Gender Analysis as a Development Research Tool

What is research for development?

The goal of IDRC's programming is sustainable and equitable development through the generation and use of knowledge. The assumption is that any improvements in human well-being will depend on knowledge--its production, distribution, ownership, and wise application. Research--stemming from both the natural sciences and social sciences--provides the means to obtain this knowledge.

For IDRC, this translates into funding research within "developing countries," research that generates knowledge to address poverty and improve people's lives. In this way, IDRC can work with researchers in developing countries to build up their country's resources to identify and solve its own problems. IDRC focuses on the areas of biodiversity conservation; equity in natural resources use; food security; sustainable employment; policies for healthy societies; and information and communication.

Gender...gender roles and relationships ...gender analysis? What are they?

People often use the word "gender" as a synonym for "sex." Sex, however, refers to biological characteristics that make someone female or male. Gender has also been misused as a synonym for "women" or "female." Development projects directed toward women's needs, for example, may mistakenly refer to gender needs. Instead, gender refers to the socio-cultural construction of roles and relationships between men and women. In describing socio-cultural construction, gender analysis considers other social structures such as race, ethnicity, class and caste.

Gender roles and relationships are the assigned activities and relative position in society of men and women. These help to determine access to opportunities and resources based on local cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity. While gender roles and relationships impose expectations and certain limitations on both women and men, they can perpetuate forms of subordination.

Gender roles are frequently mirror images, leading some people to suggest that the division of male and female gender roles is inherent and set in stone. Yet, while one's sex does not change, gender roles are learned and change over time. These roles are constructed through forces such as culture, tradition, politics, and need, varying from culture to culture, and often from one social group to another within the same culture (according to characteristics such as class, ethnicity, race, age, caste, and marital status). Recognizing that relationships are gendered allows for the issue of power to be addressed.

Gender analysis, in terms of research for development, is:
1. a process that assesses the differential impact of proposed and/or existing research on men and women of different races, classes or castes, for example; and
2. a tool that makes it possible for research to be undertaken with an appreciation of gender differences, of the nature of relationships between women and men and of their different social realities, life expectations and economic circumstances; and
3. a tool for understanding social processes and for responding with informed and equitable options.

The potentially differential effects of applied research on women or men can often be masked or obscured. When gender is explicitly considered in research, the effects of the research are revealed and previously hidden implications come to light. Gender analysis challenges the assumption that everyone is affected by research in the same way regardless of their situation.

Adapted from: Gender-based analysis: A guide for policy-making. Status of Women Canada: March 1996.

Why is gender an important analytical tool in research for development?

1. "Sustainable and equitable" development

"Sustainable and equitable development" gives overriding priority to meeting the basic needs of the world's poor; and it emphasizes social equality between all peoples now, as well as a responsibility to future generations. (IDRC and Agenda 21)

"The Centre has incorporated a multidisciplinary approach to research support and management in order to reinforce its commitment to environmental sustainability and social equity." - CPF II)

Research must take into account the differential impact that change will have on the lives of men and women. All Centre staff share responsibility to ensure that this is the case for research supported by IDRC. (CPF II)

IDRC's commitment to "sustainable and equitable" development suggests that not only must research for development work to alleviate world poverty, it must work to address the great disparities in wealth and quality of life between the world's "haves" and the "have-nots." And, women (although not a homogeneous group) are often among the most vulnerable. In many societies, women do not have the same opportunities as men. While the situation of women has undergone important improvements, marked disparities exist in almost every area. In terms of education, for example, women make up nearly two-thirds of the 960 million people worldwide who are illiterate and girls account for two-thirds of the 100 million children who drop out of primary school in the first four years. In terms of employment and labour, women hold fewer than half the jobs on the market and less than 14% of administrative and managerial positions worldwide; there is no country in the world where women's average earnings are equal to those of men. Women do not even come close to constituting half of the national legislature of any country. And women account for most of the world's 1.3 billion people living in poverty.1

Equity in research means that research must work to create and maintain a situation of balance in which disparities (in access to benefits or resources, for example) are acknowledged, understood, and addressed. The GSD assumes that equitable development will remain elusive unless a concern for equity is manifested in all aspects of the research process--in the production, distribution, ownership, and wise application of knowledge. Stated differently, without an understanding of the existing imbalances in a situation and the processes that created them, one can actually exacerbate existing injustices through the research methods and issues one prioritizes.

An awareness about the inequities in a situation requires an understanding in researchers and development professionals, not only about the historical, political, and cultural situation, but about the processes that reinforce these imbalances. For example, researchers can understand how unconscious/conscious bias can act to affect research at all levels or how systemic discrimination2 may serve, through economic and social structures, to buttress such bias and even make it seem rational. An awareness of these processes forms a structure upon which gender analysis depends. Gender analysis sheds light on these processes from the point of view of the relationships between the socialized roles of men and women and often incorporates interrelated questions of race, caste, class, ethnicity, occupation, age, marital status, and caste. A recent speech by Joseph Stiglitz, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank, offers the following example: In a number of countries the World Bank has encouraged land titling as a means of collateralization and getting better credit markets. They found, however, that land titling had unintended consequences. Where customary law dictated that women controlled land, the result of land titling was to place land ownership in the formal market, which often meant title to the land was given to men. Thus, the policy changed the distribution of income between men and women--albeit unintentionally--to the detriment of women, with corresponding effects on children, health, and education.

Through gender analysis, researchers can become aware of the hidden processes that support and perpetuate disparities. They are thus better able to design and implement research that either directly corrects or, at least, seeks not to exacerbate these processes and imbalances.

2. Quality of Research

The relevance of knowledge generated by research and the effectiveness with which the knowledge can be applied are significantly influenced when gender considerations are an integral part of analysis. (CPF II)

Three strategic dimensions...constitute the main characteristics of sustainable and equitable development. These will guide the implementation of the program framework for 1997-2000: 1. more human development - the "people" part of development, embracing political and social systems, systems of governance and local cultures, values, and religion;... (#1 being the most relevant to this discussion) (CPF II)

Planning for "more human development" requires precise information about the different people who make up these human groups. In order to produce the desired results, researchers must work from as much information as possible and from as clear a picture as possible of the target groups. Gender analysis provides more detailed information about relevant actors and their differing roles, responsibilities, resources, needs, constraints, and opportunities--necessary inputs for effective research planning and implementation.

An example relating to research for social security reform in Africa serves to make the point. In Africa, formal social security schemes (i.e., those schemes that are largely administered by the state and private sector) cover only a very limited percentage of the population, and primarily those employed in the formal sector. This is a predominantly male segment of the population. Research to expand coverage of social security to the majority of the population, including women, has to include analysis of non-state based approaches to social security (e.g., informal networks, kinship systems, self-help groups). Research must examine how, within such systems, women and men organize themselves to pool and distribute resources to assist members in times of crisis. Comprehensive research requires a recognition that within formal and non-formal social security systems, men and women contribute and benefit differently. Research must also take into account that trends such as economic adjustment, urbanisation or HIV/AIDS affect men's and women's responsibilities for social security provision differently.

3. Effective application of research

The relevance of knowledge generated by research and the effectiveness with which the knowledge can be applied are significantly influenced when gender considerations are an integral part of analysis. (CPF II)

In tangible terms, microcredit programs aimed at providing resources for women may overlook the intra-familial dynamics that mean that the male spouse or other male relative actually controls the credit, thus frustrating the goal of empowering women through this means. Gender analysis and engendered research presents researchers with a more accurate picture of the situation--e.g., the actual intra-household relationship between men and women, boys and girls-- information that will help to apply the knowledge obtained through research more effectively. These examples demonstrate that gender analysis leads to informed policy-making and good governance; it is indispensable to the development of fair policies, programs, and legislation.


1. Where Women Stand: An International Report on the Status of Women in 140 Countries 1997-1998, Neft, Naomi and Anne D. Levine, Random House, New York, 1997.
2. Discrimination caused by policies and practices that are built into systems and that have the effect of excluding minority groups and women. It is often a mixture of intentional and unintentional discrimination. Although it may not exclude all members of a group, it will have a more serious effect on one group than on others. (Adapted from the CIDA web page on Women in Development)

Without an adequate understanding of the processes that lead to disparities and the people that make up the target population, applied development research can have undesired or unintended effects. Take, for example, the issue of resource allocation within households.