CGIAR Gender News

Seeds of Change harvest: Tackle power head on – Jayne Curnow (ACIAR – co-convener)

Seeds of Change participants Photo: Patrick Cape/ACIAR.
Jayne Curnow is Research Program Manager for Social Sciences at ACIAR

During the Seeds of Change conference, we approached several scientists from the ‘Gender in Agriculture’ crowd to interview them on their work, on their insights about the conference and their outlook on the next frontiers of our field of research. Find an overview of all conference related outputs here.

In this special interview, we feature co-convener Jayne Curnow, Research Program Manager for Social Sciences at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). She reflects on inspiring sessions and insights from Seeds of Change, and on the process that her organization ACIAR has undertaken with regards to integrating gender in corporate and programming domains.

What is exciting/challenging about this conference, its contents and the fact that the wider ‘GenderInAg community’ is together in this?

A lot of people conducting research on gender and social relations in agriculture often work in isolation. Seeds of Change was a wonderful opportunity for people to be able to connect and look at points of confluence as well as differences. Some robust debates emerged during the conference.

What have been your highlights from the conference and what has inspired you to try back home/in your work?

The highlight was that for us here in Australia, particularly in Canberra, it went on for three weeks, with so many meetings scheduled because this was an opportunity to be in the same place in the same time. That’s what was really exciting for me.

The practice workshop on gender and breeding also really stood out for me. I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to take a deep dive into the research in that sector and there’s some fantastic work going on there, about deeply gendered aspects of society that pervade all areas of science. Breeding is heavily gendered and the people that were at the conference did a top job at analyzing and sharing that, across breeding and social science.

What do you see as one of the ‘next frontiers’ of gender in agriculture research in the next few years?

One of the next frontiers is to elevate the status of social science and gender research (in agricultural research for development) and tackle the issue of power, head-on. We often think of power as negative, but it’s not something to shy away from. The dominant conceptualization of power as a ‘zero sum game’ has to be challenged.

For example we could focus on how power can be shared and distributive. We need to embrace the discussions of power and hierarchies in science, research and development.

Another thing, and though I hadn’t seen it coming it was raised again and again at the conference, is the issue of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence. It hasn’t been a big topic of debate in agricultural research for development, but thanks to the ‘Me Too’ movement, there’s an increasing willingness to bring it out and of course it affects many areas of the agricultural sector.

What are you currently working on and what are you hoping to be able to focus on next?)

Gender research is a part of a broader disciplinary field of social science research. I’m working on the many opportunities to improve the quantity and quality of social science in agricultural research for development – social science must be done by social scientists! Social scientists have to be there to work on gendered social relations with biophysical scientists who are otherwise not equipped to do that job.

I’m also exploring the intersection of social science and gender research with biophysical research. Many aspire to transdisciplinary research but struggle to find the time and intersections to make it work. Yet transdisciplinary research is frequently the modus operandi that makes innovation possible: When people can think out of their own discipline, also listen to other disciplines and arrive at something that’s more than the sum of the parts.

Could you detail some of the mechanics of how you worked towards the cultural change within ACIAR vis-à-vis gender equality and research?

We knew we had to look at ourselves (ACIAR) as well as at the research we commissioned. For that cultural, systemic change to happen, we worked with a contractor who had a deep knowledge of research and of bureaucratic and administrative norms. She questioned all the business units and fed that back to us.

It allowed our staff in Canberra and overseas to share their perspectives and concerns – individually or as a group – and to name areas of discomfort all in a non-confrontational way. It wasn’t a one-off consultation, rather a multi-feedback loop conversation and consultation. We also shared multiple versions of the draft strategy and policy before finalizing it and actively listened and responded to all staff inputs. There was a strong sense of collaboration, ownership and buy-in.

Inside the gender policy and strategy we have two action plans (a) for the corporate side and b) for the research side). We use those action plans internally to keep in mind our direction and measure change. With them we get a clear sense of where we’re heading and how we are going to get there.

Miriam McCormack and I wrote a blog about that for the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).