No project is ever gender neutral – even if it is on a topic that can seem totally irrelevant of gender, the effects of the project can be different for the men and women involved. That is why an analysis of these effects – whether positive or negative – should be included in all project planning. Such analysis requires multi-disciplinary knowledge and experience.

Approximately 40 participants from several different CGIAR centers as well as many of their close collaborators, convened for a three day workshop in Montpellier in June 2013 to discuss, share, innovate and agree on some basic methods and standards for including a gender perspective in agricultural research. Many of the participants were social scientists, with gender as one of the main focus of their work, but also many other disciplines were represented and examples from a diverse platform of research fields were introduced.

Unexpected effects may have the biggest influence

In the workshop there was a strong agreement that mixed research methods, including both qualitative and quantitative, give the best basis for a thorough analysis. Which methods you choose of course depends on your research questions. However, it is never enough to merely disaggregate the data by gender. The effect of a project on different groups needs to be analyzed. The unexpected effects may be the one that have the biggest influence!

This means we need to include a great deal of reflexivity in the whole research process. Different methods give different types of answers, and we need to identify what contributes to our analysis. E.g. quantitative methods can reveal patterns, while qualitative methods are good for capturing specificity. Both “sameness” and “specificity” are interesting for the analysis. Categories should not be constructed in advance, but rather be formed based on the data. However, there is also a risk in assuming too much of the data and what you can interpret based on it. Comments like “we need to capture the data” are commonly strewn about when discussing research, but in fact data is not the truth – also data is constructed.

Schoolgirl on a maize field in Kenya. Photo: Mila Sell
Schoolgirl on a maize field in Kenya. Photo: Mila Sell

Another reason why it is not enough to include numbers relating to gender in your data, is that gender is a transformative process and means different things to different people at different times. The newly developed tool Women Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) is useful in giving an overview of the situation in a given context and capture particular trends. But also empowerment is a process, so in order to measure it realistically, change over time needs to be measured. This means good basic data, such as panel data, is essential for useful comparative analysis.

Multi-disciplinary teams

All participants of the workshop were in agreement that the key to successfully integrating a gender approach in agricultural research is working with a multi-disciplinary team. A requirement of all team members is that they are open-minded and willing to collaborate, listen and learn from each other. It is important to build a mutual language on gender issues among the different disciplines.

Based on the workshop discussions the gender network will develop guidelines for partners working with the CGIAR worldwide, to understand both why and how to integrate gender into their research projects. There are some minimum questions that need to be asked. The key one is “who?”. And the answer should include more information that merely the sex of the person – also other demographic features, such as role in the household, age, ethnicity, religion, play a part in determining the realities of the person.

In addition to being a very informative eye-opener, the workshop was a great opportunity to network and find linkages to other relevant projects ongoing in the same programme countries or similar topics in different countries. The work is sure to continue through a strengthened and dynamic network of engaged gender experts.

Gender perspective in agricultural research was discussed in a workshop in Montpellier, France, in June 2013. The workshop was organized by the CGIAR, several centres of which are MTT Agrifood Research Finland’s partners in the research and development programme FoodAfrica. The author of this article, Mila Sell, Research Scientist and Project Coordinator of FoodAfrica from MTT participated in the workshop.

Project Coordinator Mila Sell