Gender transformative approaches to overcome constraining gender norms

A man and a woman carrying vegetables

Gender transformative approaches can help development practitioners, researchers and communities come together to tackle the roots of gender-based inequalities, in particular constraining gender norms, and thereby kick-start a process toward greater gender equality.

International development programs and organizations are increasingly aware of gender disparities in food systems. It is increasingly recognized that it is not enough to treat the symptoms, such as the visible gender gaps, without looking at the underlying causes. For sustainable change to occur, the roots of gender-based inequalities must be addressed. 


Gender transformative approaches is a methodology that, instead of burdening women with the responsibility for equality, engage men and women together as agents of change. Where “business-as-usual”, accommodative gender approaches try to work around barriers, and are often focused solely on women, gender transformative approaches have broken new ground by transforming structural barriers and constraining gender norms, meaning the unwritten rules about who can do what kind of work, control what types of assets and make what level of decisions. 


Since 2012, scientists at WorldFish and their partners have spearheaded the conceptualization, testing and scaling of gender transformative approaches within CGIAR and in aquaculture, fisheries, agriculture and broader development sectors. This has included a focus on gender-equitable control over assets and resources including microcredit and processing technologies. 


Project implementers, agricultural extension workers, researchers and others can put gender transformative approaches into use through context-appropriate, locally led and constructive strategies. Examples include community conversations and training activities. Their shared aim is for women and men, from the household scale to the community and beyond, to shift constraining gender norms that underpin the persistence of inequalities in aquatic and land-based food systems. In this way, transformative approaches complement existing work, yet represent a significant transition forward. 


It is worth nothing a lack of empirical evidence about outcomes from gender transformative versus accommodative approaches. Although gender transformative approaches do appear compelling—and business as usual has long been deemed insufficient—more research is needed to determine how to most effectively employ gender transformative approaches.


However, emerging transformative approaches are advancing views on how to achieve gender equality, including by presenting an alternative to viewing women merely as instruments that can support development outcomes. As such, gender transformative approaches offer a potent opportunity to transition from pervasively slow or regressive trends toward substantive and lasting progress toward equality.