Advancing Gender Equality

Article Date

02 May 2016

Article Author

Sarah Gammage

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

In this series, as ICRW celebrates 40 years as the premier applied research institute on women and girls, ICRW will connect you to its presidents — Irene Tinker (founding Chair of ICRW), Mayra Buvinic, Geeta Rao Gupta and Sarah Degnan Kambou — who share their unique stories of their work ensuring that women and girls worldwide are at the center of global development efforts. Each president will walk us through their time at ICRW, from the vision and motivation behind the founding of ICRW to moving the global discourse from why we should focus on women to how we should empower women and girls globally.

In celebration of ICRW’s 40th year anniversary, Sarah Gammage, ICRW’s Director of Gender, Economic Empowerment and Livelihoods sat down with Mayra Buvinic — an internationally recognized expert on gender and development and former president and founding member of ICRW — to learn about the motivation behind founding ICRW and the organization’s role in advancing gender equality worldwide. Buvinic is currently a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and the United Nations Foundation.

Sarah Gammage: As one of the founding members of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), what was the vision and motivation behind establishing ICRW?

Mayra Buvinic: We wanted to form an organization that would address gender issues in development assistance. ICRW was founded in 1976, the year after International Women’s Year (IWY), a critical time for the international feminist movement. Irene Tinker, the brains behind the creation of ICRW, had been tasked with organizing a series of events during International Women’s Year and she highlighted the critical need for gender research to inform development assistance, and  for an organization that could fill this policy research gap. Ester Boserup’s seminal work, Woman’s Role in Economic Development, had just been published, galvanizing both interest in and focus on the importance of gender and development. I had been working on an annotated bibliography of women in development for IWY under Irene, and helping launch ICRW seemed to be a logical next step. The goal was to create a research organization that could generate rigorous evidence to shift the discourse and influence the development debate.

How has ICRW’s research and advocacy efforts changed the trajectory of the global discourse on women or informed the global women’s agenda?

ICRW significantly influenced the early days of the gender and development movement. We moved the needle on gender and global poverty, calling for evidence to inform policy and programs in this area. Perhaps at the time we were less able to see how our research contributed, but in hindsight I think we helped shape the discussion on gender and poverty, gender and household headship, gender, health and nutrition, gender and microfinance, and gender, HIV and stigma. ICRW paid particular attention to women’s economic activities, contributing to a broader discussion of livelihoods and informal employment. We made women’s work visible and demonstrated how and why it needed to be counted. ICRW informed the global discourse on gender and development through an analytical perspective that was groundbreaking at the time.

You have conducted seminal research on gender and poverty that has shaped the development discourse. Can you describe how this came about and what you see are the key contributions flowing from this work?

I think that raising the issue that poverty is gendered was critical in the 1980s and 1990s. Our work called attention to the need to develop poverty measures that would better capture intra-household inequalities and gender differentials. This work helped lay the ground for later analyses of the intra-household dynamics of poverty, analyses which have been taken up and mainstreamed by academics and development agencies as being foundational for understanding poverty and exclusion. It also informed the analysis of women’s role in the intergenerational transmission of poverty and of a growing field of interventions to address women’s poverty through credit, training and technical assistance and income-generation projects, among others.

What are the gender topics and themes that you think the development community should prioritize now?

We need more rigorous research on what works, where and for whom. We have a fairly good understanding of the determinants of gender inequality and we have a vast array of research documenting women’s contributions to development.  What we don’t have is good evidence on what works, which policies and programs to support. This is a challenge for development practice in general. We need to invest in gathering better data. And we need to subject policies and programs to rigorous testing and measure results and impacts.

What does a gender-equitable world look like to you?

In my view, a gender-equitable world is a world where men and women have the same opportunities. Equality of opportunity is critical. The outcomes may not be equal but that is the role of choice. Let’s move to a world where differences are a feature of choice and not of limitation or restriction.

A Look to the Future

By: Sarah Gammage

I have recently returned to ICRW after almost 16 years. I was delighted to find a vibrant, insightful organization that continues to work on gender equality with the same goal: to shift the discourse and influence the development debate. Building on ICRW’s past work on women’s economic empowerment in labor and product markets, we plan to broaden our economic portfolio to include more analysis of care work and care deficits as key challenges that affect women’s labor market entry and participation, contribute to sex-segregation in employment and underpin gender wage gaps around the world. This will mean looking at time use and also at time poverty in both urban and rural settings. Time use and time poverty affects men and women differently in different settings and at different stages of the life-cycle. Understanding how time use is uniquely gendered and how it may differ for the young and elderly, in rapidly urbanizing contexts and with different levels of access to infrastructure and social protection, can greatly inform our work on women’s economic empowerment.

We also plan to expand our focus on migration and human mobility, looking at the challenges and opportunities for women who choose to migrate or who are forced to migrate as a result of conflict, joblessness, restrictive gender norms, violence, environmental stress and climate change. This will involve analyzing global and local labor demand and considering skills mismatch and employability, as well as those policies and programs to promote human mobility with full choice and rights. This thematic stream will also include a focus on economic and social remittances, exploring how migration and the sending and receipt of remittances have the potential to contribute to economic and human development and increase women’s economic empowerment in home and host countries as well as in transnational spaces.

Finally, we will continue ICRW’s work on employability and skills, in local and global value chains. We plan to seek more funding for initiatives that explore how to increase women’s employability and skills and improve the terms and conditions of their employment. This thematic stream will include a focus on women’s access to decent work, formalization, reducing occupational segmentation and gender wage gaps, as well as policies and programs to expand women’s economic opportunities, improve the terms and conditions of their employment and invest in those capabilities that enhance their livelihoods and wellbeing.