Assessing progress – putting IIED’s gender research ambitions into practice

Giulia Nicolini reflects on recent work to assess IIED’s progress towards embedding gender and intersectionality in our research.

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23 April 2021

Giulia Nicolini is a researcher in IIED’s Shaping Sustainable Markets research group

Women participating in an exercise called 'daily activity clock" in Jawani. Ghana (Photo: Nafisa Ferdous/CCAFS via FlickrCC BY 2.0)

As part of IIED’s strategy to advance equitable, inclusive change, our goal is to conduct research that critically examines and addresses gender and its intersection with other sources of inequality, such as race, ethnicity, disability and migration status. We set out this vision in our gender equality policy.

In 2019, IIED’s Gender Equality Champions Network (GECN) commissioned a review to gauge where IIED stood in relation to this vision. At the start of this year, I was part of a working group that built on that review by assessing in more depth to what extent and how gender and intersectionality are being embedded in our research projects.

The assessment highlighted successes that IIED can build on and some persisting challenges to learn from.

Building on achievements

Research projects that pursue gender transformation – the highest level of ambition – have had significant impact. IIED is working with partners in Ghana, Senegal and Tanzania on locally-developed interventions aimed at strengthening women’s voices in local land governance, and improving the gender sensitivity of land policies.

There are also examples of IIED programmes successfully adopting intersectional approaches, such as a project with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights in Nepal and Cambodia. The research worked with women in informal settlements to define urban food insecurity, considering how gender, caste, migration status and disability together shape access to food.

These projects show real desire within IIED to undertake nuanced, impactful research that unpacks the intersectional nature of inequality and seeks to transform unequal gender relations.

Three key challenges

At the same time, many staff members I spoke to acknowledged we still have some way to go to mainstreaming intersectional gender research. Conversations with colleagues brought out three challenges to realising this goal:

  1. Difficulty in ‘doing’

Researchers noted the difficulty of putting theory into practice when seeking to integrate gender and intersectional perspectives into their work – such as what research methodologies to use. Conversations also showed there is not always a common understanding of what building gender into research looks like.

Training could help shape a shared understanding and vision for gender research, strengthen individual capacity and build expertise. GECN has recently launched training on gender analysis – the first of two sessions was delivered last month.

  1. Making a commitment

According to colleagues, a big obstacle to meaningfully addressing gender in research is failing to include gender from the very start.

Gender and intersectionality can easily become sidelined if not properly integrated into methodologies, activities and theories of change at the project’s proposal stage.

Limited time and inadequate funding add to the challenge. Not having enough time to think through how gender fits into the research framing – or to consult gender experts – was a common concern. Pressure to submit proposals at short notice can undermine researchers’ best intentions, especially those with less experience, expertise or confidence in how to integrate gender perspectives into research.

And money matters. Data collection that is sensitive to gender and intersectionality can require additional funds; unless these funds are ringfenced early on, gender can fall through the gaps.

Encouragingly, IIED’s donors have been supportive of funding work on gender. In addition, GECN is developing tools and resources to help staff think about gender during proposal development, and to ensure that gender and intersectionality activities are adequately funded.

  1. Leading by example

To realise our ambitions, all IIED staff will need to champion the inclusion of gender and intersectionality. It’s critical this commitment is lived out at the top – by senior management, group directors and team leaders.

We also need to see IIED’s research groups take up the ambition championed by GECN; indeed, some have already begun developing their own gender strategies. GECN is supporting these efforts and plans to create a model for other groups to follow.

Next steps

The assessments provide an opportunity to take stock of how far IIED has come – and where we are going.

IIED’s ambition to mainstream awareness of gender and intersectionality is constantly evolving, and is shaped by wider conversations in academia, the media and world events. For example, GECN’s interest in intersectionality has taken on renewed importance in light of IIED’s ongoing work on anti-racism. This initiative can inform and enrich our next steps.

We are addressing the challenges raised by staff – through training, case studies, exemplar research, strategic support and learning sessions – so that our goal of delivering inclusive and gender transformative work will soon not only be realised in a few landmark projects but across the full range of our work.

About the author

Giulia Nicolini (giulia.nicolini@iied.org) is a researcher in IIED’s Shaping Sustainable Markets research group and member of IIED’s Gender Equality Champions Network

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