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Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women - West Africa

Call for Proposals

Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – West Africa



1. Context

2. Objectives and Scope

3. Priority research themes

4. What type of projects qualify?

5. Who can apply?

6. Application process and proposal guidelines

7. Project duration and budget

8. Proposal review criteria

9. Research ethics

10. Open access

11. Country clearance requirements

12. Permission for use and disclosure of information

1. Context:

Contextual and domestic factors interact separately and jointly to shape women’s economic opportunities. Contextual factors include formal institutions (laws, regulations and policies) and informal institutions (gender‑related social norms) that, in most countries, and to varying degrees, limit women’s power of self‑determination, including from an economic perspective. Traditions, and gender‑related socio‑cultural norms in particular, shape women’s participation in the workforce and partly explain the sectoral segregation by gender in the labour market. Male‑dominated sectors and occupations are significantly more productive and more highly paid than those dominated by women.

The distribution of resources and domestic work within the household and the socio‑demographic trends that influence household formation and size very often represent additional obstacles to women’s empowerment.

Women’s unpaid domestic and care work, as well as their lower status within the household, can significantly limit their career aspirations by depriving them of time and bargaining power. For example, half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in West Africa do not have easy access to drinking water sources, and most of the burden of water collection falls on women (in sub‑Saharan Africa, an adult woman is responsible for this task in an average of 63% of rural households and 29% of urban households, while in comparison, an adult man has this responsibility in only 11% of rural households and 10% of urban households).[1]

The majority of households in sub‑Saharan Africa also use solid fuels for cooking on wood fires or traditional stoves without chimneys, disproportionately affecting women’s health and contributing to environmental degradation.[2] For example, an average of 66% of households in sub‑Saharan Africa depend on firewood for cooking (compared to 55% of households in South and Southeast Asia and 31% of households in Latin America). Available time‑use data suggest that in some countries, such as Benin, Ghana and Malawi, women spend more time than men collecting firewood, while in other countries, men spend more time collecting firewood, especially wood intended for sale. In Benin, for example, 22% of women collect firewood, compared to only 5% of men, and women spend an average of 16 minutes per day on the task, compared to four minutes for men.

In view of the above, women’s empowerment therefore requires the reduction and redistribution of unpaid domestic and care work within the household. From the point of view of reducing the domestic workload, there is evidence in the literature suggesting that certain innovations could effectively contribute to women’s empowerment while reducing the carbon footprint of human and economic activity.[3]

The redistribution of domestic work, for its part, seems to depend as much on socio‑cultural norms as on public policies. Changing perceptions of the roles of men and women in the household could contribute to this.

The urgent need for evidence‑based action is even more apparent in a socio‑economic context related to the COVID‑19 pandemic and accelerating climate change. Previous experiences, including the recent Ebola crisis in West Africa, have shown that economic crisis situations caused by a pandemic or extreme weather events may be accompanied by a deterioration in women’s economic status and bargaining power within the household. The increase in gender‑based violence observed worldwide and the additional burden of unpaid care are likely to exacerbate situations associated with gender‑related vulnerability. The combined effect of these various factors may therefore jeopardize the progress made in gender equality in recent years.

2. Objectives and Scope

The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is a Canadian Crown corporation funding research in developing countries to advance knowledge and solve practical development problems. Part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, IDRC invests in knowledge, innovation, and solutions to improve lives and livelihoods in the developing world. IDRC works with many stakeholders including civil society organisations, think tanks, regional organisations, and government departments in the developing world to drive large-scale positive change.

As part of its activities to support applied research for development in West Africa, IDRC proposes to continue the actions taken under the successful Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) initiative.

Building on the recently launched GrOW East Africa initiative, GrOW West Africa will support applied, practical and in‑depth research rooted in the local context of the target countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Its objective is to contribute to the reconstruction of post‑COVID‑19 socio‑economic systems in a way that promotes women’s empowerment and gender equality. Thus, through the supported research, it will provide evidence‑based data, practical tools and relevant advice for decision‑making. Through partnerships with stakeholders in the public and private sectors, it will seek to identify and facilitate the scaling of effective solutions to achieve women’s empowerment and gender equality through the reduction and redistribution of unpaid domestic and care work. GrOW West Africa is thus an addition to the GrOW East Africa initiative, which has a broader thematic scope.

The economic empowerment of women and the reduction of gender disparities in the labour market are essential to reducing gender inequalities and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Between 2008 and 2018, a reduction was noted in the gaps between young women and young men in primary and secondary education in West Africa. In general, women’s participation in the labour market is declining, but the decline is greater in West Africa than in the other regions (from 59% to 55% in West Africa, compared to 64.5% to 63% in sub‑Saharan Africa and 54% to 52.5% globally).  Despite the faster decline in women’s share in agricultural labour between 2008 and 2018 (from 45% to 33% in West Africa compared to 60% to 53% in sub‑Saharan Africa and 33.5% to 26% globally), women’s empowerment seems to face fundamental obstacles, such as the high birth rate, combined with certain social norms placing the burden of unpaid care on women.

The objectives of GrOW West Africa are as follows:

  • Deepen knowledge on ways to promote women’s empowerment by reducing obstacles to optimal participation in the labour market;
  • Propose and test innovative solutions to reduce and redistribute the burden of unpaid domestic and care work to achieve a large‑scale impact;
  • Generate new and sound scientific evidence from research and evaluation of innovations, initiatives, policies or programs to reduce women’s unpaid domestic and care workload;
  • Support and mobilize researchers and research institutions in the Global South to help them assume leadership roles in research and foster the sharing of experiences through multi‑stakeholder dialogue at the national and international levels.

3. Priority research themes

Using an intersectional approach, GrOW West Africa aims to be a transformative initiative that focuses on the status of women as determined by the social norms and power dynamics that shape their choices and opportunities. This call for proposals focuses on the theme of reducing and redistributing the unpaid domestic and care workload through scalable innovations, technologies, practices, interventions, policies and attitudes.

The responsibility for unpaid care falls disproportionately on women. In West Africa, the time spent on this activity is three to five times greater among women than men.[4] Gender‑specific social norms that view unpaid domestic and care work as a female prerogative force women to spend a substantial part of their day meeting this expectation, in addition to their paid activities. There is growing recognition of the implications of this “double burden” on the type of economic activities in which women can participate, their earning potential and their overall well‑being.[5] And despite women’s participation in the labour market, there is still a widespread expectation of women in West Africa.

The research projects that receive this funding must address one of the following themes:

Theme 1: Technologies, innovations and infrastructures that reduce and redistribute unpaid domestic and care work

Technology and access to infrastructure can reduce and redistribute the amount of unpaid domestic and care work done by women. However, this is not always the case. Some technologies can make this work less strenuous without making the division of labour more equitable.

For example, women’s involvement in the supply of electricity and motive power is seen as likely to improve their well‑being, given the social norms that assign responsibility for household energy supply to women, who must at the same time perform physically demanding domestic and field work that leaves them little time to rest or participate in income‑generating activities.

In response to calls for more environmentally friendly growth, West Africa is also increasingly promoting improved solar products, cooking technologies and stoves that are more compatible with environmental sustainability and that are expected to reduce gender inequalities.[6][7]

Projects under this theme will focus on identifying technologies, innovations, and/or infrastructures that reduce and redistribute unpaid domestic and care work, while generating scalable employment and business opportunities for women.

Research projects that receive funding under this theme will address the following key questions:

  • What economically viable technologies have the potential to reduce the burden of women’s unpaid care work while ensuring that these tasks are more equitably shared within the household?
  • What are the best approaches to scaling these technologies, innovations and infrastructures with great potential?

Theme 2: Childcare services for different categories of women and opportunities for scaling

West Africa is characterized by an incomplete fertility transition, with five of the 17 countries having fertility rates of five or more children per woman, and stagnation of fertility at a high level.[8] This situation, combined with the disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic and care work borne by women within the household and the lack of infrastructure for State support, considerably reduces the time available to women, limits their mobility and is a major obstacle to seizing economic opportunities. Nevertheless, it can also present opportunities.

Projects focusing on this theme will test initiatives to provide affordable, quality childcare services in the private sector, public sector and the community, or any combination of the three, that are scalable and provide employment and business opportunities for women. They will also need to enhance knowledge on the impact of childcare services on women’s economic well‑being and the reduction of their unpaid workload.

The research projects that receive funding under this theme will answer the following key questions:

  • What models for the provision of childcare services to different categories of women are most effective?
  • How can childcare service models remain affordable, safe and have positive impacts on women’s economic participation and unpaid care workload?
  • What are the best approaches to scaling these initiatives?

Theme 3: Changing standards and public perception of unpaid domestic and care work

Gender norms and stereotypes shape the traditional roles men and women play, particularly with regard to unpaid domestic and care work. The OECD (2019) has found that formal and informal laws and social norms and practices restrict women’s rights and empowerment opportunities in the 17 West African countries. For example, the level of discrimination is high or very high in 13 countries in the sub‑region, with only five countries having a medium level of discrimination.[9] An average of 17% of West African men also believe that it is unacceptable for a woman to work outside the home, and 21% would prefer that the women in their family stay at home rather than take up paid employment.[10]

Projects under this theme should shed light on economically viable individual or collective approaches to changing standards and public perceptions on unpaid domestic and care work on a large scale.

Research projects that receive funding under this theme will aim to answer the following key questions:

  • What is an economically viable way to change standards and public perceptions on unpaid domestic and care work?
  • How can these changes translate into changes in attitudes and behaviours and result in a redistribution of unpaid domestic and care work within the household?
  • What are the best approaches to scaling these initiatives?

For each of these themes, the GrOW West Africa projects should seek to harness the collective power of women’s agency by working, for example, with women’s organizations or other collective action groups to foster the economic empowerment of women and gender equality.

4. What type of projects qualify?

GrOW East Africa invites eligible applicants to submit proposals for evaluative or action/implementation research. In both cases, the emphasis is on testing solutions that can be brought to scale. The program will NOT fund descriptive studies. 

Evaluative projects focus on assessing current or past programs related to the GrOW East Africa thematic priorities to generate evidence on what works. These projects should partner with policymakers, the private sector, and/or civil society actors (as appropriate) to provide practical guidance to improve policies, programs, and interventions that promote women’s economic empowerment and gender equality through transformative actions that address structural barriers (such as social norms).

Action/implementation research projects with key policy actors — the government, private sector, or non-governmental actors — will be supported as appropriate to test and/or scale solutions that address one or more of the priority themes of GrOW East Africa. Such projects are designed to provide a continuous feedback loop in policy and program design and/or implementation, with researchers embedded in ongoing or new initiatives implemented by the government, the private sector, or other stakeholders.

Women’s disadvantages and opportunities are compounded by other factors such as race, religion, and socio-economic position. Therefore, funded projects are expected to adopt an intersectional approach by moving beyond treating women as a homogenous group to identify what interventions will work for different categories of women or specifying a clear target for their work (for example, young women transitioning out of school, rural women, women working in the informal economy). While a focus on women is important, research teams should also consider and address the other factors that affect women’s economic empowerment, including social norms and inequitable gender relations within and outside the home and within the workplace. Proposals should identify ways to address structural barriers such as social norms and institutional and policy barriers that impact women’s paid and unpaid work.

GrOW East Africa is looking for projects that can be implemented at scale, with the potential to impact thousands of beneficiaries in a cost-effective way. Projects should include a research and policy uptake pathway with clear policy or programming entry points, tools, approaches, and networks for research uptake built into the project design. Preference will be given to projects that embed their research within their country policy context and that engage key actors (policymakers, the private sector, civil society, and/or implementing agencies) throughout the research process while developing and packaging evidence in ways that can be used to inform policies and practices. GrOW East Africa seeks projects where researchers work with knowledge users throughout the research process (including the private sector and policymakers) to set strategic directions and priorities and to frame and conduct research into practical solutions that can be adopted. Projects should include a detailed research uptake strategy as part of their proposal.  

5. Who can apply?

Applicants that meet the following criteria are invited to apply:

  • Type of organization: Proposed projects must be undertaken by research-oriented institutions with legal corporate registration. The lead institution must be registered in one of the countries of focus: Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, and/or Senegal. Proposed research may be carried out by a research institution, research consortia, think tank, or non-governmental organization with strong research capacity. Preference will be given to projects with multi-stakeholder and multidisciplinary teams.

UN, donor, and multi-lateral organizations are NOT eligible to apply. Applications from individual persons will NOT be accepted.

  • Collaboration: Research consortia comprised of up to three institutional partners may apply, however one partner must be designated as the lead institution. The lead institution should submit the application to IDRC on behalf of the consortium.[11] The lead institution will sign the grant agreement with IDRC and as such will be responsible for receiving and administering the funds and ensuring that all grant conditions are met. All other partners will be third-party organizations and IDRC will not enter into an agreement with them. Partnerships between research organizations, policymakers, the private sector, and civil society are highly recommended. A letter of support to show private or government stakeholder engagement is encouraged.
  • Countries of research focus: the proposed projects must be carried out only in one or more of the following West African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal.

Researchers/institutions may only be the lead organization for one proposal, however they may be included in multiple proposals.

6. Application process and proposal guidelines

All proposals must be submitted online using the link to the GrOW West Africa application form and must be written in French or English. 

Acknowledgements of receipt will be sent to applicants whose application was received before the deadline (September 11, 2020).

Incomplete applications, applications received after the deadline, or applications with missing components will be not be considered for funding. Applications are only considered complete when each section is completed in full and all supporting documents are provided. Some of the information required includes:

Project summary: Project title, project duration, country(ies) where research will take place, estimated total budget, project abstract, selected theme(s), project type.

General information: Principal investigator, lead institution, participating institutions, overview of institutions, contact details.

Research proposal: Clear articulation of the research problem, research objectives, proposed methodology, expected outputs and outcomes, relevance and positioning for large scale impact including policy/program uptake strategy, research ethics, challenges, and risks. Further details are included in the online application form.

CVs of research team: Applications must include the CV of the principal investigator from the lead institution and CVs of the lead researchers of each participating institution (if applicable). Each CV must not exceed two (2) pages. 

Budget: Applicants must provide a detailed budget that follows the guidelines provided in the online application form.

Provisional timeline: Applicants must provide a provisional timeline that summarizes the main activities, outputs, and policy/program engagements.

Additional institutional documentation:

In order to enter into an agreement, IDRC must be satisfied that your organization (the applicant/lead institution) has independent legal status (or “legal personality”) and can contract in its own right and name. Please provide a copy of the legal documentation by which your organization was founded or created in the location in which it is based (applicable only if your organization has had no prior grants with IDRC). Such legal documentation varies depending on the location and type of organization.

By way of illustration (to assist you in providing the necessary documentation), such legal documentation issued by government authorities for private sector/non-governmental organizations may include:

  • letters patent;
  • articles of incorporation;
  • articles of association;
  • certificates of incorporation; and/or
  • certificates of registration.

Legal documentation for public institutions may include:

  • legislation (acts of a legislature), creating public sector or governmental/quasi-governmental bodies.

All applicants should also complete the Institutional Profile Questionnaire.

 7. Project duration and budget

Through an open call for proposals, GrOW West Africa plans to fund six to 10 projects, with a budget of up to C$500,000 each. The maximum duration of the projects is 24 months for evaluation‑type projects and 36 months for action/implementation research projects.

8. Proposal review criteria

All proposals will be evaluated by the same evaluation criteria, independent of grant size. The final selection process will consider the need for a balanced portfolio of projects engaging a variety of researchers, themes, and countries.

Each proposal will be assessed on the criteria below by a review committee comprised of technical experts (within IDRC and externally) and grant administrators.

Assessment criteria

Weighting (%)


  • Alignment of the proposal to the objectives, themes, and scope of the call.
  • Clear demonstration and justification that the proposed work addresses critical gaps in evidence and policy in the countries of the research.
  • Approach proposed in the research has clear potential to address identified issues and evidence gaps.
  • A clear integration of gender analysis in the research design, implementation, and analysis of findings, as well as the policy/program uptake strategy. 


Quality and rigour of the research

  • Research questions and objectives are clearly articulated, specific, and answerable.
  • Methodology is rigorous and appropriate for answering the research questions.
  • Methodology includes evidence of use of intersectional and multidisciplinary approaches.
  • Research approach is innovative and adds to the field/topic of research.
  • Research has the potential to generate new and scalable evidence and/or solutions.


Policy/program uptake strategy

  • Proposal has clear plans for uptake and capacity to generate program- and policy-relevant outputs in line with the context of the country of study.
  • Quality of in-country stakeholder analysis and feasibility of the proposed approach for stakeholder engagement to facilitate evidence use by a broader group of in-country stakeholders (including policymakers, the private sector, and civil society).
  • Clear plans and commitment from stakeholders (letter of support) to engage relevant stakeholders at different stages of the research process (including the private sector, civil society, and policymakers).
  • Proposal includes clear indicators for measuring uptake and plans for monitoring them.


Quality of research team

  • Strength of team composition, including capacity to integrate a range of relevant disciplines to the topic of research.
  • Track record of research team, including internationally acknowledged research outputs on the topic of the research (e.g. peer-reviewed publications), experience, and expertise with policy engagement and policy influence, and in using evidence to influence practice and scale interventions.
  • Capacity and experience with implementation research, including in building partnerships to facilitate research uptake and scaling successful interventions.
  • Clear implementation strategy and shared ownership between research partners.


Value for money

  • Proposal includes a clear results-based budget.
  • Scale and scope of the project and potential uptake of results justifies the size of the budget.
  • Budget reflects shared ownership among research collaborators.




 9. Research ethics

IDRC requires that research involving human subjects be carried out in accordance with the highest ethical standards. When relevant, grantees will need to obtain approval from an official institutional or national research ethics body, for which the process must be specified in the proposal.

In countries where it is not possible to obtain national ethics approval, the application must propose mechanisms for setting up an ethics review committee for the project and grantees are expected to submit the ethics and security protocols to IDRC.

10. Open access

IDRC’s approach to open access is based on the belief that the full social and economic benefits of research in support of development should be available to everyone who can use and build on it to improve people’s lives. For the purposes of this initiative, all research outputs must be made available to the public on an open access basis. Details regarding open access requirements may be found in the sample general terms and conditions below.

 11. Country clearance requirements

IDRC has conducted general agreements for scientific and technical cooperation with a number of governments. These agreements establish the framework for IDRC cooperation with that country by defining the rights and obligations of both IDRC and the government. As such, the applicant institution may be required to obtain country approval in accordance with these agreements prior to receiving funding from IDRC. This requirement applies only for selected applications. IDRC reserves the right to not pursue the funding of a selected project if the country approval is not secured within six months after IDRC officially announces approval of the project, as this would jeopardize the timely completion of the initiative.

Any selected proponents shall be required to sign IDRC’s standard grant agreement that is periodically modified by IDRC. In the case of research consortia, the applicant/lead institution will sign the grant agreement with IDRC and will be responsible for receiving and administering the funds and ensuring that all grant conditions are met. For a sample of the general terms and conditions, please refer to the General Terms and Conditions of the Grant Agreement and the Applicants’ Guide: How to apply for and manage an IDRC research grant.

12. Permission for use and disclosure of information

By submitting an application under this call for competitive grants, the applicant consents to the disclosure of the documents submitted by the applicant to the reviewers involved in the selection process, both within IDRC and externally.

The applicant further consents to the disclosure of the name of the applicant, the name of the lead researcher, and the name of the proposed project in any announcement of selected proposals.

All personal information collected by IDRC about grant, scholarship, and fellowship applicants is used to review applications, to administer and monitor awards, and to promote and support international development research in Canada and in the regions where IDRC operates. Consistent with these purposes, applicants should expect that information collected by IDRC may be used and disclosed in IDRC-supported activities.

[1] Source: United Nations, 2010. The World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics. New York.

[2] Voir par exemple, Mirzabaev, A., J. Wu, J. Evans, F. García-Oliva, I.A.G. Hussein, M.H. Iqbal, J. Kimutai, T. Knowles, F. Meza, D. Nedjraoui, F. Tena, M. Türkeş, R.J. Vázquez, M. Weltz, 2019: Desertification. Dans: Climate Change and Land: an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, E. Calvo Buendia, V. Masson-Delmotte, H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, P. Zhai, R. Slade, S. Connors, R. van Diemen, M. Ferrat, E. Haughey, S. Luz, S. Neogi, M. Pathak, J. Petzold, J. Portugal Pereira, P. Vyas, E. Huntley, K. Kissick, M. Belkacemi, J. Malley, (eds.)].

[3] Voir, Gunnar Köhlin, Erin O. Sills, Subhrendu K. Pattanayak, and Christopher Wilfong, 2011. Energy, Gender and Development: What are the Linkages? Where is the Evidence? Background Paper to the 2012 World Development Report. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 5800

[4] Voir par exemple, International Labour Organization (2019). The Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. An analysis of time use data based on the latest World Compilation of Time-use Surveys

[5] Voir par exemple, OECD (2019). Breaking Down Barriers to Women's Economic Empowerment: Policy approaches to unpaid care work, OECD Policy Papers March 2019 No. 18; UN Women (2018). Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment: Recognizing and Investing in the Care Economy, UN Women Issue Paper May 2018; Oxfam (2017). An Economy that Works for Women: Achieving Women's Economic Empowerment in an Increasingly Unequal World, Oxfam briefing paper, March 2017.

[6] Voir par exemple, Organisations de la société civile NAFA NAANA ou Tiipaalga au Burkina Faso.

[7] Voir, OCDE, (2020).  Women and climate change in the Sahel.

[8] Source: World Development Indicators. (2017). World Bank

[9] Source : OCDE, (2018). Les Inégalités de genre dans les institutions sociales ouest-Africaines.

[10] Source : Gallup et OIT (2017). Vers un meilleur avenir pour les femmes au travail : Ce qu’en pensent les femmes et les hommes. Gallup, Inc. et Organisation internationale du travail

[11] L'institution responsable signera l'accord de subvention avec le CRDI et, à ce titre, sera responsable de la réception et de l'administration des fonds et de s'assurer que toutes les conditions de la subvention sont respectées. Les institutions de recherche peuvent inclure les universités, les gouvernements, le secteur privé et les organisations à but non lucratif.