Women pounding grain for the evening meal in Khulungira Village, in central Malawi (image on Flickr by Mann/ILRI).
‘One of the biggest challenges in gender research, says Jemimah Njuki, is getting it wrong. Good intentions grounded in faulty research often leave women worse off than before.
The Kenyan sociologist and gender specialist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has heard the stories first-hand from her work in hundreds of communities throughout Kenya, Tanzania, and southern Africa.
For example, there’s Mercy, a smallholder bean farmer in Malawi who sold produce on the roadside and used the money to buy food and clothes for her family. Then along came a development project that helped increase her yield more than tenfold. It was too much to sell on the roadside, so her husband stepped in and began marketing the beans in the city. The result? Her husband spent less time at home and more of the money. Mercy often ended up with less income than before things were “improved.”
“This is a direct result of faulty research. It assumed these women didn’t know what they were doing. Of course they knew what they were doing and why. Researchers need to understand that larger context, or they can make the situation worse,” said Njuki, following a presentation on her work at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Ottawa.
Rewriting the research rule book
Njuki is rewriting the rule book on how agricultural research is done throughout Africa, drawing on her work on the impacts of livestock and market interventions. With support from IDRC and the Ford Foundation, she has created standardized data collection tools — which she plans to publish in a book — that can be used across projects to address gender issues. The tools assess the various challenges and opportunities women face depending on the products they sell (dairy, livestock, or produce, for example), the production system, and the country or region in which they live’…