Women and Gender in Development Conference: Lessons Learned
This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications coordinator for the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab.
"How does one’s identity shape experiences of an intervention?" asked Jemimah Njuki, Africa director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The question was one of the central themes of Njuki’s presentation as a keynote speaker at the Women and Gender in Development Conference, hosted by Virginia Tech’s Women and Gender in International Development program. In fact, identity of both people and place was at the core of the entire conference: How do women experience development initiatives differently than men and one another? How do development approaches vary based on region? What challenges are faced by communities living in different areas of a single country?
The February 2021 conference, titled "Out of the Theory & Into the Field: A Dialogue on Gendered Approaches to Inclusive Rural Development," gathered students, early career faculty, practitioners and extension professionals from over 20 countries and over 200 organizations to discuss gender in development in the U.S. and developing world. The event fostered networking opportunities and featured panels on topics such as feminist food justice and engaging men in conversations on gender equality.
Among the many programs represented at the conference was a number of the Feed the Future innovation labs and their collaborators, which have a unique connection to Njuki’s question.
"A recurring topic at the conference was intersectionality," said Maria Elisa Christie, director of Women and Gender in International Development and a collaborator of Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab (IPM Innovation Lab). "The innovation labs operate based on collaboration between universities, research institutions, countries and others to generate contextually-grounded knowledge, practices and policies. These outputs will address current and future challenges posed by climate change, land degradation, market volatility and transboundary pests and diseases. Across the innovation labs, we are recognizing that to address these complex challenges facing agricultural livelihoods, we must expand our understanding of the gendered dimensions of farming and food systems by applying an intersectional approach. The priorities, challenges and experiences of younger women and younger men, for example, are not the same as those of older women and older men. Our research and translation approaches therefore must be based upon a critical understanding of how axes of identity (gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, race, education and religion) are a source of privilege and discrimination."
The Women and Gender in Development Conference presented both new approaches and important challenges to consider while conducting development research. Here are some of the lessons learned from innovation lab participants:
Rica Flor, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) scientist and IPM Innovation Lab collaborator in Cambodia
"One of the speakers talked about how linking women from small diversified vegetable production to the market had some unforeseen negative consequences. This is striking for me, because that is exactly the vision we posit for diversifying crops under IPM (e.g., ecological engineering, where bund crops are added to the rice crop for both pest management and benefits to the household). We imagine later on they can sell those as well and get income. I learned that we have to navigate that carefully and continue to assess how/where women can benefit."
Wondi Mersie, associate dean and director of research at Virginia State University and IPM Innovation Lab collaborator on Parthenium in East Africa
"One of the difficulties of incorporating gender in the implementation of project objectives is establishing contact with women in the household who are actually doing most of the agricultural work, including weeding, harvesting and marketing, especially horticultural crops. This is because when one tries to work with farmers, access is largely to men in the household. I believe this may change as extension personnel who work with farmers in rural areas are trained in gender issues and are required to work with female farmers. In addition, as new female development/extension agents are trained and start to work with farmers, they can help to reduce the current situation of largely contacting male members of the household."
Laura Zseleczky, communications specialist for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish
"During the pre-conference workshop on gender and monitoring, evaluation and learning, the discussion focused a lot on how the questions we ask — and the methods we use to ask them — affects what we think we know about a particular development issue or challenge. For researchers, this means it’s important to do your homework about the contexts in which you are working and consider the most appropriate methods to collect the information you need. As a communicator, it reminded me that the questions you ask — or don’t ask — when writing a story can have a powerful impact on how an issue or experience is represented. I plan to be more thoughtful about the background research I undertake and questions I ask when developing stories to share the progress and findings of Fish Innovation Lab projects. I hope that this will help me convey a more nuanced picture of the contexts in which our projects work and the insights we can gain from those communities. ... I think a key step toward more systematic consideration of gendered impacts in [monitoring and evaluation] is providing more training and learning opportunities on this topic for all project team members, not just the gender experts!"
Daniel Sumner, assistant director of Women and Gender in International Development and IPM Innovation Lab collaborator on gender
"During the conference, it was uplifting to learn about the innovative and participatory approaches being used across the innovation labs to ensure women’s and men’s priorities are at the forefront of agricultural research for development. However, several of the conference speakers demonstrated that integrating gender in agricultural research is not sufficient to address the underlying norms and structures that shape gender-based inequalities present within food systems in the Global North and the Global South. I have seen how gender specialists, gender focal points and gender researchers within the innovation labs and beyond are working to mobilize interdisciplinary partnerships to challenge these inequitable norms, but there is still more that must be done to ensure we can foster true interdisciplinary and equitable partnerships that will generate more resilient and equitable food systems.”
The Women and Gender in International Development program is housed at Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education and Development. The Women and Gender in Development Conference was supported by the Innovation for Rural Entrepreneurs and Communities, grant no. 2020-67023-30959, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture.