Building gender sensitivity into the next generation of livestock scientists

A group of ILRI CapDev Grand Challenge Fellows co-creating a research concept note integrating climate science, livestock improvement, economics, policy and gender (photo credit: ILRI/Wellington Ekaya).

Written by Zoë Campbell

About 20 research and graduate fellows attended a virtual training entitled ‘Integrating gender into livestock research’ which took place 16–17 Jul 2020. This two-day course was facilitated by Zoë Campbell and Renee Bullock of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), in Nairobi, Kenya, and hosted by Wellington Ekaya, ILRI’s head of capacity development.

The training was part of a series organized to support an annual ILRI CapDev Grand Challenge contest created by Ekaya. Through the CapDev Grand Challenge process, ILRI aims at improving both interconnectivity and collaboration among young researchers from diverse disciplines and countries. This Challenge process works to strengthen the skills and capabilities of the fellows to engage, collaborate and effectively communicate their research findings to different audiences as well as strengthening the multi- and cross-disciplinary mindsets among the young professionals. Most of the attendees were research fellows, but the online format allowed others to join, including national partners of an ILRI project based in Tanzania and a Uganda-based staff member of the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Renee and I both conduct gender research at ILRI but come from different backgrounds; she is part of ILRI’s Sustainable Livestock Systems program and has a focus on climate issues while I’m focused on animal health and work within ILRI’s Policies, Institutions and Livelihoods program. When Wellington asked for our help in getting ILRI fellows out of their research ‘comfort zone’ in the CapDev Grand Challenge training series, we jumped at the chance to participate. Both Renee and I encourage our scientific colleagues to consider gender issues early in their livestock research projects and to consult gender experts about the best ways to incorporate appropriate gender methods in their work.

The online format of our training session, necessitated by COVID-19 social distancing, was certainly less fun than being together in person, but we still managed to re-create an interactive experience by using post-it notes introductions with Jamboard, polls with Menti, and break-out rooms with Zoom for small-group discussions.

On the first day, we focused on ‘WHY do gender research’. We discussed the differences between biological gender (sex) and social gender. We discussed how gender norms affect our lives, day to day. On the second day, we focused on ‘HOW to do gender research’. We introduced some best practice methods and shared some case studies. A few participants were surprised to learn, for example, that speaking only to heads of households, even when some households are headed by women, makes it nearly impossible to conduct a gender analysis. This is because gender studies concern the interactions and relationships between men and women, not just the views of men or women individually. Furthermore, talking to the heads of households captures only about 10% of women and means we wouldn’t ever hear from most married women, a huge disadvantage.

In one of the Menti polls we conducted in this gender training, we wanted to emphasize the interdisciplinary nature of gender research, so we asked participants what type of disciplinary background they thought a gender researcher should have. We wanted them to know that there is no right or wrong answer. Renee’s background, for example, is in geography, mine is interdisciplinary, incorporating social sciences, economics and animal health. While we agree that biological training alone is probably insufficient for gender research, we learned while preparing for the training that we both hold bachelor’s degrees in biology, which gives a useful background in scientific method. We also agree that we need people to specialize in conducting strategic research on gender itself.

Menti poll from participants in ILRI’s CapDev Grand Challenge gender training, 16–17 Jul 2020.

Our aim in this gender training was to get participants more comfortable with the basic vocabulary of gender research and to encourage them to continue thinking about how to integrate gender into their research. Among the feedback we got from the participants was that the training was ‘good, for a beginner’, ‘insightful—we as researchers have been doing it wrong’, and that ‘more on methods would have been interesting’.

Introductory trainings also encourage fellow researchers to consult gender researchers early in their projects. A CapDev gender training two years ago led to an ongoing collaboration between the gender team and the International Development Research Centre in a project exploring the application of bacteriophages in the Kenya poultry sector to control Salmonella infections. Including women in preliminary adoption research is important because women are major players in Kenya’s poultry sector. We hope this training may plant a seed that can lead to future such collaborations.

ILRI’s CapDev Grand Challenge contest has winners and losers, but everybody wins when gender issues become part of every issue.