When is disagreeing with your partner a sign of success? When it helps you grow more food.
Women in Burundi feel more able to disagree with their partners and negotiate conflicts—a confidence that is helping them grow more food and earn more money. Gender equality isn’t just good for women, it’s good for everyone.
At CARE, we’ve been convinced that supporting gender equality is critical to people changing their lives and leaving poverty for a long time. From a human rights perspective, we know it’s “worth it”—even though approaches that focus on supporting women and men to change their own lives are more complicated and sometimes take longer to pay off.
That’s great when you’re already convinced, but what about for the skeptics out there? People who think, “gender equality is all well and good, but that’s a problem you only worry about when you’ve already got enough to eat.” CARE’s got some exciting new research that proves that working on more progressive approaches to gender equality doesn’t just help improve equality and outcomes in women’s rights. It ALSO improves incomes, food security, and agriculture production. For only a fraction more of the cost, the results are impressive.
In Burundi, CARE partnered with the Africa Center for Gender, Social Research and Impact Assessment, Great Lakes Inkingi Development (GLID), RBU 2000 Plus, and the University of Burundi in partnership with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) to test what works to improve gender equality and food security at the same time. The project was funded with $2.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2016-2020, and reached 9,911 people directly and more than 37,000 people indirectly.
- We can prove that working on gender equality has higher returns on investment: Techniques that focus on helping women access the support they need for gender equality and change discriminatory social and gender norms showed a return of $5 for every $1 invested, compared to techniques that only shared messages about equality, which only gave a $3 return for every $1 spent.
- Gender equality grows more food: Women who got more opportunities and support to address gender inequality increased their rice production 2.3 times, compared to just 2 times the production for people who only got agriculture training and information on gender equality. They were also 26% more likely to have enough food to eat.
- Empowered women earn more money: Women who participated in activities with more focus on equality were 94% more likely to get to equality, and 3 times more likely to move to a higher income bracket.
- The Gender Parity Index (GPI), improved by 51% in gender transformative groups and by less than 10 percent in the gender light and control groups.
- Everyone eats better when women have a fair chance. Families in the groups that focused on equality were 26% more likely to have enough food and diverse diets, and women that participated in groups that didn’t focus on gender equality had less diverse diets at the end of the program than they did at the beginning. Families in the activities that focused on equality were most likely to be eating enough food.
- Women feel safer: Women in the more progressive groups were 89% more likely to feel safe disagreeing with their partner at the end of project than they were at the beginning. Men and women both were 35% less likely to support gender-based violence.
- Women are more confident they can change their lives: Women in the most progressive groups were the most likely to believe that they could act together to change their lives and create change. For example, they are most confident that they can change the way women are treated at health centers.
How did it happen?
- Engage, don’t inform: The groups that worked with men and community leaders to address gender inequality and get them actively talking about gender norms and power imbalances were much more effective than ones that simply shared messages that gender equality matters.
- Adapt and apply proven tools in new contexts. Since 2016, CARE Burundi has implemented the EKATA approach – Empowerment through Knowledge And Transformative Action – which originally started in Bangladesh. They also applied the Abatangamuco approach—which Burundi invented to work with men and boys towards gender equality.
- Combine skills training with the ability to work together in groups and negotiation. The EKATA approach works with women to build their skills in negotiation, leadership, conflict management, and working together for change. At the same time, it brings in men and leaders to talk with women and find ways to change the habits and norms that are leading to inequality and violence.
- Test what works: The project tested if focusing on achieving gender equality worked better than simply sharing messages about women’s rights and gender equality on top of agricultural training.
- Generate good evidence: The project used a rigorous research design to test what worked best, and how much extra it cost to get to successful results. This is evidence we can use for years to understand what components lead to better returns on investment not just in gender equality, but also in incomes, food production, and nutrition.
- Be practical and think of cost: The project didn’t just test for impacts, it also looked at what it cost to get to extra impact. In fact, it only cost 10% more to implement the gender equality activities. Ultimately, that little extra investment pays off.