Throughout its work, RTB stresses the importance of considering the diverse needs and capacities of women and men, and many projects adopt a gender-responsive approach.

The necessity for this kind of approach is increasingly appreciated in agricultural research for development. As a result, in 2013 CGIAR launched the GENNOVATE initiative on enabling gender equality in agricultural and environmental innovation. GENNOVATE developed a standardized set of seven qualitative tools to collect data from men and women in coordinated studies around the world.

The tools developed by GENNOVATE are designed to elicit information about social norms and agency and the effect they might have on proposed agricultural innovations. Norms are the social rules that govern and prescribe the roles and behavior of men and women. Agency is the capacity to define one’s own goals and act upon them. While norms inevitably influence agency, because both are social constructs, they are amenable to change.

RTB was a leading member of the GENNOVATE partnership, responsible for 24 case studies in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and Latin America. A key point about women in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa is that they commonly cultivate their own semi-independent plots, separate from their husband’s land. These are usually smaller and of lower quality than men’s lands but are crucial to household food and nutrition security. Not surprisingly, women are most interested in new varieties of the crops they grow on their plots, which are often RTB crops that are used for household consumption and animal feed as well as income generation.

A female banana farmer in Bangladesh, who started cultivating the crop to diversify her diet and income. Photo by S.Quinn/CIP

Probing deeper, women, like men, offer ‘increased income’ as a reason for preferring certain innovations, but the significance of income is different for women. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the fact that a woman’s personal income is separate from money brought in by her husband increases her agency. And yet, despite the attraction of personal income, women in sub-Saharan Africa may not adopt a new technology because they worry that it will cause jealously and friction with peers and husbands. A woman’s economic success threatens norms of male authority.

There are, however, nuances. While analyses of gender norms may describe men as primary decision-makers about agriculture, deeper investigations reveal that women can often successfully negotiate and nudge their husbands towards a preferred course of action. Decisions and actions of men and women are influenced by a desire to avoid conflict in the household. This result suggests that to improve outcomes, agricultural innovation programs need to engage with gender norms to boost women’s confidence and encourage men to consider women’s preferences. This can turn into a virtuous circle, wherein gains in women’s economic empowerment contribute to household food security and shared prosperity, which in turn further boost women’s confidence, husbands’ support and the disruption of harmful gender norms.

GENNOVATE tools also disaggregate data by age, and that reveals that young people face distinct problems of exclusion and lack of agency. Young men, for example, have little scope to take decisions or access resources while still under their parents’ control. For young women, the constraints are even greater. They are under the control of their parents until they marry, and then have to acquiesce to their husband’s authority. These factors too need to be better appreciated and explored by agricultural innovation projects.

The results emerging from GENNOVATE studies offer a fundamental basis for gender integration research. Understanding the social processes underlying relations between women and men is essential to effectively integrate gender into technology innovation design and will allow RTB and others to produce better and more relevant research in the future.