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Structural power, gender and climate change

Host: Hello and thank you for joining the Climate Change Talk podcast series. This is part one of our discussion on structural power, gender and climate change. In the context of many socioeconomic and environmental changes and progress across the globe, challenging established power relations and fostering transformational approaches for socially inclusive resilience has been key for enhancing the livelihood of the most vulnerable communities in the Global South. Yet, shifting power relations and social norms to effectively respond to the local impact of these changes is no easy feat. 

Today, we have Dr. Maureen Miruka, Director of Agriculture and Market Systems for CARE USA, who will discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that specifically affect agriculture and how she has addressed them through her work. Thank you for being here, Maureen. 

Dr. Miruka: Thank you. 

Host: Just to start, CARE USA is working on a project with IDRC’s Agriculture and Food Security team. Could you describe a little bit the project and what have been the early insight, if any?

Dr. Miruka: Thank you. The project that we are implementing with the AFS team in Kenya is all about evaluating the impacts of gender transformative approaches on gender equality, food and nutrition security outcomes. It gives us a randomized complete trial that really enables us to see what are the livelihood pathways and what are the equality pathways that contribute to gender transformative change. The project is in its first year of implementation, and so the early results, really, are about everything that we have collected from the qualitative data that shows that there’s already significant shifts in men’s behaviour and women’s awareness of improved technologies. 

And it really goes a long way too past the need, that it takes a long time to see some social change, some gender transformative change. Women are already reporting positive changes in workload sharing and caregiving from their spouses. And what we hope to see in the longer term is more significant changes as access to more productive land by women, working together with their spouses. 

Host: How long do you think you will see those changes in the future?

Dr. Miruka: One of the approaches we use is called outcome mapping where we look at three stages of what we call progress markers in the households and we look at in three years, which really is the course of the program, we look at seeing those changes in household income decision-making—which is one of the domains that is difficult to change—and men participating in activities that they would not do before, community leaders speaking for and encouraging women’s empowerment. And we’ve been beginning to see changes around masculinities. 

But some of these changes take longer than the lifespan of projects, which are three years, which is why it is important to focus on approaches that actually build the communities’ capacities and change agents within the community who carry on some of the [inaudible] that we’re having so that the change continues to be embedded within the communities. 

Host: But let us take a step back. Can you actually describe what you do in general and in your role in the climate change and development space?

Dr. Miruka: Currently, as you said, I lead the Agriculture and Market Systems team at CARE USA. I am based in Nairobi. A few people tend to think I’m based in Atlanta. My professional area is the intersection between agriculture and gender, or gender in agriculturally based livelihoods. My work and that of CARE, whose mandate is to be empowering women and girls in all spheres of life—we focus on empowering women in agriculture, in taking the approaches that you know have worked, taking them to scale, providing further evidence. We’ve researched organizations such as IDRC on why it is important to put women at the centre of development, because the impacts, the benefits of involving women are already known, but we seek to build the evidence base on why it is important and how we can include women in the development discourse for gender transformative change to occur. 

Of course, we do not work alone. We work with IDRC, we work with other organizations as the Food and Agriculture Organization, we work with other development partners, we work with private sector partners to make a business case for involving women in agriculture and taking these proven approaches to scale. 

Host: OK. When we think about gender, we talk a lot about women specifically. I was just wondering in the project that you describe, how was the reaction of men when you focus on women? And how did you have to kind of navigate that, to make sure that you get the early result that you described earlier?

Dr. Miruka: The approaches are designed to target women. And this is because we want to close the gender gap there is between men and women. I’m also a firm believer of involving and engaging men in the discourse on women’s empowerment, because we have issues to address such as masculinities. One of the things that we do and that we have seen give success from other projects regarding gender transformative approaches is engaging spouses early in the program, engaging community leaders early in the program, getting male change agents who speak for the changes that we seek to see in men. Because it’s not just about the women, it’s about the interactions with the men. 

We do engage men, although the main aim is to empower women in agricultural systems. It is because women are far left behind, and we do want to see gender equality. Our approach in CARE is actually very much around gender equality and women’s voice. Gender equality means engaging men and boys and women’s voice. In all the work that we do with IDRC, we are very keen on the approaches that engage men and boys and bring them to the table and that address masculinities. Because it’s like you would be playing on opposing sides of the team rather than in one team if you’re only targeting one. 

And actually, if you target women only, there’s a risk of gender-based violence as a result of shifting economic power from men to women. And so, we begin in CARE early by having these conversations to ensure that we don’t get into these negative consequences. 

Host: And that’s also opened to… when you talk about gender violence, one thing also that is in the conversation about gender is power relations. Well, you did a little bit give some insight of it, but when someone tells me about power relation and agriculture, I’m a bit… “What’s happening there?” Can you tell us a bit what it is about and why there’s a link between the two?

Dr. Miruka: Really, we look at power relations as a root cause, inequitable power relations or discriminative power relations, if you may, as one of the root causes of poverty and gender inequality. This happens because there’s inequitable power relations within the household between men and women, in the communities between men and women, between the poor and the rich, between the countries, or between specific countries, the regions, the poor. Within countries, you find the gulf between the rich and the poor is really wide. And so, what happens when there’s unequal power relations, it means that in a certain setting, men are going to access extensional services—they’re going to access credit, they’re going to access land, they’re going to access all the other productive resources they need, better than women—because of these unequal power relations, because they have power in certain spaces that women do not have. In a lot of spaces, actually. 

And that is why it is important when you look at what are the productive resources we need in agriculture, which are the social norms that abound by these power relations that hinder the productive engagement of women in agriculture. And that’s why looking at power relations then becomes key in agriculture and in all other sectors. 

Host: I did a bit of my homework. When we talk about power relations, they are four forms of power: power over, power with, power within, and power to. Can you explain to us what they are and how do they manifest in the agriculture sector?

Dr. Miruka: Understanding structural power begins by understanding the forms of power that there are. Based on some work we did, we came to define these four dimensions of power which we call the power cube. The first one is the “power over,” which sometimes people can also take to mean “control over.” It’s the most discussed form of power and which, in most cases, has a negative connotation when they say control over women’s bodies, control over these resources. When you talk about control over resources, then it is the men that have the resources. 

But if we flip it on the other side, we could say that women have control over their own body or have control of the agenda at a table, how we look at it. And so, the conversation tends to really base around “power over.” But as you have correctly noted, we have other forms as “power to,” which is the power to do something. Power to take charge of your life, power to gather the skills and the knowledge, the power to be able to undertake something profitably which is empowering in itself.

And then, there’s the “power within,” which means a lot: your own aspirations, your own controls over your body, over decisions, your confidence, everything that is within a person that helps them look at these progress markers that I was telling you—what you’d love to see, what you’d like to see going forward, how it manifests from within the person. 

The other is the “power with,” which is what again we tend to work with a lot. The collaborative power, which begins within the household between men and women, at community level, at the collectives, the self-help groups, the collectives which are the entry points and the outward points for agricultural production. The power to come together in those collective forms of power, because that is the entry point of all the agricultural programming that we do for groups, men and women, to come together to access markets for their produce, get economies of scale and then be able to control the markets outwards. 

Looking at these three last ones that I talked about—the power within, the power to, and the power with—are more empowering forms of power as opposed to the control over or the power over, which is coercive, which can be discriminatory. In our work, we are trying to look at how we empower, rather than focus on the negative forms of power. 

Host: So then, by focusing—well, I assume there, but by focusing on those three other types of power, does that also impact the first one, the “power over”? Did you see any change, or do you expect to see any change by focusing on those three that you will also impact the “power over” part?

Dr. Miruka: Yes. And I believe that once someone has their own conviction, they have their confidence, they have the skills and the knowledge that they need here, which is the “power within,” and they have a “power with” with others to influence a certain discourse, let’s say around gender-based violence, which is related to agriculture because, as I said, it can be an unintended consequence. Coming together with these and have the “power to” take the action can go and flip this conversation over the “power over,” the power that men want to have over women’s decisions, the power that men want to have over women’s bodies, the power than men want to have… The power that governments, the power that community leaders have over poor people, for instance. Then, it’s flipped over such that it is the women who have the power over the agenda on the table, together with the men, moving together. 

Host: In doing so, in addressing those power issues, what are some of the best approaches that you have seen, coming from your experience and your work recently?
Dr. Miruka: The approaches that place empowerment within communities, within smallholder farmers—as we are talking about farmers here—that place the power with women and with men at the community level and engage them are the kind of approaches that already—that, in itself, is transformational because they are setting the agenda and you’re facilitating that agenda rather than setting that agenda. These, as I said, are community-based approaches. At CARE, we like to call them rights-based approaches because we believe that gender inequality is a transgression of human rights. 

It’s a rights-based approach and what we seek to do is to work with approaches where the communities set the agenda, the communities determine what social norms, for instance, they want to change. They go through this… why this practice was practiced back in the day, which is… retrogressive? What was important about it then, why it needs to change, and how that is going to change. 

We have, in our approach in CARE, which is called the Social Analysis and Action, and which we are also applying in our project, with the AFS project, that begins with staff themselves going through their own attitudes, their beliefs, and their actions. Because they mirror in the way we work. Reflecting our staff, CARE staff on our own behaviours, our own beliefs, our own traditions, and how they mirror in our work before we seek to make that change within the communities where we go through a reflexive process on what these changes are and how they affect the communities and how they come back to affect agriculture productivity. That way, you move in tandem with the community and you engage other partners that then can facilitate these social transformative changes. And speaking of power again, or going back to the agency, which is their own capacities and their skills, looking at the relationships that they have at community level, at household level—because these relationships, some of these structures that determine at market level, market actors are mostly men. And these are relationships, policy-markers, these are relationships. Then, we also look at the structures which govern or condition the environment within which women determine their choices. The approaches that are embedded in these three dimensions that actually give power to the communities themselves are the ones that we seek to work with. 

Host: Well, that seems that you would face quite a few challenges. For example, the masculinity you talked about. From what you just talked, I see also maybe sometimes cultural, as well. What other challenges that you see in implementing those approaches to actually get the result that you want at the end?

Dr. Miruka: Social norms. When you look at the word itself, “norm,” it already feels like something normal. Sometimes, it’s difficult to be changing what feels like it’s the norm. There’s going to be resistance at community level. But as I said, we seek to engage the various organs of community, such as the traditional leaders or the religious leaders who are the custodians of these social norms, for them to be able to speak into some of these changes—various approaches that we have tried in CARE. One of those is called role model men where the men that have internalized these changes are able to mentor the other men, and speak to them, and give those testimonials that lead to those changes. 
But we do also face other challenges that are not within the control of the communities. Infrastructure, seed systems within the countries, policies, markets not working—these are some of the challenges that hinder proper implementation of agricultural programs that also make the social change had to achieve. And that is where we seek to engage policy makers, to engage research organizations, and to engage other partners that seek to address some of these systemic and underlaying issues. And I look forward to seeing more and more work that brings men more into this conversation around women’s empowerment. 

Host: Well, thank you for listening, and then we’re looking forward to continuing this conversation with you.