Equity for women and men means looking beyond gender


by Hazel Malapit | March 8, 2019

Gender is just one of the many social dimensions that make up an individual. In honor of International Women's Day, A4NH Gender Research Coordinator Hazel Malapit reflects on A4NH's approach to closing gender gaps and addressing inequities in agriculture, nutrition, and health.


Photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Gender equity means giving equal value to women’s and men’s lives. Often, we refer to equal outcomes like equal pay, representation, and access to education and health care. At the heart of this is the desire for fairness – despite our outward differences, we are all human and deserve the same rights, opportunities, and treatment. Closing gender gaps means caring about “sameness” in achievements like education or health, as well as “fairness” in the processes that result in these achievements. How are the benefits from development distributed between women and men? Inequities are the differences in outcomes and processes that are unnecessary, avoidable, unfair, and unjust.

Nutrition and health outcomes are unequal

Large disparities in nutrition and health outcomes exist between social groups, and the resources and processes related to these outcomes are often distributed inequitably. At a recent conference, A4NH Senior Gender Adviser Agnes Quisumbing talked about how diets differ across regions, which reveals inequalities. “Globally, we are eating too much meat,” she observed, “and too many starchy staples (for our health and that of our planet). But this plate is skewed by the consumption of richer nations. In South Asia, diets have very little animal protein, while in sub-Saharan Africa, there is a lot of starchy staple consumption but very little else. Not surprisingly, wealth and location play a role in dietary inequality – though not always in the expected direction. For example, children in the highest wealth quintile breastfeed less than children in the lowest, though wealthier children meet the criteria for minimum acceptable diets, dietary diversity, and meal frequency.”

When it comes to nutrition and health outcomes, women and girls are particularly vulnerable. In Bangladesh, for example, across all age groups (with the exception of primary school-aged children in the richest 20 percent of households), females have lower energy intakes than males. As a country where gender discrimination is deeply ingrained, the intrahousehold distribution of micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, and zinc are likely to be worse for women and girls. She concluded, “(a)ddressing gender inequities is important to solving the nutrition problem in Bangladesh.”

Gender is one of many social dimensions

While gender bias is one important source of vulnerability, there are many other factors that intersect with gender, such as race, class, caste, ethnicity, and life stage. These social categories can compound or offset gender differences. If we care about giving equal value to women’s and men’s lives, we should recognize that gender is but one of the many social dimensions of the individual.

Image credit: Lee Dixon/IFPRI

As a girl transitions to adulthood and moves through different life stages, her situation shifts. Adolescent girls, for example, face different vulnerabilities compared to children, married adult women, or elderly women. Similarly, women across different socio-economic classes experience different gender-based constraints. The gender disparities experienced by ultra-poor women and men are likely different from those experienced by the marginally poor, nonpoor, or wealthy. We cannot close gender gaps without considering how these other vulnerabilities intersect with gender.

Equity in A4NH research

At A4NH, we recognize that gender is an integral component of agriculture, nutrition, and health. A recent review conducted by Jody Harris and Becky Mitchell of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) revealed that A4NH research systematically addresses gender and touches on other equity dimensions, such as poverty, life stage, and location. However, the intersectionality between different areas of equity is not sufficiently explored.

A4NH is now working to address this issue at multiple levels. We commissioned a scoping literature review led by Harris and Nick Nisbett of IDS to assess how aspects of equity have been treated in agriculture, nutrition, and health research by A4NH and others to date, focusing on the A4NH flagship research areas. A4NH is also funding small formative or diagnostic research activities on equity specific to each research flagship. For example, the flagship on Food Systems for Healthier Diets is developing a theory of change for how key gender inequities in the food systems of LMICs relate to achieving healthier diets, assessing the assumptions and related evidence at each step. The flagship on Food Safety is developing a training curriculum on equity and gender for the first veterinary class at Malawi’s Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The curriculum aims to raise awareness about equity issues in veterinary medicine and teach trainees about how equity affects their work and the people who own or manage livestock.

By addressing inequities, we are able to adapt nutrition and health interventions to benefit those most in need. Through this work, A4NH hopes to enhance our understanding of the complex relationships between gender, equity, agriculture, nutrition, and health, and build the capacity and tools needed to take on this research.


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This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health. To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed in or registered in order to leave a comment.