Q & A with ICRW’s Silvia Paruzzolo

Article Date

27 March 2012

Article Author

By ICRW Communications Staff

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Agriculture programs risk failure when they don’t consider the social realities of gender – that is, the distinct roles and norms assigned to women and men in a society. However, organizations, foundations and governments increasingly recognize that they must address these realities if they want to help rural women progress economically – as well as help ease hunger across the globe.

For instance, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) this month launched a new gender policy – the first in 30 years – that strives to close the gap in opportunity between women and men worldwide and prioritizes women’s empowerment as a central component of any strategy to end global ills such as hunger. Meanwhile, the coalition Farming First recently produced the Female Face of Farming, an interactive visual that lays out rural women’s role in agriculture, inequities that exist between female and male farmers, such as land ownership, and the impact of such “gender gaps.” And the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offers up a creative infographic that illustrates how investing in women farmers can benefit entire communities.

While such new endeavors cast an important spotlight on the contributions of rural women a well as the barriers they face, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) provides strategies for how to empower women farmers to be economically successful. ICRW’s workshops on gender and agriculture are a first step in that process. In these customized trainings, ICRW experts help organizations understand how programming that responds to women farmers’ unique needs can make a difference for entire communities – as well as for implementing organizations. ICRW also provides guidance on how to design, deliver and evaluate effective programs and services related to gender and agriculture.

In the following Q & A, Silvia Paruzzolo, an ICRW economist who leads gender and monitoring and evaluation trainings for economic development programs, discusses what it means to create “gender-responsive” agricultural programs and how ICRW approaches its workshops on the subject.

Q: What are some of the common misperceptions that organizations have about gender?

Paruzzolo: We find that staff at many organizations that work on agricultural development acknowledge the role of gender in agricultural programming. Yet there is some degree of skepticism about the importance of analytically addressing gender in agricultural projects because of beliefs that gender is a “soft” issue, not a science. At ICRW, we believe that this skepticism usually is because of a lack of clarity on the rationale for addressing gender in programming. And, there are differences in understanding around what “gender” and “gender-responsive programming” mean as well as around the use and usefulness of techniques such as gender mainstreaming and analysis. There is also a diffused perception that women’s roles and responsibilities are rooted exclusively in household work. However, growing evidence illustrates how women contribute substantially to agricultural production and related income, which makes them key economic agents in the agricultural economy. They are not only home producers or “assistants” in farm households. 

Q: What are the elements needed to ensure a program is “gender-responsive”?

Paruzzolo: Gender-responsive programming requires understanding how gender operates, its centrality to good programming, and the need for appropriate funding and assessment of outcomes.Key to ensuring that a program is gender-responsive is to understand that it cannot be treated as an “add-on.” Instead a successful program addresses how gender influences and will be influenced by the program at every single phase of the project cycle. In agriculture, this requires identifying differences in the needs, roles, statuses, priorities, capacities, constraints and opportunities of women and men farmers, and realizing how these differences affect power relationships within farming households. 

Gender-blind programs risk failure. Two ways to avoid this is to recognize that gender issues affect how a program achieves its results; and that gender also plays a role in how people respond to interventions; not everyone is affected in the same way. Essentially, designing and implementing gender-responsive programs truly requires organizations to rethink traditional practice.

Q: What are some of the challenges to implementing gender-responsive programming and how can organizations begin to address some of these challenges?

Paruzzolo: Implementing gender-responsive agricultural programming requires an in-depth understanding of gender and intra-household dynamics relevant to an organization’s specific programs. Developing this understanding and the implications for programming is definitely challenging; it requires the right techniques and skills. For example, quantitative data collection methods may not be able to capture the nuances of changing dynamics in relationships within a farming household.

ICRW’s customized workshops help overcome this challenge by introducing participants to the concepts and techniques of gender analysis, which is defined as a systematic process of using research methods to identify differences in the needs, roles, statuses, priorities, capacities, constraints and opportunities of women and men. We then train participants how to apply this information to the design, implementation and evaluation of research, policy and programs. While available frameworks and tools guide gender analysis in practice, they cannot substitute for organizational commitment to gender-responsive programming.  Sound gender analysis requires skilled professionals, appropriate financial support and a commitment to use the results to shape policies, projects and actions.

Q: Explain ICRW’s approach to gender training workshops.

Paruzzolo: Most commonly, the main objectives of a gender training workshop are to illustrate the difference it makes to women, men, families and programs when an intervention is gender-responsive, to demonstrate how critical this is for achieving an organization’s goals, and to facilitate learning and capacity building. 

At ICRW, we tailor each workshop to the specific capacity and learning needs of an organization. Our workshops are designed to draw out participants’ current understanding of gender, hear their experiences and ideas, and resolve different concepts of gender in the context of an organization’s strategy. We also engage participants in hands-on activities and focused case studies on how to incorporate gender in agricultural interventions. 

To do this, ICRW usually begins with a “needs assessment” to better understand the organization’s staff work, how they currently integrate gender into their programming and their existing capacity, and what concerns they may have about weaving gender into on-going and upcoming projects. The information generated from the needs assessment then feeds directly into how we design the workshop and its materials. 

During the workshops, participants are usually guided through a fast-paced series of alternating content presentations, videos, practical, hands-on exercises and games designed to promote experiential and participatory learning. We focus on demonstrating the importance of gender integration for agricultural development by using empirical examples that, wherever possible, are drawn from the organization’s own work. Finally, we dedicate time each workshop day to reflect on and synthesize what was learned. 

For more information on how to partner with ICRW, please email [email protected]