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Leith Dunn

Leith Dunn

PhD Honorary Research Fellow, Institute for Gender and Development Studies Mona Unit.

The University of the West Indies

Gender as a cross-cutting issue provides many benefits for researchers in health, food systems and the environment. Applicants of the Ideas Competition were specifically asked to indicate how gender and equity considerations would be included in their innovate research ideas and in the conceptual, theoretical and methodological tools and frameworks that would be used. The strategic inclusion of gender and equity as co-benefits, defined as a win-win strategy to tackle multiple benefits and issues simultaneously that could be achieved by a single policy or measure, provided opportunities for mainstreaming gender in multidisciplinary research that encouraged holistic gender-sensitive policy interventions related to population health and environmental sustainability in LMICs. It encouraged researchers to move beyond their main disciplinary boundaries to explore multidisciplinary solutions to complex nutrition and environmental challenges. This strategy of exploring co-benefits helped to fill knowledge gaps, expanded the range of conceptual, theoretical, and methodological approaches used to not only understand healthy and sustainable food systems, but also offer practical implementation strategies.

Gender concepts, theories and methodologies provide insights into the root causes of power and other inequalities that affect stakeholders in food systems. Gender socialisation explains how people learn ascribed gender roles and responsibilities and behaviour including food choices and eating habits. These behaviours are influenced by demographic and other factors such as age, social class, race and ethnicity, sexuality, ability/disability, religion, rural/urban, citizenship status and explain how groups interact with economic, political, and environmental systems. They also demonstrate how women’s disproportionately higher levels of caregiving affects their labour force participation rates, access to jobs, occupational choices, gender-wage gaps, and gender differentials in access to resources, power, leadership and decision-making. All directly and indirectly impact food systems but may be ignored if gender is not integrated in research. 

Gender Mainstreaming and Gender Analysis

Gender analysis, gender mainstreaming1234 and intersectionality5, are valuable conceptual and analytical tools to promote equality, equity and sustainable development. Using these tools can contribute to building knowledge and capacity to fulfil commitments to rights-based, evidence-based policy-making.

The quality of sex disaggregated data in food systems research, can provide evidence to understand the root causes of inequality that can affect desired outcomes.  This data will also be more culturally relevant and useful to develop policies and interventions that are gender-sensitive and inclusive or gender-transformative.

Gender mainstreaming as a methodological tool involves the collection and analysis of data disaggregated by sex, and can be used to measure progress and impacts of policies and programmes for social groups from diverse backgrounds. Gender mainstreaming can also involve gender budgeting to measure changes in government spending priorities and gender-inequalities in government procurement strategies.

Gender-sensitive means that they take account of gender-related differences and address differential needs of boys and girls, vs adult men and women for example. Gender transformative means that the policies and interventions seek to radically change unequal gender relations among women and men farmers for example. Adopting these strategies in food systems research can help to ensure that projects do not reinforce existing gender stereotypes and inequalities; and can measure progress towards gender equality.

Valero6 notes that gender statistics measure the impact of policies and programmes. UN Women7 agrees, but their concern is that only 13% of countries allocate budgets to collect gender statistics. This is likely to be a problem for many of the study countries.

Gender mainstreaming also facilitates stakeholder participation in ensuring that food is produced, distributed and consumed equitably to protect the right to food for all. UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization’s Policy on Gender Equality8 promotes gender mainstreaming, along with other valuable on-line resources to support gender in food systems such as its Guides for Gender Mainstreaming and for using ICTs for Agriculture and Rural Development9. Danielsen10 also notes the importance of integrating gender in agriculture and food security research.

Quantitative and qualitative gender indicators can be used to monitor and measure impact and change over time. Quantitative indicators measure change using numbers (e.g., to compare food security for adult males and females) before and after a programme intervention. Qualitative gender indicators measure changes in behaviour and attitudes. Triangulating data can guide cost/benefit analyses of short-medium-long term impacts and outcomes with/without gender considerations. Furthermore, researchers should also consider governance frameworks that support gender mainstreaming as a strategy to achieve gender equality and sustainable development.

Including gender considerations in the Call helped to mainstream gender and equity in several disciplines that may not otherwise have considered this relevant. Research that integrates these considerations is more likely to achieve the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2015-203011, especially those related to poverty reduction (SDG1), reducing hunger (SDG2), promoting gender equality (SDG5) and reducing inequality (SDG10). Furthermore, several goals, indicators, and certain targets related to the environment and climate action (SDG13.1) are all relevant to the proposals submitted for the Call. It however challenged researchers to explore multiple inequalities that impact people’s everyday lives and livelihoods. Initial proposals reviewed showed varying levels of capacity to integrate gender perspectives. Questions at the Ideas workshop with awardees indicated that some applicants had not fully understood the strategic importance of gender in their research. Mentors worked with awardees and the revised proposals presented in this Compendium reflect much stronger multidisciplinary gender-sensitive and gender transformative proposals, with the potential to have multidimensional policy impacts. The  section below provides some insights into how gender considerations enhanced the innovative project ideas submitted: 

  • By incorporating links between power gender dynamics and equity to reduce barriers for female farmers to become more productive and commercially viable (Jenny Melo-Velasco in this compendium);
  • By using gender as a cross-cutting issue and an analytical tool in mixed methods research on the food environment, with its integration into the sampling method for the qualitative components, to assess gender differences among the poorest and most nutritionally vulnerable groups (Bianca Carducci in this compendium);
  • By   leveraging machine learning for the interlinkages between food systems, health risks and the environment of Sri Lanka to measure gender-based differences regarding health outcomes and impact on disease prevalence (Kanchana Wickramasinghe in this compendium);
  • By illustrating the intersection of gender, race and class inequalities through a gender analysis to show differential access to sustainable healthy food and women’s participation in the food system exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic (Chuma Banji Chinzila in this compendium);
  • By building on women’s reproductive role as family caregivers and their knowledge to design nutrition interventions aimed at empowering groups of women in forest communities (Ranaivo Andriarilala Rasolofoson in this compendium);
  • By integrating a participatory approach using gender, class and power analysis to explore more equitable, inclusive and gender-sensitive governance in urban food markets (David Smith in this compendium);
  • By adopting gender and age perspectives in research to understand the intersections between food sovereignty, food security, and the sustainability of Africa’s food systems during and beyond COVID-19, and engaging women and youth to share their knowledge and enhance their skills and economic status (Tebogo Thandie Leepile in this compendium).

These research proposals show expanding literature and knowledge in specific disciplines; improving the targeting of benefits to vulnerable groups of diverse backgrounds; increasing returns on financial investments; building human capital; and promoting economic growth and equitable, sustainable development.  Indeed, the awardees’ contributions indicate that there are many advantages to using interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, and multisectoral strategies to address health and environmental problems. This is because of the dynamic relationship between social, economic, political and environmental systems. Pre-existing gender and other inequalities have been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic as noted by several organisations including the World Bank12.

Key Challenges Drawn from Personal Experiences

Managing change and understanding how the complexities of gender roles, responsibilities and unequal power relations influence behaviour in food systems can be challenging.

Serving as Gender Advisor for the IDRC-funded Project: Improving Household Nutrition Security and Public Health in the CARICOM region (FAN Project/Food for Change Caribbean Project)13 provided opportunities to integrate gender in the multidisciplinary food and nutrition research studies and interventions as well as review food and nutrition policies in CARICOM, and the three project countries: Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines.  The aim was to find gender-sensitive solutions to the chronic problem of NCDs. The University of the West Indies was the main coordinating agency with partnerships from the University of Technology, and several other academic institutions and development stakeholders within and outside the Caribbean. 

Limited awareness of gender was addressed by organising gender sensitisation sessions, integrating gender perspectives in the design and implementation of research studies, interventions, reports, and use of gender indicators to measure progress.  Lessons in ‘scaling up’ findings14 from the FAN Project to policy levels, included organizing validation workshops, policy dialogues with governments, private sector, civil society, and international partners, and conducting gender analyses of national food security policies to assess coherence between policy commitments to gender equality and national policies. Using participatory methodologies such as Group Model Building and Causal loop diagrams in stakeholder workshops, helped to identify inhibiting and enabling factors for health promotion and food security; and interlinkages between food production, distribution, and consumption of healthy and unhealthy foods15. The FAN Project’s gender-sensitive information dissemination strategies facilitated ‘scaling up’16, using on-line platforms in response to the COVID-19 pandemic such as: a Food for Change Website17, an e-newsletter, webinars, presentations to policy makers as well as scholarly publications. In conclusion, integrating gender into research on food systems and the environment, support gender-sensitive data collection and analysis, evidence-based policy making, and targeted programmes that support sustainable development.  The Ideas Competition has made a significant contribution to sharing this knowledge across disciplines. Separately and together the awardees innovative research projects can help to promote the value and benefits of interdisciplinary research on food systems linking health and the environment.  

Check out these useful resources on gender and equity for your research

UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on women’s rights, gender equality and gender mainstreaming used in several research proposals;

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) for the protection, survival, and development of children who are among the most vulnerable, at risk of poverty and malnutrition;

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on the rights of this vulnerable group to access, inclusion equality in development. Stigma and discrimination often contribute to higher levels of poverty unemployment, poor health and food insecurity among women men and children with different types of disabilities;

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (2017) has six policy actions and indicators to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Equality in access to public health for all is reflected in World Health Organisation (WHO)  Alma Ata Declaration (1978) and Asana Declaration (2018) promotes the integration of health in all policies.

Equality in access to public health for all is reflected in World Health Organisation (WHO)  Alma Ata Declaration (1978) and Asana Declaration (2018) promotes the integration of health in all policies.  These commitments provide a framework for a rights-based approach to development that requires government policy makers as duty-bearers to create an enabling environment for citizens as rights-holders to access their basic rights which were originally outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Policy makers within and outside the countries that these research project will impact should be mindful of international commitments that their governments have signed and ratified.  


  1. ^ United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Mainstreaming the gender perspective into all policies and programmes in the United Nations system. 1997. Available from:
  2. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Gender and ICTs: mainstreaming gender in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agriculture and rural development, by Treinen S, Van der Elstraeten A. Rome: 2018. Available from:
  3. ^ EIGE (European Institute for Gender Equality). Gender impact assessment: gender mainstreaming toolkit. European Institute for Gender Equality. 2016.  Available from:
  4. ^ United Nations Women’s Watch. Gender mainstreaming: an overview. New York: Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; 2002. Available from:
  5. ^ Crenshaw K.  Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: a black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Reform; 1989;Vol. 1989(1), Article 8:139-167.
  6. ^ Valero SD.  Why are gender statistics important? 2019. New York: UN Women. Available from:
  7. ^ UN Women. Counted and visible toolkit. New York: 2021. Available from:
  8. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization. Policy on gender equality. 2013. Available from:
  9. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Gender and ICTs: mainstreaming gender in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for agriculture and rural development, by Treinen S, Van der Elstraeten A. Rome: 2018. Available from:
  10. ^ Danielsen K, Wong, FF, McLachlin D, Sarapura S. Typologies of change: gender integration in agriculture and food security research. Amsterdam: Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). 2018.
  11. ^ United Nations. Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030. Available from:
  12. ^ World Bank. The gendered impacts of COVID-19 on labor markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. Washington: The World Bank; 2021. Available from:
  13. ^ IDRC-funded Project: Improving Household Nutrition Security and Public Health in the CARICOM region. (FAN Project/Food for Change Caribbean). Available from:
  14. ^ McLean R, Gargani J. Scaling impact:  innovation for the public good pathway. Ottawa: Routledge and International Development Research Centre. 2019.
  15. ^ Guariguata L, Rouwette EA, Murphy, MM, Saint Ville A, Dunn L.L, Hickey GM, Jones W, Samuels TA, Unwin N. “Using group model building to describe the system driving unhealthy eating and identify intervention points: A participatory, stakeholder engagement approach in the Caribbean. Nutrients. 2020 Jan;12(2). DOI: 10.3390/nu12020384. PMID: 32024025; PMCID: PMC7071222. Available from:
  16. ^ McLean R, Gargani J. Scaling impact:  innovation for the public good pathway. Ottawa: Routledge and International Development Research Centre. 2019.
  17. ^ IDRC-funded Project: Improving Household Nutrition Security and Public Health in the CARICOM region. (FAN Project/Food for Change Caribbean). Available from: