What is on the minds of leading CGIAR researchers as they integrate gender perspectives in pursuit of system-wide objectives?
Fascinating research on the origins of (mechanized) agriculture shows that the invention and adoption of the plough in the fertile plains of the Mesopotamia revolutionized agriculture, but in the process also transformed a thriving matrilineal society into patriarchy. According to Alesina et. al. (2013)  the societal impacts of this very important technological change has persisted across generations, regardless of immigration and urbanization. Drawing from research in contemporary Europe and the United States, the authors suggest that ‘the descendants of societies that traditionally practiced plough agriculture, today have lower rates of female participation in the workplace, in politics, and in entrepreneurial activities, as well as a greater prevalence of attitudes favoring gender inequality’ (ibid).
History reiterates what we increasingly acknowledge today, that technology reshapes society – fundamentally and remarkably quickly. And yet, in thinking and acting on gender, we almost entirely overlook technology, our focus and attention mostly diverted to policy reforms and/or institutional change as a means to enabling gender equitable change. Can we rethink differently on transforming, reversing gender disparities in agriculture and irrigation with a focus on technology? Is it possible and necessary ‘to do’ gender differently?
It is important to remind ourselves that thinking of gender inequality does not (principally or otherwise) inform innovations in agriculture, irrigation and/or other related interventions. Rather, the trend is to first innovate and then work hard on bringing women on board (on new innovations and interventions), and/or research how these changes impact gender (relations). The feedback cycle is terribly broken – enormous evidence of inequalities by gender in relation to agriculture rarely informs innovations, agriculture science and technology. Case in point being the contemporary important discourse on sustainable agriculture innovation – we are increasingly talking about how environmental sustainability must inform agriculture, but thinking on inclusion, transforming deep-rooted gendered inequities remains, alas on the back-burner.
At the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and in the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), we plan for a waterscape lens to refocus attention on equity and sustainability in relation to agriculture. Why? Water’s fluidity uniquely connects agriculture and ecosystems, as well as domestic and productive domains. Additionally, seeing through water provides the scope to understand complex, interconnected socio-ecological dimensions of gendered inequalities.
We will need to work very hard to bring this water(y) vision of inter-connectedness to inform sustainable, inclusive agriculture innovations. If well done, this might finally enable us to stop artificially disconnecting domestic (home) and productive (fields, canals) and the wider ecological (forests, waters) domains. Or, help address the striking gap, that despite huge advances in science and technology and developmental promises to reduce inequalities by gender, “the bodies of women, in effect (have) become part of the water-delivery infrastructure, doing the work of the pipes”.
Many well-intentioned gendered interventions in agriculture overlook the fact that in situations of an increasing lack of access to natural resources and productive assets, “women are burdened (amongst other things) by time poverty”. The point we make here is that going forward, we can no longer afford to overlook the inter-connected socio-ecological complexities of inequalities by gender in rethinking agriculture, irrigation and related technological innovations and interventions.