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Fostering gender-transformative change for equality in food systems: A review of methods and strategies at multiple levels

Development and research for development agencies and actors working in agriculture,
livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, and natural resource management have been
increasingly seeking to address gender inequalities in food systems. To date, common
methods and strategies toward this aim have been designed to work around gender
barriers. Rooted in a gender-accommodative approach, these tend to address the symptoms
of inequality. For example, programs bring activities targeting women into the homestead
to work around women’s workloads and mobility constraints, instead of addressing these
constraints. There is growing acknowledgment, however, that lasting change requires
engaging with deeper drivers of inequalities. Specifically, it requires addressing the underlying
and often unrecognized structural roots of inequalities that are embedded in food systems
and natural resource management. These are found within informal (e.g., norms), formal
(e.g., regulations, laws, policies) and semiformal (e.g., statistics and data systems) structures.
Gender-transformative methods and strategies are explicitly oriented to address these
underlying structural causes. These have been gaining attention over the past decade. They
complement but differ from common gender-accommodative methods and strategies,
including women-targeting. However, the methods and strategies that foster gender-
transformative change are complex and nuanced and, as such, they may be misinterpreted
or misapplied. Moreover, while transformative change at scale in food systems is urgently
needed, practical application of gender-transformative methods and strategies has been
most developed at the local level; this means there are considerable uncertainties about
how to (and what kinds of methods or strategies can) catalyze transformative change at
scale. Both challenges underscore the need to further unpack understanding of gender-
transformative change in food systems—and particularly underscore a need to elucidate
current state-of-the-art methods and strategies and their characteristics at multiple levels.
More broadly, there is an imperative to generate a greater shared understanding among
development and research for development agencies and actors about how and in what ways
gender-transformative methods and strategies answer the call for this type of substantive
change at scale in food systems.In response to these needs, this working paper aims to elucidate current and emerging
methods and strategies that may support gender-transformative change in food systems
at and across multiple levels. As such, the working paper not only asks what gender-
transformative methods and strategies exist at different levels, but also inquires more
deeply: How do current and emerging gender-transformative methods and strategies inform the
understanding and framing of transformative change toward equality in food systems at scale?
To this end, the working paper shares and examines an illustrative set of methods and
strategies that contribute (or have the potential to contribute) to gender-transformative
change in food systems. The paper conceptualizes and reflects on this set of methods and
strategies at three levels: local, meso and macro, and intraorganizational. Within this set and
at each level, the paper critically considers these methods and strategies in relation to three
key analytical dimensions: intersectionality, accessibility and scalability. These dimensions
were identified in early analysis for this working paper as being important and in need of
further strengthening and clarification in relation to supporting gender-transformative
change at scale.
Through the above, the working paper illustrates relatively established gender-transformative
methods for local-scale programming, such as household methodologies. The paper also
draws attention to emerging strategies that are gaining attention for use at the meso and
macro levels (such as changes to financial and data systems and feminist foreign policies)
as well as at intraorganizational levels (including organizational culture change processes that foster gender equality). Through its analysis, the working paper offers insights into
core mechanisms of gender-transformative methods and strategies needed to catalyze
transformative change. These include reflexivity to surface naturalized inequalities, and
action learning processes at the local and intraorganizational levels to disrupt normative
constraints that otherwise (re-)create inequalities. In conclusion, the working paper suggests
a novel way of understanding how to catalyze gender-transformative change at scale:
rather than research for development and development agencies focusing (solely) on using
transformative methods in more and more communities (scaling out), the paper suggests
the need for agencies to explicitly invest in a multilevel strategy of scaling out, up and in. We
propose that it is through such an interconnected, multi-actor and multilevel approach that
we may collectively create a tipping point toward gender equality in food systems.

Author: Cynthia McDougall
Other authors: Marlène Elias, Desiree Zwanck, Karen Diop, Johana Simao, Alessandra Galiè, Gundula Fischer, Humphrey Jumba, Dina Najjar
Organization: CGIAR
Year: 2023
Type: Working paper
Content language: English

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