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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Minding the Gender Gap: Bringing a gender lens to agricultural development

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Agriculture and Rural Development Day at RIO+20, June 2012, “Gender Sensitivity in Climate Change Adaptation”

When planning interventions for improved agricultural technologies and rural development the gender lens is often ignored. However, the cost of ignoring it is quite high:  improving rural women’s conditions or “minding the gender gap” could raise agricultural production in the developing countries by 2.5-4% and reduce hunger by 12-17%, which is equal to 100 to 150 million people.

After the Summit of Rio+20, many leaders met to discuss the future of the world, and many were pessimistic on the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to end poverty in the world. One may wonder, especially in reference to the MDG that aims to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, why if empowering women can be so effective for increasing production yields and reducing hunger, gender research and effective gender actions are still ranking low in many priority settings?

This issue was brought forth in the discussions during the Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) 2012 at Rio (http://www.cgiar.org/press-releases/agriculture-and-rural-development-day-2012-lessons-in-sustainable-landscapes-and-livelihoods/). So, what does “minding the gender gap” mean? If agricultural interventions or climate change adaptation strategies are not developed with a gender lens, their impact will be highly reduced. For instance, to reduce women farmer’s vulnerability in the face of climate change, persistent inequalities must be addressed. Women should have improved access to assets (especially land ownership), to services (especially information and markets) and they also need to have opportunities to attain better levels of education and training.

Some pilot studies in Africa show that women have less access to weather information. But interventions must go beyond just reducing the gender biased access to information. Other barriers, like background knowledge or basic skills are required and must be strengthened to be able to make an adequate use of the information. Another aspect is increasing agricultural yields and therefore economic benefits to farmers. Many times this is not enough to improve the wellbeing of women and their children. Thinking about the gender gap will mean considering who is really capturing the benefits and/or who is making the decisions on how to spend the income.

There is a pressing need to develop and implement baseline studies and data collection that ask the “right gender questions,” that will then provide key information to be mainstreamed into strategies and policies. These are also important to develop specific gender indicators to monitor the progress in the ground and identify gaps that require more research. But many times, this is not enough. Blending into the communities, developing a real bond with women’s groups is needed to be able to get a deep sense of the dynamics and get the “right answers” for those questions. For instance, a common question in the surveys is who is heading the household. Many times, due to cultural traditions among other reasons, responses will point to a male headed household, even though; the male of the household is most of the year in a distant village working and only comes home a few weeks per year and the woman is the one at home taking care of most of the responsibilities. So, who is really the head of the household?

To really capture the gender sensitivities and issues in the collection of data, the Climate Change and Food Security Research Program (CCAFS) , the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR), the Earth System Science Partnership and FAO jointly developed  new research methods and training materials, for gender and climate change research in agriculture (http://ccafs.cgiar.org/sites/default/files/assets/docs/fao-ccafs-brief-gender-web.pdf). Additionally, in relation to gender indicators, USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and OPHI created an index to measure women’s empowerment, looking at five main domains:  production, resources, income, leadership, and time (http://www.ifpri.org/publication/womens-empowerment-agriculture-index).

For reducing the gender gap, strengthening the links and exchanges between the scientific and policy sectors is of crucial importance. Some of the main constraints that limit women and reduce their ability to cope in the future with climate change can only be addressed by policy and institutional interventions. This is the case of land access and tenure, which require deep structural changes in the distribution of ownership and wealth. Ideally, this should translate into women owning larger and good quality plots. Access to credit and inputs (seeds, fertilizers and irrigation equipment) is also a main constraint that should be addressed by policy and technical assistance programs. Policies that guarantee access (especially in the rural areas) and quality of education and technical training in accordance with the local needs are also key. But also, some of the initiatives currently undertaken by many governments around the world, which are the National Adaptation Programs on Action to Climate Change (NAPA’s) should also include a strong gender approach.

Agricultural technologies should consider ex-ante their impact on women. For instance, if new technologies will be more labor intensive, women won’t buy into them. Women farmers already have very high workloads being responsible for household chores, firewood collection, working in the fields and vegetable farming (among other responsibilities). Therefore, it is a priority to free women’s time through labor saving technologies. Currently, there are multiple adaptation initiatives leaded by public and private sectors and research institutions around the world. The monitoring and evaluation of these cross-cultural and cross-country strategies should assess the impact on women. In this way, we can identify the climate-smart agricultural practices, actions and strategies that in a sustainable manner help to increase productivity and resilience, but also the ones that most benefit women.


Gender should be integrated throughout the research cycle. The Consortium Level Gender Strategy aims to improve the relevance of its research for poor women (http://library.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10947/2630/Consortium_Gender_Strategy.pdf?sequence=4). CCAFS which is leaded by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) developed a Gender Strategy (http://ccafs.cgiar.org/sites/default/files/assets/docs/ccafs_gender_strategy2012-final.pdf).  For exploring adaptation options using a gender lens various methodologies are now being applied in the field. These include the Social Return on Investment which is bringing forth a new approach where communities measure the costs and benefits of interventions. Some gender related interventions include the capture of women’s perceptions of value and women’s daily calendars (in time of surplus and in time of need). Also, the Climate Analogues where communities can learn coping strategies from the people living in places where the climate conditions are now similar to the ones they will face in the future. For women to really be able to test and validate meaningful adaptation practices taking full advantage of this tool, many issues need to be considered: What do women want to learn? Do they have the same socio-economic ability to act on what they learn? Do women have the same adaptation priorities? Last, the Village Resource Maps where women map their own village, the natural resources and the activities they perform more frequently. They have been useful to identify what is most relevant to women and some aspects that could limit their ability to benefit from the analogues approach. For instance, women do not travel as far and as frequently as men do, and their mobility is limited by daily and seasonal calendars.

So, what is the future that women want? To have public and private interventions effectively address the gender gap, allowing them to become key players leading the change needed in the food and agricultural sector for attaining sustainable and resilient food systems and rural development with an integrated landscape approach.   

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