Gender in perspective by Prof Janice Olawoye

Mainstreaming gender in development has several benefits such as building resilience and sustainability in projects and programs. Several studies have proven that development projects with strong gender component tend to have greater impact on the livelihoods of people. For instance, analysis from the World Bank, have shown that, in many contexts, more equitable access to education by women and girls can give very positive returns in improved family health, greater productivity and reduced family size. Furthermore, greater health for women impacts positively on the health of other family members, especially children.
Experience in the area of agriculture has indicated that the failure of many agricultural programs in developing countries could be directly related to the neglect of women’s productive roles, particularly in relation to food crop production. Even in developed societies such as the United States, a recent report, ”Women, Work and the Economy,” published by
the International Monetary Fund, argues that the economic benefits of gender equality are particularly high in rapidly aging societies, where boosting women’s labor force participation could help offset the impact of a shrinking workforce.
Despite the benefits of gender mainstreaming, the significance of gender to development is still not well understood among several actors including development practitioners. Within CGIAR, there are renewed efforts towards raising awareness on the importance of gender. IITA, for instance has had a series of gender awareness programs in recent times.
But negative perceptions and often times cultural bias coupled with poor communication have been a major hindrance to the advancement/acceptance of gender mainstreaming by stakeholders.
It is in this context that the IITA Cassava Weed Management Project organized a two-day workshop for its staff and implementing partners at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, 21-22 October 2015. Listening to Janice Olawoye, a professor at the department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University of Ibadan, opponents and strong critics of the gender movement shifted positions and embraced gender as a concept
to be mainstreamed in every sphere of life. Prof Olawoye took time explaining the theoretical concepts and the misconceptions that have undermined the advancement of gender. Prof Olawoye corrected some of these wrong notions about gender and offered the following food for thought or better still thought for food.
• Gender is about females.
In reality, gender is not only
about females, but considers the
roles, responsibilities, constraints,
opportunities, restrictions and
privileges of both males and females.
Prof Olawoye repeatedly stressed this
point throughout the training as well
as in the reading materials she offered
to participants.
• Gender is about
disempowering men. The fact is:
Gender empowerment is not about
disempowering men, but ensuring that
everyone is more productive, healthier,
able to earn more and be more fulfilled
so that the household attains a better
standard of living. Prof Olawoye
argued that gender should be viewed
from a rational perspective, not on the
basis of sentiment.
• The erudite professor noted
that women have always contributed
significantly to household livelihoods
and community economies, stressing
that, “our understanding of the role
played by women has improved
over the past 4 to 5 decades but
cautioned that we must not continue
to perpetuate the old stereotypes of
women just being housewives.”
• On gender mainstreaming,
Prof Olawoye said it was important
to determine how gender equality/
equity could be effectively integrated
into the Cassava Weed Management
Project as well as other development
activities. According to her, much of
what we have considered to be gender
analysis hitherto is simply describing
the sample or target population
in terms of their distribution by
sex. “Gender analysis requires that
roles and relationships of males
and females be understood and data
disaggregated. Lack of gendersensitivity
in data collection and analysis
will result in inappropriate interventions,” she added.
She explained that, “there are variations within and between gender groups as not all females are poor or exploited and not all men are gender insensitive. Over generalization to all males or all females will lead to some men and women becoming even more vulnerable.”
She advised that the Project should not only address immediate needs (practical gender needs), but also address the gender-related conditions or constraints (strategic gender needs) that may limit a person’s ability to improve his or her productivity or welfare. “Unless the strategic gender needs are addressed, no sustainable improvements will be attained,” she concluded.

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