Feminist and Gender-transformative research

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Source: This work above represents the work of Harassmap. http://harassmap.org/en/ The diagram is adapted from Rao & Kelleher’s gender work (2005) with additions from the power and gender work by Cornwall (2014), Batliwala & Pittman (2010), Gaventa (2006), Veneklasen & Miller (2002) and Kabeer (1999).


Sisters Ink did a review of IDRC’s research for the last ten years to support dialogue and understanding of what makes gender-transformative research. Having rated 42 projects, 6 case-studies of IDRC research were selected for more in-depth analysis of what make gender-transformative research. These include research that:

-       Introduced fish processing and gender relations through participatory dialogue in Zambia and Malawi

-       Influenced gender narratives and power relations and policies in small scale and artisanal mining in Central and East Africa  

-       Enhanced Indigenous engagement, intercultural health practices and policy in Peru

-       Supported dialogue between women, their communities and local governments for more accountable and gender-equitable settlement services and water and sanitation infrastructure in India

-       Provided a digital crowd-sourcing platform for reporting gender-based violence, raising awareness and changing norms in Egypt

-       Empowered girls, youth clubs to dialogue negotiate with others in their community around early marriage in West Africa

Though the cases had very different contexts, gendered issues, influence strategies and actors involved in the research, there were some common principles.

Gender-transformative research: 

·      Addressed root causes. Intersectionality, how gender intersects with other aspects of social identity, is key to understanding root causes. 

·      Engaged systemic partners.  Actors and partners engaged were a fit for the system and context being changed. Influence is situated. In some contexts, the best partner was a women’s movement organization. In another a mix of stakeholders including elders were involved. In others, media and social media were the strongest influence. 

·      Embedded and embodied the change in gender relations locally. Even in the time-frame of funding early influence is possible. Some focused on building local research capacity or negotiating power. Some on beginning early dialogue across different actors. 

·      Revealed that structural gender analysis is a muscle. A diverse mix of capacities is needed for researchers and IDRC staff to practice. Structural gender analysis is key of course. Other important skills include: deliberative dialogue, brokering effective partnerships, systems analysis, conflict mediation, and positioning evidence for use. 

Transforming gender relations is not just an issue of inclusion or individual agency, not even of good structural gender analysis. Research can play a role in this process where it is a much deeper situating of evidence in ways that influence underlying norms and institutions, and power relations that perpetuate unequal access, agency and control. Gender-transformative research goes beyond access and technical issues, and even goes beyond research papers to embed and embody the change being sought through effectives processes. Even in a shorter time-frame this embeddedness, influence and engagement of key actors is not only a way to redress inequities through the research. It is an investment in longer term changes in perceptions, norms, as well as institutional changes and uptake in policies, laws, budgets and markets.