The gender marathon – we’re only getting started

A recent study undertaken by CARE International examines IFAD’s performance fostering gender equality and women’s empowerment, observing a selection of eight projects in the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). The study is a reality-check on how ASAP-supported projects are translating gender mainstreaming commitments into implementation practice.

The study highlighted a number of projects that offer demonstrable benefits for women. For example, the staff of the Adaptation to Climate Change in the Delta (AMD) project in Vietnam reported that investments in irrigation technologies have enabled women, who formerly spent half a day irrigating their fields, to complete the task in just 15 minutes.

The Post-Harvest Support Project (PASP) in Rwanda has similarly trained 160 GALS champions (women and men) who have in turn trained another 200 women and 200 men. Participants spoke of the benefits of the experience, including improved relations with their spouse, pooling money for shared benefits within the household, and making joint decisions about household expenses. 

The main findings and recommendations provide additional insights into how investments, capacities and processes can lead to better outcomes for women in smallholder adaptation projects. Among the findings, the study highlights the need to move beyond tracking women’s participation in project activities, and develop a more thorough understanding of what participation means in these cases. Participation may be important for women’s economic empowerment through increased access to inputs such as land and capital, but the evidence that participation necessarily leads to improved economic outcomes is anecdotal across most projects.

In addition, the study makes the case for additional investment in staff capacity. IFAD’s Gender Marker System (a method to assess gender sensitivity of IFAD projects) advocates for applied practices such as conducting gender and power analyses to inform project design and implementation. However, gender analyses and action plans need the attention of a dedicated gender focal point on staff whose job it is to ensure that gender mainstreaming is a high priority. The study notes, ‘one danger is that when gender mainstreaming is considered everyone’s responsibility – with no specific budgets, roles, responsibilities and/or plans assigned – it will fall between the cracks of project commitments.’ It goes on to state that the most promising ASAP projects in terms of gender equity are those that have a full-time gender focal point trained in gender transformative methodologies such as Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS).

Finally, the study points to the necessity of building capacities of local partners and institutions. Since IFAD projects are largely managed by government ministries and departments, and are strongly integrated with government strategies, sustained attention should be given to promoting the skills and capacities within the ministries that would ensure gender issues are sufficiently mainstreamed in programme activities. Critically, supporting local commitments to foster gender equity and women’s empowerment can in turn influence the political will and the overall investment in gender mainstreaming by government ministries and departments.

All ASAP projects were found to be aware of the different practical needs of women and men. However, the study argues, more needs to be done to understand how project activities foster equitable decision-making within the household.  

The gender assessment produced by CARE is an important critique and reflection on the organizational processes that are in place to mainstream gender concerns over the project cycle. While notable milestones have been achieved, the literature cautions that much work remains to be done to ensure that, operationally, support for gender transformative activities are embedded in climate change adaptation efforts.

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