A Win-Win for Gender and Nutrition in Burundi
This post is written by Josée Ntabahungu, head of gender and women's economic empowerment at the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE) Burundi.
At CARE, we’re convinced that supporting gender equality is critical to people changing their lives. From a human rights perspective, we know it’s worth it — even though approaches that focus on supporting women and men in changing their own lives are more complicated and sometimes take longer to pay off.
Human rights aren’t the only reason to invest in gender-transformative work. CARE’s exciting new research proves that working on more progressive approaches to gender equality doesn’t just help improve equality and outcomes for women; it also improves incomes, food security and agriculture production.
It gets even better: not only do gender-transformative approaches show positive impacts, but they also show an excellent return on investment for the money spent. These approaches are a little more expensive than ones that ignore gender equality, but the results are impressive. Gender-transformative work only costs 10% more than a more typical gender mainstreaming approach (a gender-light approach), but shows a 5:1 return on investment, compared to the 3:1 return with approaches that only provide messages about gender equality.
In Burundi, CARE partnered with the Africa Center for Gender, Social Research and Impact Assessment, Great Lakes Inkingi Development (GLID), Réseau Burundi (RBU) 2000 Plus and the University of Burundi, in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), to test what works to improve gender equality and food security at the same time. The project ran from 2016-2020, was funded with $2.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and reached 9,911 people directly and more than 37,000 people indirectly.
The project used a rigorous research design to test what worked best and how much extra it cost to get to successful results. The team tested three possible scenarios:
- Gender-blind traditional agriculture programming.
- Gender-light programming that included some light-touch messaging around the importance of gender equality and made an effort to include more female participants.
- Gender-transformative programming that brought men and women together to focus on achieving gender equality and changing the underlying harmful social and gender norms that prevent women (and everyone) from reaching their full potential.
What does the research show?
- Working on gender equality has higher returns on investment. Techniques that focus on helping women access the support they need for gender equality and to change discriminatory social and gender norms showed a return of $5 for every $1 invested. In contrast, techniques that only shared messages about equality gave a $3 return for every $1 spent.
- Gender equality grows more food. Women who were given more opportunities and support to address gender inequality increased their rice production 2.7 times, compared to just 2 times the production for women who only got agriculture training and information on gender equality. The women who received more gender inequality support were also 26% more likely to have enough food to eat.
- Empowered women earn more money. Women who participated in activities with more focus on equality were 94% more likely to reach equality, and 3 times more likely to move to a higher income bracket.
- Everyone eats better when women have a fair chance. Families in the groups that focused on equality were 26% more likely to have enough food and diverse diets. Women who participated in groups that didn’t focus on gender equality had less diverse diets at the end of the program than they did at the beginning. Families in the activities that focused on equality were the most likely to be eating enough food.
- Women are more confident they can change their lives. Women in the most progressive groups were the most likely to believe that they could act together to create change in their lives. For example, they were the most confident that they could change the way women are treated at health centers.
What makes it possible?
- Engage, don’t inform. The groups that worked with men and community leaders to address gender inequality and got them actively talking about gender norms and power imbalances were much more effective than ones that simply shared messages that gender equality matters.
- Adapt and apply proven tools to new contexts. Since 2016, CARE Burundi has implemented the Empowerment, Knowledge and Transformative Action (EKATA) approach, which originally started in Bangladesh. They also applied the Abatangamuco approach, which Burundi invented to work with men and boys towards gender equality.
- Combine skills training with the ability to work together in groups and negotiations. The EKATA approach works with women to build their skills in negotiation, leadership, conflict management and working together for change. At the same time, it brings in men and leaders to talk with women and find ways to change the habits and norms that are leading to inequality and violence.
- Be practical and think of cost. The project didn’t just test for impacts, it also looked at what it cost to get the extra impact. In fact, it only cost 10% more to implement the gender equality activities. Ultimately, that little extra investment pays off.
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