Women and girls are often hit hardest by food insecurity and are among the most undernourished people in the world. Gender inequalities persistently undermine women’s ability to feed themselves and their families – particularly in terms of accessing resources, markets and social protection. Socio-cultural norms typically prioritise the nutrition of men and boys while limiting women’s decision-making power.
IDS’ long-established reputation for research on gender mainstreaming and development made it the ideal learning partner for the World Food Programme (WFP) when it needed to improve knowledge-sharing among its staff.
At a country level, several of WFP’s staff and partners have been successfully adopting innovative practices that tackle local gender realities. The problem was sharing those practices more widely.
As part of a two-phase initiative that began in 2013, IDS helped WFP to develop and implement ‘Innovations from the field’ – a participatory action learning programme to capture, share and embed successful innovations for gender mainstreaming across the organisation.
Five WFP Country Offices in Africa and Central America participated in the pilot project, helping staff to reflect on, explore, document and share good practices for gender-sensitive food security programming.
IDS researcher Thea Shahrokh said, ‘The staff have had a real opportunity through this programme to challenge themselves on the way that they think about gender and the way they apply their analysis of gender into their programmes. So they’ve moved from a starting point that has been traditionally about looking at gender issues and then saying this is how we approach them in our programming, to starting from the ground up and understanding the perspectives of people living in communities and the contextual relevance of gender issues in their lives and to challenge the assumptions that WFP programming and approaches may hold to say that actually we need to do something differently as an organisation.’
A second phase extends the reach of the programme to South East Asia, further into Francophone West Africa, and into humanitarian settings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Although focused on local innovations, the partnership has prompted wider reflection about the barriers preventing effective gender mainstreaming in WFP, and stimulated recommendations to overcome these. Areas explored included routes to sustainability, leadership and accountability at local levels, facilitating the embedding of good practice into country office programming and systems, and the need for consistency in understanding gender and why it matters to WFP’s work. The context across different regions varies considerably however there are some unifying factors. WFP’s appointment of a Gender Results Network (GRN) and its new gender policy have created a platform for better collective championing of gender equality.
The partnership with WFP aligns with IDS’ goals of contributing towards transformations in order to reduce inequalities and of working both locally and globally.
The programme’s participatory action learning approach reflects IDS’ commitment to working with diverse actors and perspectives in order to co-construct knowledge that can be shared and used to transform organisations and wider social and political contexts.
Reinforcing the partnership is a rich legacy of ground-breaking research at IDS into gender and development that stretches back to the late 1970s and saw IDS play a leading role in situating power at the heart of gender and development analysis. This led to the creation of many long-term initiatives providing a new lens on issues such as women’s economic empowerment, sexuality, gender-based violence, and unpaid care work.