Breaking the GESI policy-practice gridlock in agriculture in Ethiopia: GESI scorecards as self-assessment tools

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  • Ethiopia has been a forerunner in integrating gender and social inclusion (GESI) into agriculture policies and strategies. However, transforming these GESI strategies into practice has been a key challenge.
  • The policy-practice gridlock requires, amongst other things, building capacity and ensuring necessary resources for implementing actors to understand, apply, and monitor interventions designed to address GESI.
  • The Ukama Utsawi Initiative proposes a bottom-up approach to reviewing performance and impact: Gender score cards that are co-designed with relevant institutional actors, which will allow self-review and monitoring of intervention actions and their outcomes.

“Gender and social inclusion policies and strategies have been critically advantageous for women in agri-food systems. For instance, the implementation of a joint land certificate, wherein landholding certificates are issued in the names of both husband and wife has led to a higher level of women’s ability to make decisions related to land, including land rentals.” – Workshop participant, December 2023.

Female agri-entrepreneurs in Ethiopia encounter disproportionate obstacles compared to their male counterparts, including limited access to land and financial resources. Research conducted across four regions revealed that a mere 9% of agri-entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector are women” – Workshop participant, December 2023.

“Unequal social norms are dominant barriers for effectively mainstreaming gender in the agriculture sector. Gender transformative approaches are key to challenging these social norms” – Workshop participant, 2023.

Gender mainstreaming guidelines: Translating policy to practice. The commitment of the Ethiopian Government to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment across all developmental domains is evident from its Federal Constitution of 1995, the National Policy on Women of 1993, the National Action Plan for Gender Equality of 2006–2010, the Ethiopian Women’s Development Package, and the ratification of relevant international legal frameworks and instruments. At the sectoral level, the Ministry of Agriculture’s commitment to gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in agriculture is reflected in its revised Agriculture and Rural Development Policy. To promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, the Ministry has also developed sector-specific gender mainstreaming guidelines in 2011 and the Gender Equality Strategy for the Agriculture Sector (GESA) in 2017 (revised in 2023). However, subsequent gender-responsive policies have not tackled deep-rooted gender inequalities. Recognizing this policy-practice gridlock, the Ministry aimed to revise and update the 2011 gender mainstreaming guidelines as a practical tool to complement the newly revised GESA. To draw much-needed attention to GESI and other challenges, a workshop was co-organized by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI)-led Ukama-Ustawi Initiative’s Empower and Engage work package and the Ministry of Agriculture, bringing together key actors and stakeholders to study and revise gender mainstreaming guidelines. The revised guidelines are expected to facilitate the gender mainstreaming process in the agriculture sector and serve as a tool for practitioners to incorporate and prioritize gender issues in general interventions. All departments and affiliated institutions under the Ministry are expected to follow suit in incorporating gender mainstreaming into all their initiatives and programs.

Photo: The Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines Revision workshop held November 30–December 3, 2023, in Adama, Ethiopia. Credit: Likimyelesh Nigussie/IWMI]
Photo: The Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines Revision workshop, held November 30–December 3, 2023, in Adama, Ethiopia. Credit: Likimyelesh Nigussie/IWMI

The workshop brought together 43 participants, including 23 women and 20 men, and national and local stakeholders engaged in GESI in Ethiopia’s agriculture sector in Adama, from November 30 to December 3, 2023.

Complex policy-practice gridlocks. Policy-practice gridlocks in relation to gender inequality and social exclusion are particularly complex as they are shaped by deep-rooted structural and systemic biases, as well as by institutional inertia. Policies are often written with very little consultation and engagement with grassroots actors, particularly marginalized communities, which are inadequately informed of the complexities of ground realities. Gender policies relating to certain sectors, in this case, agriculture, are rarely supported by complementary changes in other relevant policies. For example, gender written into agricultural and rural development policy is aligned with relevant national gender laws, regulations, commitments, and policies but is limited in sector-specific strategies, regulations, directives, etc., which are developed within the sector. Policies’ priorities are also rarely legally binding. Additionally, the shambolic structure from the federal to the grassroots level and the lack of finances disable the effective implementation of policies, including follow-up review through monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) approaches that can help unpack policy-practice gridlocks. More practically, most policy documents spell out what needs to be done, but very few stipulate how to implement policies. Across the institutional landscape, the capacity to implement gender policies—the necessary scaffolding—is lacking. Implementing institutions are rarely capacitated to effectively implement gender policies; they only respond to and address dynamic change processes on the ground.

The lack of gender know-how across the institutional landscape. The gradual expansion of women’s rights in Ethiopian legislation is an outcome of decades of policies and strategies aimed at promoting gender equality, including in food systems policies, plans and strategies. However, these positive changes are contradicted by persisting narratives of gender inequality and social exclusion in agri-food systems. Evidence from research shows that most food-system policies tend to focus on the delivery of specific resources and services without tackling the systemic factors that cause and continue inequalities. The lack of effective monitoring and evaluation makes it difficult to understand the policy-practice gridlock and assess the effectiveness of gender-responsive policies. Actors functioning across the agri-food system institutional landscape often lack the knowledge, capacity, and resources to tackle complex, deep-rooted gender norms, barriers, and hierarchies.

Self-evaluation in tackling gender inequalities: GESI scorecards. The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) will work with the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture in 2024 to co-design and pilot GESI scorecards as a tool to support relevant institutions and agencies to self-evaluate and assess performance and progress in mainstreaming gender in Ethiopia. This process will enable relevant institutions to assess critical gaps, challenges, and opportunities for mainstreaming gender and also define clear steps and strategies for achieving target goals and objectives.

What the GESI scorecard will look like. What you measure is what you get. Evidence from elsewhere shows that a balanced scorecard works best, allowing the measurement of multiple issues (which is particularly important in this case), not just results and impact but also the process (UN Nepal 2019). Other issues could include financial spending, internal reporting processes, and the organization’s innovation performance (on gender responsiveness and impact, i.e., tangible outcomes, including validation by end-users). What is equally important is that the scorecards are designed for self-assessment. This will allow for self-reflection and rethinking, which are fundamental for learning and improvement. Finally, a make-or-break factor will be that scorecards are easy to use and allow for quick, periodic assessments. All this thinking will be integrated into the design of the GESI scorecards.

Featured image: Woman working in a cabbage farm in Bochesa around Ziway in Ethiopia. Credit: Maheder Haileselassie/IWMI


  • Deepa Joshi, Gender, Youth and Inclusion Lead Specialist, IWMI
  • Likimyelesh Nigussie, Research Officer, Governance and Inclusion Specialist, IWMI
  • Everisto Mapedza, Senior Researcher – Social and Institutional Scientist, IWMI


  • Samson Adane, Women, Children and Youth Affairs Senior Expert, Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia
  • Markos Mekonnen, Women, Children and Youth Affairs Team Leader, Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia

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