Food security — or all the factors that provide for sufficient, safe and nutritious food — is an issue that is at the heart of LWR’s work around the world. Our work to improve agriculture among small farmers and provide clean water for consumption, or irrigation, is so that families around the world can have a greater amount of food security. With food security comes greater health, independence and economic well-being. Of the many factors that contribute to food security, there is one that we have been looking at recently that may come as a surprise: gender.
Many of the households we work with in India, for example, only have enough food for 4 or 5 months a year. This lack of food security affects — and is affected by — gender dynamics in the community. In order to increase cash flow, many men seasonally migrate to look for employment. This leaves women to take care of the farm, along with their other household duties. Both men and women feel the weight of the added responsibility. In our work with many of these community members, this issue arises again and again.
LWR is partnering with the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) to run pilot projects in three countries around the world to look at how we can strengthen our projects to address these gender issues. The initiative, known as “Learning for Gender Integration” (LGI), looks at the different experiences of men and women in a situation or activity, and then identifies and responds to the gaps that exist between them, in terms of their opportunities to benefit from that activity.
For LWR, this means we want to design our projects so that the proposed intervention closes this gender gap, but does not have a negative impact on either men or women. We don’t want to marginalize men in the process of empowering women, for example. At the same time, we also want to address the constraints that exist and raise awareness in the community. Sometimes not every constraint can be addressed in every project- some may be cultural or deeply rooted in traditional gender roles and take more time (and community action) to address.
How we’re doing it
For these projects, we worked with an external gender consultant to do a gender-focused training with the partner organizations that we support. This helps us understand the specific problems and causes in a community, and how various issues differ for men and women in that context. As Patrick Bell noted from the experience in Uganda, oftentimes simply talking separately with men and women, then bringing them together, can elicit new insights about community members’ norms and activities.
Partner staff gain valuable insight and new ideas from their work with LWR. They also get additional support for developing projects that address the needs of the local community, as they identify problems and brainstorm potential solutions.
Addressing Gender in India
In order to address food security in India, we primarily try to increase crop yields through the introduction of new agricultural techniques. But because we learned about the lack of cash resources and the gender dynamics that arise from this, we are introducing other crops, such as vegetables or lentils, which can be sold at the local markets. This will allow men to stay home instead of migrating, which means they can support the farm work, while easing the burden on women.
Although this is only one component of the project, it is a key to addressing multiple problems that were raised in the community. Even though the design process is focused on identifying actions and solutions to the problems identified, the LGI training and fieldwork also offered an opportunity for learning. It also improved our own processes. Together with our partners, we can create stronger projects that take into consideration gender-based constraints and community needs. We can create projects that provide sustainable solutions and support all members in the community.