Joining forces to promote gender transformative approaches

By: Hajnalka Petrics, JP GTA

What if your diet was lacking proteins – because fish and eggs are considered fit for men, but not for women? What if you were deprived of your source of food and income – because the law allows land to be owned by men, but not by women? What if you had to fear for your life when a flood hits – because boys get taught to swim, but not girls?

The causes of gender inequalities across all spheres of life – in families, communities and institutions – are often deep-rooted. They lie in restrictive gender norms that dictate what is considered acceptable for women and girls, but also for men and boys, to do, eat, learn, work. They are found in unbalanced power dynamics and social relations that determine what role women should play vis-à-vis their male counterparts. And they reside in inequitable institutions and discriminatory legislative frameworks or customary practices that prevent women from realizing their full potential.

When looking to achieve gender equality and improve the lives of all, particularly women and girls, it is not enough to tackle the symptoms of inequality – such as unequal nutrition, income or skills. It is essential to look deeper to understand and challenge the underlying causes, without which change can be limited or short-lasting. Increasingly, development practitioners are therefore resorting to gender transformative approaches and methodologies to address the underlying causes of inequality and achieve equitable and sustainable outcomes.

Good practices of gender transformative approaches

Gender transformative approaches have the potential to make the difference needed to create a more equitable, sustainable world for women and men, girls and boys. There are many methodologies that can be applied in different contexts to achieve transformational change. An overview of 15 good practices can be found in the Compendium developed by the Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition (JP GTA). The Compendium includes examples such as individual household mentoring applied by IFAD, the Community Conversations methodology implemented by WFP, and many more.

For instance, FAO’s Dimitra Clubs helped communities in the Tshopo Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo overcome a long-established taboo that barred women from fishing activities and from eating many protein-rich foods. Bringing members of the community together for discussion groups, Dimitra Clubs managed to gradually shift attitudes and behaviours. Women are now able to carry out tasks that were previously acceptable only for men and allowed to eat foods that were previously banned. The redefinition of women’s roles has resulted in higher incomes, improved nutrition and new skills.

The Journeys of Transformation method used by Promundo proactively engages men whose partners participate in women’s economic empowerment interventions. It was inspired by research that showed how conflict within couples may increase as women earn more and that, even as women generate more income, they continue to do the majority of unpaid care work. Piloted in Rwanda, the curriculum offers group education activities for men, focusing on business and negotiation skills, couples’ decision-making processes, health and wellbeing, and gender-based violence. The program also stimulates community discussions to promote changes in norms related to gender.

Meanwhile, based upon the premise that strong organizations facilitate joint action towards social and economic empowerment, poverty alleviation, wealth creation and well-being, the Toolbox for Gender Mainstreaming in Member-based Organizations, developed by Trias in Central America, aims to institutionalize gender equity. It enables member-based organizations and NGOs to become more sustainable by improving their inclusivity and gender equality, while simultaneously working on individual empowerment and building alliances between women and men. This integrated approach promotes in-depth change that is embedded at the institutional level.

The EU-RBA Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition (JP GTA)

Since 2019, the United Nations Rome-based Agencies (RBAs) – FAO, IFAD and WFP – in collaboration with and through the financial support of the European Union, have been implementing the JP GTA. Within the framework of the Programme, the three Agencies and the EU are working to address the underlying causes of gender inequality by embedding gender transformative approaches in policy dialogues, programmes, working modalities and institutional culture.

The JP GTA also works to develop knowledge products, conduct training activities and engage at the institutional level within the RBAs as well as EU and partner organizations to enhance awareness and capacities around gender transformative approaches. In doing so, the JP GTA seeks to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.

In 2020, the JP GTA developed a Theory of Change for gender transformative programming based on the hypothesis that SDG 2 – zero hunger – will only be achieved if interventions to eliminate hunger also address the root causes of gender inequalities and trigger transformative change towards gender equality and women’s empowerment at individual, household, community, institution and policy levels.

The Theory of Change is now being field tested in two pilot countries, Ecuador and Malawi. In Ecuador, the focus is on reducing the barriers rural women face in family farming and across the agrifood value chain. It is doing so by tackling constraining gender norms and strengthening rural women’s productive capacities, their access to economic and technical resources, services and markets, and their decision-making positions in local organizations.

In Ecuador, the JP GTA is working to strengthen the productive capacities of rural women as well as their access to services and markets. ©FAO Ecuador]

In Malawi, the Programme seeks to enhance the economic autonomy of women and youth through improved financial inclusion, working with governmental institutions and regulatory bodies, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), financial institutions, and rural households and communities.

Based on the findings from these country-level activities, the Theory of Change will be revised to reflect what worked in these contexts and adapted to guide future gender transformative programming. In addition, the Joint Programme is collaborating with the CGIAR GENDER Platform to develop a guide on measuring gender transformative change that the RBAs, the EU, the CGIAR and other partners can adopt – and adapt as needed – in their work.

To learn more, contact Hajnalka Petrics, Global Coordinator of the JP GTA, at JP-GTA@fao.org


This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for March is ‘Creating change: Gender Transformative Approaches in agriculture’.

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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