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Strategies and tools for gender and agriculture

Time (GMT +01) 12:30 14:30


Catherine Bertini - Senior Fellow, Agricultural Development Team, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Sally Baden - Global Agricultural Scale-Up Initiative Manager, Oxfam


Steve Wiggins - Senior Research Fellow, Protected Livelihoods and Agricultural Growth Programme, ODI

The discussion was opened by Steve Wiggins asking whether the current context of the global food price hike provides an opportunity for gender to be addressed or whether it will be subsumed in other aspects of the crisis and further marginalised.

Catherine Bertini, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Catherine Bertini highlighted the concern that as the current global emergency continues day by day - with high levels of nutrition, increases in the price of foods, and riots over the availability of food – that we could lose sight of the underlying causes of this emergency.

She emphasised that what is needed is a longer term solution to alleviate hunger – and an important function of this is to invest in women. Women are the managers of the developing world’s food supply but too often they are left out – food programmes don’t target them, scientists don’t consult them, agricultural equipment is not made for them.  

Putting the focus on women is certainly not a new idea, but rhetorical talk is not the same as taking action. The Gates Foundation intends to put gender equality into action by pursuing improvements across the length of the agricultural chain in four grant making priorities:

  • Increasing farmer productivity
  • Creating links to markets
  • Developing new technologies
  • Collecting data for policy analysis

The Gates Foundation has initiated a policy that means every grant must explicitly address gender. This is about increasing agricultural efficiency. The Gates Foundation is making changes now, at the start of their work on agriculture to make sure that as the work gets scaled up, so does their commitment to women.

The changes in their work include: 

  • Two sets of guidelines – one for new proposals (external) and other for internal review of grants
  • Many organisations don’t know how to integrate gender perspectives into proposals so Gates is working in partnership with expert organisations to strengthen work in this area
  • Gender expert hired at Gates
  • Gender integration is now listed in job descriptions
  • Gender integration (mainstreaming) added as part of internal performance reviews
  • Development of M&E indicators to show whether projects are reaching women
  • Disaggregation of data by sex

Sally Baden, Oxfam
Sally supported the strong call to action from the Gates Foundation which underlined the focus on women within the current food crisis.
She highlighted that the one of the underlying causes of the food crisis is a persistent failure to recognise and support the role of women as producers.

The food crisis debate provides a huge opportunity to review the perspectives of agriculture and put women at the heart of these debates.

There are cumulative biases operating against rural women which include women’s lack of, or insecure, rights, translating into ineffective developmental outcomes perpetuating cycles of poverty and inequality. The link between rights and women’s productivity should be underlined.

Sally argued first that whilst integrating gender into priorities, agendas and processes is important it may not be enough. What we may need to do isre-think the “lens” through which we look at agricultural development. We should think about the choice of sectors and technologies we support which are not gender neutral. We should support women where they are, but also looking beyond the traditional gender divisions and encourage women to move “up the value chain”.

Widening our lens on agricultural development can provide a gendered view of a necessary enabling environment for agricultural development. For example, it is important to reduce time burdens for women (reproductive and caring); not to assume that women’s labour supply will expand exponentially; and to understand the impact of violence against women on their capacity and productivity.

Second, Sally argued that the institutions we work with and through may need to change the way they do business. For example, supporting producer organisations to ensure that they are not supporting gender biases but that they are strengthening leadership; making sure government extension services are more responsive to women; including women farmers as part of the private sector company business model.

Third, understanding the impact of wider trends on women and advocating for policy change. We need to understand whether the wider trends of social and economic policy are helping or constraining rural women, for example what are the challenges as well as the opportunities for development actors to strengthen women’s rights.

Fourth, addressing power relations and distribution of resources. Changing beliefs and attitudes takes time – but it does happen. Rural women as agents of change need support and allies. In assessing our work it is important to be able to evaluate the changes in gender relations.

Sally concluded by saying that the food crisis can provide a potential opportunity for improving gender relations and empowering women, but it also poses huge risks, and potential increased vulnerability.

The Gates Foundation is well placed to shift the policy agenda in favour of women and take on some of the challenges in terms of mobilising funds around investment for women, scaling up institutional change in terms of agricultural extension and transferring resources to women.

The discussion included comments on how women are often marginalised in the wider socio-political “structures” in countries, and whether there is an emphasis on keeping women in agriculture.

The panel responded highlighting that there shouldn’t be a process which institutionalises certain activities which might keep women poor. We should support women moving out of agriculture and promote investment in rural areas.

Rural livelihoods are evolving and moving away from agriculture and we need to be developing viable exit strategies for those who cannot survive in agriculture. We need to make better links between the rural and the urban – e.g. how to link smallholder agriculture in to the tourism sector and linkages with private sector, links with markets and buyers. We need to understand where women are in the value chain and where the leverage is for them.

Promoting women’s leadership is a way to address marginalisation, as well as getting gender into local development plans, tracking expenditure, and collecting reliable data and statistics on gender.

The discussion also focused on the importance of institutional change within aid organisations and the importance to address gender “holistically”.


In the past few decades, numerous organisations have worked to mainstream an understanding of gender into their work with varying levels of success. With food prices on the rise, agricultural development is garnering greater attention on the international stage as a sustainable solution to hunger and poverty.

This unique period in time presents an opportunity to highlight gender integration as a key component for success. It should be seen as a moment when committed organisations can share lessons learned, look for ways to strengthen capacity and reinvigorate support for gender in our work.

Catherine Bertini will look at the importance of gender in agricultural development, particularly as it relates to South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Catherine will also discuss the Agricultural Development Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which has recently adopted a new strategy for addressing this issue, as well as a gender checklist, particularly geared toward agriculture.