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Looking back to move forward: Celebrating 20 years of gender research at IFPRI

Originally posted at https://www.ifpri.org/blog/looking-back-move-forward
JULY 1, 2015

My 20th anniversary of working at IFPRI coincides with the 20th anniversary of the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, where then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton proudly proclaimed that women’s rights are human rights. I had been hired to lead IFPRI’s research program on gender and intrahousehold issues a few months before the conference, and the trip to Beijing was my first overseas trip for the Institute. The atmosphere there was both festive and chaotic. Women (and men) from all over the world were at the official UN conference as well as at the NGO conference in Huairou; these sites were deliberately a fair distance from each other, to keep the more vocal NGOs out of the sedate UN-style discussions. I remember shuttling from one site to the other in rickety buses without air conditioning alongside the other participants—such minor inconveniences did not dampen our spirits at all!

My IFPRI colleagues and I produced a Food Policy Report for Beijing, “Women: The Key to Food Security,” in which we summarized the empirical evidence on women’s roles as producers, income earners, and caregivers—in their capacity as guardians of household food and nutrition security. Before the 1990s, quantitative evidence on women’s role in food security was scarce. There were many anthropological studies, but these were mostly small ethnographic studies and could not be generalized across different countries and contexts. For the first time, we were able to present numbers drawn from empirical studies based on large data sets, from a variety of contexts and cultures. These results demonstrated that women’s lower access to productive inputs was responsible for their lower yields relative to men, suggesting inefficiencies in resource allocation within the household, that women’s incomes tended to be spent on child health and nutrition, and that women’s time was important for the well-being of families as well as their own.

The audience of policymakers and NGO representatives in Beijing was hungry for this type of research.  It was clear that there was a demand for evidence-based policymaking on gender. But it was still difficult to convince policymakers that there were gains to achieving gender equality. These hard-nosed decisionmakers were not convinced that women’s empowerment was an end in itself; we had to find the numbers to show that empowering women also made good economic sense. A major challenge was that the data to test many hypotheses did not yet exist at the level of disaggregation that we needed—most data were collected at the household level, and did not distinguish between resources controlled by men and women.

The evidence gap convinced us to undertake an ambitious research program in the 1990s when we gathered new data in four focus countries—Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Guatemala, and South Africa—to test models of household decisionmaking. We wanted to understand better how men and women made decisions and allocated resources within households across very different cultures and contexts. To do this, we designed questionnaire modules that looked at the assets that men and women brought to marriage.  We found out that the bargaining power of men and women at the time of marriage—which reflected the physical and human assets each possessed as well as external policy interventions—also affected how men and women allocated resources within marriage. This had important implications for household and individual well-being. Although these studies were observational (not based on experimental evidence), they showed that resources controlled by women tended to be correlated with better educational, health, and nutrition of children.

The results from these studies influenced the design of Mexico’s PROGRESA, the forerunner ofOportunidades, a nationwide conditional cash transfer (CCT) program that, for the first time, transferred cash directly to the mother, rather than to the “household.” The impact evaluation of PROGRESA, conducted by IFPRI, was also a forerunner of impact evaluations using randomized controlled trials. The success of Mexico’s program influenced the design of CCTs worldwide. One important lesson in the implementation of CCTs, however, was that designs could not be adopted wholesale without adaptation to local conditions, because gender norms are very context- and culture-specific. Another important lesson was that programs should not consider women alone, but women in relation to men and other members of the household and community. In fact, the danger of targeting programs only to women was not only the potential backlash from men but also the increased demands on her own time.

Assets emerged as an important factor that not only affected the bargaining power of men and women, but also the well-being of households over time. Our realization that men’s and women’s property rights over assets mattered, and that these rights could be influenced by both policy and agricultural development programming, led to a new research program investigating how agricultural development programs can affect the gender asset gap. Our work on intrahousehold decisionmaking and assets then led to work developing measures of women’s empowerment, such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), which has now been implemented in 19 Feed the Future countries and is being adopted by other development organizations throughout the world.

Policy, research, and practice on gender in food security has evolved greatly since the 1990s. Gender equality and women’s empowerment became enshrined in the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Measures of women’s empowerment are becoming part of projects’ monitoring and evaluation system.  NGOs are no longer considered second-class citizens in development programming; indeed they have taken the lead in implementing innovative programs at scale to empower women. Most importantly, our ideas have moved on from women alone as being the “key to food security” to looking at gender dynamics—relationships between women and men—and involving both women and men as partners in improving food security and the well-being of their households and communities.

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New publication: Rural Women and Empowerment Topic Guide

The Rural Women and Empowerment Topic Guide is now published and available at:

It was prepared through the Evidence on Demand information hub (http://www.evidenceondemand.info/homepage.aspx) for DFID livelihood officers, but can be a resource for a wider audience working in rural areas.  There are 5 sections and links to further gender related resources
1.       Empowerment – overview and debates
2.       Supporting empowerment at the policy and programming levels
3.       Waged work and social protection and empowerment
4.       Entrepreneurship, value chains and empowerment
5.       Monitoring, evaluating and assessing impact.

Other Guides on topics such as climate, environment and livelihoods are also available at: http://www.evidenceondemand.info/list-of-topic-guides

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Registration open for e-learning course on development evaluation and gender

UN Women Independent Evaluation Office, Claremont Graduate University and IOCE, within the EvalPartners initiative, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and in partnership with UNEG, OECD/DAC EvalNet, ALNAP, UNICEF, ReLAC, IPEN and EvalMena, have announced the opening of the registration for the second 2015 cohort of the introductory e-Learning programme on Development Evaluation. which will close on  17 September 2015.  Read details at http://gendereval.ning.com/profiles/blogs/register-now-to-e-learning-on-development-evaluation?xg_source=activity

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Consultant opportunity with World Bank Gender Innovation Lab

The World Bank’s Africa Region Gender Innovation Lab seeks a Short Term Consultant (STC) to produce a gender-disaggregated cross-country analysis of well-being using the new Listening to Africa (L2A) survey.

The STC will be responsible to produce a gender-disaggregated cross-country analysis of well-being using the new Listening to Africa (L2A) survey. The L2A uses mobile phone technologies to collect high-frequency household panel data on a wide range of topics including education, health, labor, housing, assets, electricity and transport, consumption, nutrition and food security, security and violence, subjective well-being, agriculture, shocks and coping strategies, as well as water, sanitation and hygiene. L2A surveys are currently being implemented in Madagascar, Malawi, Togo (Lome), Senegal and Tanzania.

Findings from this research will be published as a WB-GIL report, which seeks to allow better understanding of gender disparities in Africa as well as of what can be done to address them.

About the Gender Innovation Lab: 

The Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) supports rigorous research to build the evidence base for effective gender policies. The impact objective of the Gender Innovation Lab is to increase governments’ and the private sector’s take-up of effective policies that address the underlying causes of gender inequality in Africa, particularly by promoting growth through women’s economic and social empowerment.

Read the full Terms of Reference here: L2A Survey STC_GIL

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New post on EnGendering Data Blog: Debunking the myth of female labor in African agriculture

Working in the field. Ghana. Photo Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

Working in the field. Ghana. Photo Credit: Curt Carnemark / World Bank

EnGendering Data, a blog on improving data on the role of gender in agriculture, has a new post on female labor in African agriculture. Cheryl Doss shares new studies that “offer our most detailed understanding to date of rural economies in Africa” and challenge the widely cited “fact” that women in Africa provide 60-80% of the labor in agriculture. She then encourages a shift of focus to the question of how to effectively invest in women’s agricultural productivity, drawing on empirical evidence to chart a course.

Read the full post on the blog, here.

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30 fellowships available to attend ITC-ILO Gender Academy

gender academy

The ITC-ILO Gender Academy is confirmed to take place in Turin from 16 to 27 November 2015.

An initial lot of 30 fellowships covering tuition fees to participate in the Gender Academy is available.

Priority is normally given to nationals from ODA recipient countries however a limited number of fellowship is also available for nationals from OECD countries. Geographical and gender balance are among the selection criteria for assigning available fellowships.

UN staff or from international development agencies, including bilateral cooperation agencies, are not eligible for fellowships. However special arrangements apply to organizations enrolling more than two participants.

For more information on how to apply for fellowships please consult:


or write to: genderacademy@itcilo.org

Deadline for application : 14 August 2015

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CARE USA is recruiting a Technical Advisor for Gender (Food Nutrition Security)

CARE USA is currently recruiting a Technical Advisor for Gender (Food Nutrition Security), who will provide technical assistance and strategic guidance to a portfolio of agriculture, livelihoods, and food and nutrition security programs within CARE’s Food and Nutritional Security (FNS) unit. S/he will provide direct assistance to country offices, and help ensure that FNS programs, operations, and research agenda reflect CARE’s rights-based principles and approaches to gender equality. To apply, visit CARE’s career page, http://www.care.org/careers, under domestic openings, or contact ehillenbrand@care.org for further information. Deadline to apply is July 15th.


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