In today’s blog, Isobel Marr, International Development Research Project Officer, shares what her team have learnt about gender and ODA research since the introduction of UKRI’s requirement for Gender Equality Statements, and offers advice on how researchers can respond positively.
In 2019, UKRI announced that a Gender Equality Statement would be required for all UKRI funded Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) proposals, such as work funded through the GCRF and Newton Fund. The statement asks applicants to show how they have taken meaningful, proportionate consideration of their project’s impacts on gender inequalities. Given the centrality of gender equality in legal frameworks governing ODA, this new requirement wasn’t a surprise to International Development experts.
Worldwide women are over-represented amongst the very poorest, have lower levels of access to education and are more vulnerable to violence and the effects of environmental degradation associated with climate change. In the development sector, experience has shown that projects that take gender specific experiences into account are much more effective and deliver more positive outcomes in ensuring the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal’s central agenda to ‘leave no one behind’. Therefore proactive measures, like the gender equality statement, to tackle gender inequalities through ODA research are very welcome.
For academics however, this new requirement presented challenges. GCRF and other ODA funds already pushed us to think more about the social consequences of research but the gender equality statement added a very specific dimension to this. In essence, it asks all researchers to consider gender and social dynamics within their research and this is a specialised area of research within itself (see for example GenderEd).
Gender equality and STEM research
In Edinburgh Research Office, we had to think carefully about how we could support academics with this task, especially those in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). As a chemist myself by background, I was well aware of the issues of gender balance on research teams (e.g. the leaky pipeline) and the initiatives such as Athena Swan, to tackle them. I was less familiar with the effects that research and technology itself can have on gender equality. In many STEM subjects our training and the funding calls we respond to, actively exclude the social world. We often try to focus on ‘objective’ research, based in labs and on fundamental principles and we leave ‘impact’ and context to other disciplines.
As a result, STEM researchers can end up unaware of the ways that differences between roles of men and women in the context, where research will be applied, can shape whether or not our work will have a positive impact for everyone. Recognising this, we decided to commission genderED, the University’s interdisciplinary hub for gender and sexualities studies, to create a range of resources for academics to respond to the statement.
Since the introduction of the statement, my experience has been that researchers, of course, have no desire to exacerbate gender inequalities. However, they often struggle to see how gender is relevant to their project’s content. Below are some examples of common initial responses that PIs have to the GE statement requirements – and some of examples of what we’ve learned from genderED’s work which illustrate how existing gender hierarchies shape the distribution of benefits from research or technology projects.
“My project has an equal balance of men and women on the team”: It’s correct that one of the requirements of the gender equality statement is to ‘ensure equal and meaningful opportunities for people of different genders’. However, last year UKRI specifically shared feedback with universities, following a large GCRF funding call, emphasising that “listing of the gender make-up of the network team and the institutional policies or awards of their organisation has received does not sufficiently meet the gender equality requirements.” What the GE statement really requires is integration of gender equality into the project’s rationale, design and methodology.
“The app I’m designing can be used by both men and women and therefore it will benefit both genders equally”: On a simple level this may seem true. However, in most LMIC countries there are large differences in literacy and access technology. By ignoring these differences, a project trying to deliver information via ICT, could actually exacerbate inequalities, if men have literacy and ICT access whilst women don’t.
“My technology will be used in a predominantly women’s industry. Therefore the lives of women will be improved”. It’s rarely that simple. For example, research has found that when crops traditionally viewed as female become more profitable they are often subsequently usurped by men, who as a group, have greater control over decision making and resources.
“My research is gender neutral”: Engineers and technologists often assume that things like roads and electricity are gender neutral and improvements that will automatically benefit all equally. However, significant differences in distributions of labour and time use, access to services and mobility, mean these projects often carry higher risks for women and lower benefits. For example, analysis by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in 2009 found new roads in Uganda had deprived women of previously safe paths to water and had inadvertently created new risks for women of being run over by cars. This example shows how technology can interact with existing gendered divisions of labour to create new inequalities in safety and access to resources. Development NGOs consult with local communities about their needs and lives, using methods that take account of common gender differences, before designing projects, in order to avoid these kinds of problems.
Interdisciplinarity and partnership working can help avoid the pitfalls described above. Social scientific expertise, for example from anthropology, sociology or social work can spot these kinds of potential problems and devise responses when they are involved in project inception. Similarly, involving local LMIC women’s organisations, women’s co-operatives or gender equality NGOs in the design of projects. This also gives the project the best possible chance of achieving their gender equality outcomes and is an approach increasingly favoured by funders.
These are just a few examples that highlight how complex the interactions between research, technology and gender are, and how failing to have a good understanding of local differences between men and women’s participation in decision-making, access to and control over resources, and differences in division of labour can have unintended consequences. The genderED team’s literature review: Gender, Science and Technology and Development goes into a lot more detail and is a really fascinating read. The gender equality statement is here to stay and gender equality is only going to become more central to the UK’s ODA research priorities, reflecting the opportunity we have to ensure research contributes towards tackling gender inequality across the globe. The Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (who manage the GCRF and Newton) have recently committed to developing a central strategy on gender equality for research funded through ODA following a string of reports emphasising shortfalls in their current approach to gender equality. To this end genderED’s resources will continue to come in really useful and we encourage all researchers to give them a read
Tools and Expertise
GenderED’s toolkit “Developing your Gender Equality Statement” is succinct, action oriented and designed for non-gender specialists. It takes you through four steps that will help you work out how gender is relevant to your project and describes the actions that you can take to make sure you are fulfilling the requirements of the Gender Equality Statement sufficiently.
Appreciating that this is still a specialist subject, genderED advise consulting with gender experts – either among LMIC partners, academics the in UK or in Development NGOS. There are women’s networks, local NGOs you can engage with who would likely be more than happy to provide insight on this topic. I personally find that just googling gender equality, your area of research and country hugely helpful as a start point – this is a well-researched area and there are plenty of reliable reports out there bringing attention to potential gender inequality issues in an abundance of areas. GenderED have curated some particularly good resources within the briefing guides on a variety of topics – including:
- how gender is relevant to development
- how gender is relevant to environment, climate change, mitigation and adaption
- how gender is relevant to poverty reduction
GenderED are continuing to develop support tools for our sector and there are more resources in the pipeline including how to write a gender inclusive theory of change, examples of good and bad gender equality statements, and how to develop gender inclusive international partnerships.
We are also planning events on gender equality and in international development research, sign up to our mailing list if you want to be notified of these.
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