New Orleans, Louisiana - “Technologies that facilitate development should profit everyone, every farmer—men, women, and particularly vulnerable people,” says Dr. Mariame Maiga, Regional Gender and Social Development Adviser for the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF). “We will not create exclusion,” she says.

CORAF, the largest sub-regional research organization in Africa, coordinates research among 23 national agricultural research systems “to enhance prosperity and ensure food security.” Dr. Maiga supports CORAF’s programs in the process of gender mainstreaming, a term the United Nations describes as “a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programs in all political, economic, and societal spheres, so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated.” Food Tank had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Maiga about CORAF’s approach to gender mainstreaming.

Dr. Maiga talks about the importance of communication in her work, explaining that “gender has to do with socio-cultural issues because gender relations are socially constructed.” For instance, she says people have argued, “you are coming with these Western perceptions of gender; don’t you think that we have our culture and our identity to preserve and protect?” In response, Dr. Maiga emphasizes that considering gender issues “has to do with who is the most vulnerable in terms of access to productive resources” and “has nothing to do with Western perceptions of development.” It’s about “helping to manage vulnerability,” she says, “because if we don’t manage to overcome the vulnerability of our people, we will never meet the expectation of sustainable agricultural research and development.”

People also ask, if gender is not just about women, why are women so often the subject of these discussions? Dr. Maiga’s response: “Because it depends on the context.” In some contexts, she says, “compared to men, women are the ones who need access to agricultural and productive resources. That’s why we are talking about more women than men, because gender mainstreaming has to do with inclusion in development. This means that in your context if men are the ones who are the most vulnerable, you will not put emphasis on women, but you have to put emphasis on men in your interventions.”

Ultimately, Dr. Maiga says considering gender issues is necessary to achieve CORAF’s mission and the objectives of its projects. It means ensuring that the technologies projects develop and disseminate help to close—rather than widen—disparities among groups of people. She explains, for example, “Women have a reproductive role, compared to men. So they have taken care of the household, of the children, fetching water, fetching firewood. So, if we are coming with technologies that may aggravate the burden of the work—if it’s not labor-saving technology—then it’s the problem.” Dr. Maiga’s role involves determining whether technologies can be considered gender responsive, meaning they “have been tested and proven to be labor-saving technology for women,” she explains, “and also have been proven to be a source of job creation and—more importantly—of income generation.”

Dr. Maiga describes CORAF’s approach to gender mainstreaming as systemic, with many different activities across the life of a project. Throughout this process, she recommends that project teams learn and incorporate the perspectives of the people a technology is designed for. “They know more what they are looking for, and then maybe they will tell you how you can develop the technology addressing their needs,” she says. As an example of the importance of this approach, Dr. Maiga tells Food Tank about a peeler developed in Ghana to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to peel cassava. Côte d’Ivoire adopted this cassava peeler through the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP). But Dr. Maiga learned that women in Côte d’Ivoire were rejecting it because “they used to sell cassava waste for animal feeding.” She explains that because this peeler left the women with less waste—something they were actually using—the technology was not as efficient for them.

Dr. Maiga helps identify these issues during field visits by speaking with farmers and producers about how well technologies are working for them. During these visits, the farmers and producers can give feedback on problems they are experiencing and potential improvements. “The beneficiaries have opportunities to tell about the technology,” she explains, “and then we make sure that we do everything to address the weaknesses of the technologies.” These visits also help Dr. Maiga learn about successes. For example, she talks about going on a field visit to Togo, where women told her that a rice parboiling technology was helping them make money. “Many countries have transferred the technology, either from Benin or from Guinea,” she says. “It has been a very nice technology disseminated among women.”