Posted By in AgriProFocus Netherlands
Posted 17 May 2018 at 07:46

‘Gender is still too often a separate paragraph’

This round-table interview is one of the articles in the Gender Magazine 'Making Gender Work: Cultivating Diversity'  

How can this be changed?

It is not easy to integrate a gender perspective into a programme. Partners can accuse you of imposing Western values, women are not allowed to participate, colleagues don’t take the issue seriously, and so on. There are, however, many ways to persevere and to enjoy success, according to three experienced gender specialists ‘One way is building a relationship of trust.’

When Julie Newton, senior gender advisor at KIT Royal Tropical Institute explained for the first time to the scientists of the African Chicken Genetics Programme the value of integrating a gender perspective, she experienced some resistance. ‘National scientists initially felt we were imposing Western values of equality, or even feminism. In these cases I remain respectful and I first listen. Then I explain how relations within the household affect who will benefit from the new technology or products, and that addressing these issues is thus crucial for the programme’s goal of poverty reduction.’

Arno de Snoo, lecturer in Agronomy at Van Hall Larenstein University, The Netherlands, has also encountered resistance. ‘Many of my students are interested in the subject. But it also happens that male students laugh about it, and start making the inequality problem seem smaller. Then I often state that women can be far better farmers or business people than men. That provides the basis of a good discussion.’

Angelica Senders, gender specialist at Fair & Sustainable Consulting, notes how difficult it is, even for benevolent professionals, to really integrate a gender perspective into a programme. ‘Actually all programmes are still developed in a general manner. Then halfway through the trajectory, the project leaders realize that they also have to do something with gender. At that point they hire me to give a training course or to write an advisory document, but the gender perspective is not taken up from the start. There are always more urgent things to do.’ De Snoo fully agrees: ‘The gender issue is too often a separate paragraph in a proposal, it is not seen as serious business.’ Newton and Senders note that, although donors stress the importance, adequate resources are not usually available.

What to do if additional money is not budgeted?

According to the three specialists, not all improvements need to be expensive. Scientists, for example, could start collecting data from both women and men in households and analyse these separately. Newton: ‘We have supported the scientists of the chicken genetics programme to collect separate data on trade preferences for poultry. Men want big chickens, because of the meat. These bring higher prices at the market, which they control. Women want chickens that lay more eggs, because they have control over the income from eggs.’ Training couples instead of individual household members could be another improvement that does not have to cost a lot more money. There are already several methods developed for this, such as training couples in joint budgeting.

What arguments do you use?

Senders: ‘In economic programmes, we first stress that gender sensitivity generates profit and business, because this is important for companies. But we always emphasize social arguments, such as the need for equal rights, as well. We do not want women to be exploited. De Snoo: ‘If we want true sustainability, we need to address social injustice, and we must recognize that global trends such as climate change affect women in different ways than men. For example, droughts can have a direct effect on the time women need to collect water.’ Newton warns against a focus on the business case that is too one-sided: ‘If you only stress the economic argument, you will never address the root causes of not having access to resources and knowledge.’

What else can be done to convince partners?

KIT specialists have experienced how important it is to build a relationship of trust over time. Newton: ‘Developing a gender strategy for the African Chicken Genetics Programme took a whole year. This was a very important lesson for us. A participatory approach over a longer period is much better than flying in for one or two weeks. In the end, the national scientists came up with solutions to genuinely empower the women themselves.’

To convince partners, it also helps if male economic specialists argue for a gender approach, adds Senders. ‘Sometimes, taking up a gender approach in an assignment is even easier for my male colleagues than for me. They are quite good at explaining the issue.’ De Snoo noticed the need to involve men in Indonesia, where he worked to convince traditional elders to give women equal access to knowledge and resources within their rice cooperation. He told them that participation of women would make their cooperation and their own position stronger. ‘Sometimes I felt that men were more interested when I was arguing than when my female colleague spoke to them.’


Julie Newton, KIT Royal Tropical Institute: ‘Experience shows that it is good to convince the most influential men and women in a community. For instance in Bangladesh, mothers-in-law have a lot of power over young women. So you need to bring them on board.’

Angelica Senders, Fair & Sustainable Consulting: ‘In Afghanistan, development organizations have involved imams to change values. They use arguments from the Koran, such as that the wife of Mohammed also had a business.’

Arno de Snoo, Van Hall Larenstein: ‘It is important that students are aware of the inequalities that exist between men and women, also in the Western world. Awareness is the first step to social justice.’