds back women – and their entire societies.
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Innovations for gender equality
Women play multiple roles in the task of feeding the world. Yet their realities are often overlooked.
For decades, CGIAR innovations have broken down barriers to gender equality, building stronger food systems for all.
Calling out gender bias and inequality
Women are integral to food systems, playing multiple roles in the task of feeding the world. But even today, women are often excluded from agricultural development as their realities, preferences, and ambitions are overlooked. Their limited access to assets, opportunities, and decisions holds back entire societies.
Over the past 50 years, CGIAR has developed a number of breakthrough innovations that have contributed to progress toward gender equality, by bringing into the limelight the realities, preferences, and potential of women farmers, while breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of gender equality, now and for future generations.
If the world’s women and men food producers had equal access to resources, yields would increase and everyone would have more and better food. The number of hungry people could be reduced by 150 million.
21st century challenges
System shocks, such as COVID-19, may undo much of the gender-related progress made over the past decade. For women in developing countries, who struggled to meet the needs of their families before the pandemic, COVID-19 has made their situations even more untenable.
These upheavals are taking place against the backdrop of climate change, which affects women and men differently. Gender differences in roles, rights, and opportunities affect both women and men’s access to resources, participation in decision-making at all levels, mobility, and access to information and early warning systems.
Women tend to be stereotyped as victims of climate change impacts, while the root causes of gender inequalities that cause vulnerability are ignored. In a 2 °C (or more) world, gender equality hinges on giving more attention to women’s active roles in climate adaptation and mitigation.
Research and rights
Women have a right to the same opportunities and the same benefits from agriculture, natural resources, and food production as men. What’s more, only when both women and men are able to contribute to food systems equally can they successfully nourish families, communities and entire nations, today and in the future.
The CGIAR GENDER Platform, established in 2020, is designed to transform the way research is done, and to continue to accelerate efforts to make gender part of all agricultural science and innovation. It delivers thought leadership and develops evidence, methods and tools that support the entire research-for-development community to adopt gender–transformative approaches and practices. This renewed focus on gender research will be fundamental to realizing the ambitions of CGIAR’s five new impact areas, one of which is gender, youth and social inclusion.
An index for measuring women’s empowerment in agriculture
Seeing women’s realities
Evidence-based policy is only as good as the available evidence – and regarding women’s empowerment that evidence base is pretty sparse. We need to make gender inequalities visible – make the invisible visible – to enable informed decision-making in support of greater gender equality.
Investing in robust data, rigorous analysis, models and methods to track, diagnose gaps, inform decisions and monitor progress to reduce inequities can help ensure that policy and decisions on gender, youth and other inclusion issues are based on best possible evidence.
The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), developed by IFPRI with USAID and Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, was CGIAR’s first step toward understanding and measuring women’s empowerment, helping practitioners and implementers across the globe make empowerment visible.
Uptake of the original WEAI beyond CGIAR was immediate – it has grown beyond the original 19 Feed the Future locations to be used in at least 56 countries. In response to growing demand, CGIAR researchers at IFPRI developed the abbreviated WEAI (A-WEAI) to shorten interview length and modify questions that were difficult to implement in the field.
Increased demand for monitoring gender equality in agricultural development projects led to the development of the project-level WEAI (pro-WEAI), which includes optional modules specific to livestock, health, and nutrition, and qualitative protocols to facilitate mixed method studies.
Demand for WEAI is so great, IFPRI is currently developing a distance learning e-course on it. The innovation continues to make a difference toward ensuring that women’s empowerment counts.
G+ tools for gender-responsive breeding
Understanding women’s preferences
Co-development of technologies, by including diverse inputs and perspectives of people with the most at stake, will motivate women, youth and others to work together toward sustainable, resilient and equitable agri-food systems. For example, women farmers less frequently adopt improved, modern crop varieties, designed to better respond to ecological pressures and consumer preferences. This disparity is due to crop breeding programs often failing to include women’s inputs when designing new varieties or breeding materials.
That’s why it is imperative to continue to invest in research that shows what breeds and technologies work for women, and to transform breeding programs to include gender considerations in all their work. For example, the G+ approach for gender–responsive breeding can help scientists develop the kinds of crops that farmers and consumers – both women and men – want.
The G+ plus customer profile characterizes client groups targeted for new varieties, considering gender differences in knowledge, assets, and decision-making which influence adoption. This makes it easier for breeders to develop the right product for the right customers.
The G+ product profile query tool guides collection of evidence to prioritize the traits in product profiles by examining both potential positive gender impacts of those traits, but also any negative impacts they might have. These two G+ tools enable breeding programs to meaningfully think through social inclusivity, and especially women’s trait preferences and the special circumstances of different contexts, recognizing that one size does not fit all.
The tools were developed by the CGIAR Gender and Breeding Initiative (GBI) and are being jointly piloted by the CGIAR Research Platform on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) with the CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Platform (EiB) on a selected set of breeding programs. The tools are crucial as CGIAR breeding transitions towards a more demand-driven, socially inclusive approach.
Gender transformative approaches
Breaking down barriers to equality
Achieving gender equality and longevity of food systems is a matter of fixing the system, not the women. Interventions implemented ‘gender blind’ – with no consideration for underlying gender norms and relationships – are bound to maintain the status quo.
What’s needed for more equitable as well as more effective development outcomes is changing the unwritten rules – in society and in research – that have put men in charge of technologies, incomes and decisions. That’s why we need to invest in and widely apply gender-transformative approaches that can address the roots of gender-based inequalities.
Since 2012, CGIAR scientists at WorldFish and their partners have spearheaded the conceptualization, testing, and scaling of gender transformative approaches within CGIAR and in aquaculture, fisheries, agriculture, and broader development sectors. This has included a focus on gender-equitable control over assets and resources including microcredit and processing technologies.
Instead of burdening women with the responsibility for equality, gender transformative approaches engage men and women together as agents of change. As such, the aim is for women and men, from the household scale to the community and beyond, to shift constrictive gender norms and other structural barriers that underpin the persistence of inequalities in aquatic and land-based food systems.
Bioreclamation to secure women’s rights to land
Leveraging women’s potential
There is a mismatch between rhetoric in policy dialogues – which emphasize the importance of gender equality – and research for development. The published research contains more gaps than answers, and we need to bridge the gap between discourse and practice by integrating gender across agricultural research for development.
Equipping researchers and development partners with the right evidence can help them invest in the technologies that are most likely to benefit and bring about empowerment for women, youth, and other socially excluded groups. Likewise, supporting policies, programs and institutions that promote women’s ownership and use of farming products, land and water can lead to positive outcomes for women, men, and food systems.
For example, a gender-sensitive approach to reclaiming degraded land in Niger has restored land at minimal cost to communities and the environment as well as facilitated local women’s empowerment by securing their rights to land.
The approach involves women in restoring degraded lands through a combination of new and indigenous techniques, including water harvesting technologies and the planting of hardy and high-value fruit trees, as well as drought-resilient indigenous vegetables.
The immediate effects of the approach can be seen at the household level, in the form of higher incomes, greater food security and improved nutrition. Within three years of implementation, households reported a 50% increase in income, generated through the sale of annual leafy vegetables grown on restored plots – participating women generated 51% higher incomes than their non-participating peers.
Enhancing the entrepreneurial and technical skills and networks of women, young people and other excluded groups – as well as extending their access to digital opportunities – will be essential to nurture their capabilities, voice and leadership potential. The IITA Youth Agripreneurs (IYA) program engages youth in agribusiness through a unique capacity development model that can help them embrace agriculture as well as support sustainable food systems.
In its first five years, the model was adopted in more than 20 countries, trained 7,000 youths and created 1.5 million jobs for young people. As many as 127 agribusiness enterprises were established to support livelihoods, food security and nutrition in northeast Nigeria (Borno state), an area plagued by insurgency.
In 2019, IYA received an International Innovation Award in recognition of its contribution to sustainable food and agriculture, supported by the Government of Switzerland during the 41st conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome.