Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches
for Food Security and Nutrition

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©IFAD/Susan Beccio


Conventional gender-sensitive methodologies that tend to focus on treating the symptoms of gender discrimination, such as women’s unequal access to resources and benefits, without addressing the structural determinants of gender inequality, have repeatedly failed to achieve long-standing and transformative impacts.

Discriminatory gender norms and roles, unequal power relations and social structures limit the aspirations and opportunities of women and men. Women are often excluded from participatory and decision-making processes, often times resulting in disempowerment and their particular needs not being considered, whereas men struggle with strict and unrealistic expectations of masculinity that can result in negative behaviours and coping mechanisms.

For gender equality to become a reality, development programmes and initiatives need to adopt a gender transformative approach.


Gender transformative approach

The gender transformative approach is one category on the chain (continuum) of gender integration approaches.

It seeks to actively examine, challenge and transform the underlying causes of gender inequality rooted in inequitable social structures and institutions.

As such the gender transformative approach aims at addressing imbalanced power dynamics and relations, rigid gender norms and roles, harmful practices, unequal formal and informal rules as well as gender-blind or discriminatory legislative and policy frameworks that create and perpetuate gender inequality. By doing so, it seeks to eradicate the systemic forms of gender-based discrimination by creating or strengthening equitable gender norms, dynamics and systems that support gender equality.

The gender transformative approach challenges unequal gender relations and discriminatory norms and practices, which are typically biased in favour of men. It also aims to change those norms and practices that discriminate against men and by which men can feel overburdened. 


Gender transformative methodologies

Gender transformative methodologies are a suite of participatory approaches, methods and tools that encourage critical reflection and examination among women and men of gender roles and norms and power dynamics.

They encourage self-reflection, self-awareness and the generation of new knowledge derived from continual and iterative cycles of action and reflection.

These methodologies promote changes in gender relations, opportunities and resources by women and men, and girls and boys by challenging the root causes of gender discrimination, including the constraining gender norms, discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, unequal power relations and social, economic and political structures (laws, policies and rules) that create and reinforce gender inequalities. They also work with boys, young men and men to embrace positive masculinities.

The scale of intervention of these methodologies varies, they can work at individual, household, community, group or organization level or a combination of these. These methodologies can be integrated into sector-focused technical programmes with the objective to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment and improve the overall development outcome.

Some of the most commonly known methodologies in the context of food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are for example the FAO Dimitra Clubs, Gender Action Learning System (GALS), Community Conversations, Promundo’s Journeys of Transformation, CARE’s Social Analysis and Action (SAA) and Helen Keller International’s Nurturing Connections.

The JP GTA ‘Compendium of 15 good practices’, published in 2020, showcases successful gender transformative methodologies across different settings. It outlines good practices and experiences that contribute to positive gender-related transformational changes towards food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture.


Gender transformative programming

Gender transformative programming refers to integrating the gender transformative approach into project and programme design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

It promotes gender transformative change at the individual and systemic level and across informal and formal spheres of life. At the core of gender transformative programming lie interventions that aim at addressing practical gender needs (e.g. knowledge, skills, access to productive resources) and strategic gender interests (e.g. decision-making power, position/status in society) by triggering changes in agency, social relations and social structures.

Carrying out gender transformative development requires reflection and transformation within the development agencies themselves. This requires going beyond capacity strengthening and internal organizational learning, to changing mindsets, shifting mental models, values and beliefs. It also requires political commitment starting at the highest level.

To assist the UN Rome-based Agencies and their partners in designing and implementing gender equality work to achieve transformational and sustainable impact, the JP GTA developed a Theory of Change (ToC) for Gender Transformative Programming. 


Useful terms

  • Gender norms (a subset of social norms) are informal rules and shared social expectations which determine and assign socially acceptable roles, behaviours, responsibilities and expectations to male and female identities. By influencing expectations for masculine and feminine behaviour considered socially acceptable and appropriate, they directly affect individuals’ choices, freedoms and capabilities. 
  • Masculinities encompass the various socially constructed ways of being and acting, values and expectations associated with being and becoming a man in a given society, location and temporal space. While masculinities are mostly linked with biological men and boys, they are not biologically driven and not only performed by men.*
  • "Gender-equitable (or positive) masculinities" describe masculinities that are supportive of women’s empowerment and gender equality and that undermine patriarchal structures and unequal gender power dynamics.*

  • "Restrictive (or toxic) masculinities" describe masculinities that confine men to their traditional role as the dominant gender group, undermining women’s empowerment and gender equality.*

: OECD (2021), Man Enough? Measuring Masculine Norms to Promote Women’s Empowerment, Social Institutions and Gender Index, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Did you know?

Gender transformative approaches:

  • seek to remove structural barriers to gender equality and challenge the distribution of resources and allocation of duties between men and women;
  • help understand, reflect on, challenge and change rigid gender norms and roles, unequal power dynamics and discriminatory social structures;
  • aim to foster more equitable gender relations within households, communities and organizations and promote the relative position of women and girls in society;
  • facilitate dialogue, trust and behavioural change at multiple levels (individual, household, community and systems/institutions);
  • use participatory and experiential learning methodologies;
  • recognize that women often experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination; and
  • explicitly engage with men and boys as allies for change and advocates for gender equality.