Win-Win: Why we need to invest in gender equality in agriculture

Mar 11, 2021 by Emily Janoch and Josee Ntabahungu Comments (0)

At CARE, we’ve been convinced for a long time that supporting gender equality is critical to people changing their lives and leaving poverty. From a human rights perspective, we know it’s “worth it” – even though approaches that focus on supporting women and men to change their own lives are more complicated and sometimes take longer to pay off.

That’s great when you’re already convinced, but what about for the skeptics out there? People who think, “gender equality is all well and good, but that’s a problem you only worry about when you’ve already got enough to eat.” CARE’s got some exciting new research that proves that working on more progressive approaches to gender equality, which incorporate investment in collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA), doesn’t just help improve equality and outcomes in women’s rights. It also improves incomes, food security, and agriculture production.

In Burundi, CARE partnered with the Africa Center for Gender, Social Research and Impact Assessment, Great Lakes Inkingi Development (GLID), RBU 2000 Plus, and the University of Burundi in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) on a project to test what works to improve gender equality and food security at the same time. The project was funded with $2.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2016-2020 and reached 9,911 people directly and more than 37,000 people indirectly.

Investing in collaborating, learning, and adapting as part of the project was a key component of the success. Without those investments, the project would not have been able to achieve impact, and communities would not have made the changes they wanted to see. The project deliberately set out to provide rigorous research to test what results gender transformative work has relative to approaches that don’t focus on changing the underlying causes of gender inequality. The team also deliberately brought in a lot of partners—from the government to communities, to Burundian universities, to regional research groups—to help generate learning that will inform decisions for lots of different actors. Participating in the project and in creating the learning makes it easier to act on the results.

A final evaluation was conducted to assess the impact of the project, showing that a gender-transformative approach in the agriculture sector could be adapted and applied to other contexts, using lessons learned. Here’s what we found:

What changed?

  • Working on gender equality has higher returns on investment: Techniques that focus on helping women access the support they need for gender equality and change discriminatory social and gender norms showed a return of $5 for every $1 invested, compared to techniques that only shared messages about equality, which only gave a $3 return for every $1 spent.
  • Gender equality grows more food: Women who got more opportunities and support to address gender inequality increased their rice production 2.7 times, compared to just 2 times the production for people who only got agriculture training and information on gender equality. They were also 26% more likely to have enough food to eat.
  • Empowered women earn more money: Women who participated in activities with more focus on equality were 94% more likely to get to equality, and 3 times more likely to move to a higher income bracket.
  • The Gender Parity Index (GPI), improved by 51% in gender transformative groups and by less than 10%in the gender light and control groups.
  • Everyone eats better when women have a fair chance. Families in the groups that focused on equality were 26% more likely to have enough food and diverse diets, and women that participated in groups that didn’t focus on gender equality had less diverse diets at the end of the program than they did at the beginning. Families in the activities that focused on equality were most likely to be eating enough food.
  • Women feel safer: Women in the more progressive groups were 89% more likely to feel safe disagreeing with their partner at the end of project than they were at the beginning. Men and women both were 35% less likely to support gender-based violence.
  • Women are more confident they can change their lives: Women in the most progressive groups were the most likely to believe that they could act together to change their lives and create change. For example, they are most confident that they can change the way women are treated at health centers.

How did it happen?

  • Engage, don’t inform: The groups that worked with men and community leaders to address gender inequality and get them actively talking about gender norms and power imbalances were much more effective than ones that simply shared messages that gender equality matters.
  • Adapt and apply proven tools in new contexts. Since 2016, CARE Burundi has implemented the EKATA approach – Empowerment through Knowledge And Transformative Action – which originally started in Bangladesh. They also applied the Abatangamuco approach – which Burundi invented to work with men and boys towards gender equality.
  • Combine skills training with the ability to work together in groups and negotiation. The EKATA approach works with women to build their skills in negotiation, leadership, conflict management, and working together for change. At the same time, it brings in men and leaders to talk with women and find ways to change the habits and norms that are leading to inequality and violence.
  • Test what works: The project tested if focusing on achieving gender equality worked better than simply sharing messages about women’s rights and gender equality on top of agricultural training.
  • Generate good evidence: The project used a rigorous research design to test what worked best, and how much extra it cost to get to successful results. This is evidence we can use for years to understand what components lead to better returns on investment not just in gender equality, but also in incomes, food production, and nutrition.
  • Be practical and think of cost: The project didn’t just test for impacts, it also looked at what it cost to get to extra impact. In fact, it only cost 10% more to implement the gender equality activities. Ultimately, that little extra investment pays off.

Want to learn more?

Check out the final evaluation, the Policy Brief, Cost Benefit Analysis, and the Impact Report.