by Hagar ElDidi, Katrina Kosec and Ruth Meinzen-Dick
In Sơn La, a northwest mountainous province of Vietnam, ethnic Thai communities are paid cash by government officials to participate in an environmental services program to conserve the upland forests.
However, a 2021 study found that in Sơn La’s patriarchal households, men typically received the payments and decided how to use the money. Women participating in a focus group felt this was likely due to the wives’ names not being listed on land tenure certificates. In this context, what recourse do the women have?
Enter researchers’ tools! The Payment for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) policy learning tool, developed by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), is primarily designed for policymakers and government officers who need to monitor, evaluate, and report on the progress and impact of such PFES schemes—including impacts on women in particular. Applied, the tool helps provincial governments improve the performance of PFES and ensure its budget is well spent.
In a recent CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform working paper, we reviewed this and 68 other tools being used across the globe to analyze and address a variety of topics at the intersection between gender, on the one hand, and institutions and governance, on the other. Our compilation of tools focused on research and practice related to rural development or agrifood systems, predominantly in low- and middle-income countries.
Unlike CIFOR’s PFES tool, we found that most of the tools available targeted researchers and practitioners working with communities and policymakers, rather than directly targeting policymakers.
Institutions (the systems of formal and informal rules that shape interactions) and governance (the use of power and authority to manage a community, society, or country) profoundly affect women’s status within and beyond the household, with consequent effects on rural poverty, hunger, and natural resource management.
Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers can use tools to help them answer two main questions:
1. How does gender shape institutions and governance, and how can one bring about a gender-responsive governance?
2. Do institutions and governance differentially benefit women and men?
The tools we compiled present a methodology, and either guidance or a set of questions to measure or promote women’s empowerment and good governance.
Our review includes a wide array of tool types, methodologies and foci. We classified them broadly into tools used for collecting data, tools used to design an intervention, and frameworks. We further classified each tool according to type, method, extent of focus on gender, intersectionality considerations, level of institutions or governance, sector/theme, and topical focus—i.e. the aspects of institutions or governance the tool addresses (e.g., participation in groups, leadership).
We found that the most common theme (43 percent) addressed by the tools we reviewed was natural resource management (NRM). This reflects the strong attention to institutions and governance in NRM, particularly in governing a shared pool of resources.
Many of the NRM tools we assessed focused on promising practices, approaches, and policies for securing women’s tenure and property rights. This is not surprising given the growing recognition that the security of land tenure plays an important role in women’s empowerment and livelihoods.
Most NRM tools and many of the others operated at the community level, and mostly provided a means for data collection or as a guide for implementing practices. Many of these community-based tools spotlighted women’s participation in groups and political leadership, followed by leadership, equity and inclusion.
Over the past decade, participatory approaches have gained traction in NRM tools. This likely reflects the increasing importance of taking a collaborative approach to development, which includes multiple stakeholders, in more equitable decision-making. Half of the tools we looked at were implementation guides, and about a third of these focus on involving community members in a participatory way.
After NRM, we found that the most common theme addressed by the tools was political engagement (29 percent), which involves interactions between citizens and their states—for example, voting, attending meetings, or participating in protests. The next most common theme was social networks (17 percent), with other themes substantially less well represented.
We found few tools representing the theme of climate change (3 percent). This is of concern given the important roles of governance and institutions in addressing climate change, and the gender differences in climate change impacts and responses. We therefore recommend that more tools be developed in this space.
Despite the wealth of tools that we found at the nexus of gender, governance and institutions, there were still gaps. Along with climate change, there were few tools addressing payment for environmental services; nutrition; and water, sanitation, and health.
There were also fewer tools addressing the second question (outcomes of institutions and governance on gender) compared to the first (how gender affects institutions and governance).
Our study provides a snapshot of currently available tools. Tracking trends in methods, approaches, and tool types over time can be a helpful next step. While expansion in the number of tools over time is beneficial, we would caution that “more tools” is not necessarily better. More important will be a few widely tested tools that can help researchers and practitioners build comparative evidence relevant to their objectives.
Finally, if we want to use these tools for positive change, we will need researchers and practitioners experienced and skilled in gender as well as governance and institutions to be involved in projects using these tools.