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Together with our partners across the Global South, IDRC is pursuing an ambitious plan to make the world more sustainable and inclusive.

IDRC investments across the Global South in 2021-2022

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Investing in empowerment and change

At a time when we are facing significant global challenges, this year’s Annual Report introduces us to a South African chemical engineer who built a Southern-based knowledge-brokering network. We also meet a postdoctoral fellow who is exploring a Yucatan-grown pepper’s potential for healthy agricultural by-products and a microbiologist in Bangladesh who is working on a vaccine for foot and mouth disease that could potentially prevent major losses of cattle. These women share their stories of overcoming barriers and seizing opportunities, with support from IDRC-funded research projects.

They are among millions of women across the Global South facing greater obstacles to the labour market and earning less than men when they do participate. Their access to basic health services, sexual and reproductive health and rights, quality education and other essential public services is often constrained. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these challenges over the past two years.

How people experience gender inequality within households, organizations and communities reflects how different social systems and structures are designed, negotiated and implemented. Influencing positive change means confronting the underlying norms and systems at the root of gender-based inequalities. Sustainable change requires institutional and systemic transformations.

Achieving a more sustainable and inclusive world requires focused attention and meaningful action to address barriers to economic participation, basic healthcare, quality education, sexual and reproductive health, and policymaking.

IDRC-funded research seeks gender-transformative change — deep social change that can only be achieved by addressing the root causes of gender inequality; change that stretches from the individual to the societal level. Our collaborative work with partners across the Global South addresses the intersectionality of gender inequality with other types of inequality, including those connected to social class, sexual identity and religion.

The Centre’s progress on efforts to advance gender equality in 2021–2022, during the continued turbulence of the global pandemic, speaks to the resilience, responsiveness and strength of our employees, networks and partner organizations. Their work will be further supported by the recently launched Gender Equality and Inclusion Programming Framework, which is designed to ensure gender equality is intentional and systematic across IDRC.

Our North-South research collaborations, with projects often led by researchers and teams in the Global South, continue to yield mutually beneficial findings. In some cases, this work scales up earlier IDRC-supported research for greater impact, such as with the second phase of the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women program (GrOW – East Africa). Leveraging the original GrOW project’s research success, this phase aims to spur transformative change in the world of work, with a focus on gender segregation, unpaid care and women’s collective agency.

IDRC initiatives like GrOW – East Africa are central to Canada’s international efforts in advancing gender equality. They also reflect the federal government’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, which supports global efforts to eradicate poverty by addressing inequality.

When women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential, their achievements and contributions benefit the economic growth of their communities and countries. Gender-transformative research helps us get there. The projects highlighted in this report make a difference in the lives of women and girls today and lay the foundation for a brighter future for all. 

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Domestic workers protest in Geneva, Switzerland.
O. Abizaid/WIEGO

Enhancing women’s economic empowerment

All too often, women’s tremendous potential to contribute to economic development is unrealized. They spend more time on unpaid domestic and care work, they are underrepresented in economic and political decision-making, they lack access to decent employment, and they face gender wage gaps.

Progress towards the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, was lagging even before the onset of COVID-19. The pandemic is exacerbating existing gender inequalities and has already reversed progress made on several fronts. For example, it has led to significant employment loss for women and a rapid increase in unpaid care work, adding to the responsibilities already being shouldered primarily by women and girls. Economic inequalities are especially prevalent for displaced and other marginalized women.

Evidence review of the global childcare crisis and the road for post-COVID-19 recovery and resilience

Despite being key to human well-being and the functioning of the economy, care work remains unrecognized, undervalued and predominantly performed by women and girls the world over. The pandemic increased the demand for care work, especially the care of children, and exacerbated gender inequalities.

This study of the global childcare crisis found that those most affected were women in informal employment with no paid leave, social protection or ability to work remotely; women living in rural areas with limited access to time- and labour-saving equipment, public services and infrastructure; women living in poverty; single mothers; essential workers; adolescent girls; and women belonging to minority racial and ethnic groups. Project partners include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy; and childcare experts at civil society organizations, multilateral institutions, universities and research institutes around the world.

Released in 2021, the report calls for action in three areas:

  • unpaid care work must be recognized, reduced and redistributed;
  • paid care work must be supported through public and private financing for the childcare sector, including support for workers; and
  • care workers’ representation with employers and the state must be guaranteed.

The report’s recommendations propose a comprehensive childcare agenda and recognition of quality childcare as a societal responsibility, as opposed to women’s responsibility alone.

Informal workers and COVID-19: evidence-based responses to the crisis at the base of the economic pyramid

Over 90% of workers in developing countries are informally employed, with higher rates of informal employment for women. While the impact of the pandemic has been catastrophic for these workers, the evidence needed to inform a policy response, especially during the recovery phase, is lacking. Led by Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), this project focuses on the impact of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns on the livelihoods and health of poor workers, especially women, in the informal economy.

In mid-2021, WIEGO and its partners re-interviewed 1,391 respondents (87.5% of the sample) and new respondents to measure longer-term impacts of the pandemic on domestic workers, home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers across five continents. The findings will inform policies and actions required to address impacts of the pandemic and shine a light on how existing responses affect inequalities. The research has found that:

  • most respondents have not fully recovered their ability to work;
  • earnings are still well below pre-pandemic levels;
  • home-based workers are still the hardest hit sector;
  • relief supports are not increasing and may be declining; and
  • the crisis has forced workers into damaging survival strategies, such as reducing spending on food.

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Marina Muthoni Nanavio and her three-year-old son at a childcare centre in Nairobi, Kenya. An IDRC-supported project found that access to subsidized childcare improves women’s income-earning potential in the paid labour force.

Promoting a transformative care economy through impact investing

The economic crisis generated by COVID-19 revealed and exacerbated the disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work that women, especially the poorest and most marginalized, continue to bear. For paid care workers, more than 90% women, it further showed the precariousness of working conditions.

The scale of transformation that is necessary in the care economy, including childcare and eldercare, requires investments from both the public and private sectors. This initiative, announced as a commitment at the Generation Equality Forum, is generating knowledge and an evidence base to mobilize capital and impact investors to address the care economy’s challenges in emerging markets. It is informing strategies so that care-economy enterprises can meet their resource needs and build partnerships that will advance business model innovation and investment.

Researchers examine a map of Nairobi’s Mukuru slum.

Contributing to more inclusive governance

Urgent crises, including COVID-19 and climate change, demonstrate the need for women to be positioned at the centre of solutions that are innovative, sustainable and inclusive.

IDRC supports gender-transformative research that works to increase opportunities for women in leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. Gender-transformative research promotes women’s empowerment, including shared control of resources and decision-making, and analyzes social inequalities. It provides space for women to contribute and learn and engages with people across the socio-economic spectrum to change norms that enable inequalities.

Closing the Justice Gap: addressing police abuse in Malawi

Globally, there is a growing justice gap: more than half of the world’s population is excluded from the opportunities the law provides, and 1.5 billion people cannot access support to resolve justice problems. Through IDRC’s Closing the Justice Gap initiative, launched in 2021, the Centre is funding a people-centred examination of community-based justice approaches to strengthen democracy and protect human rights.

Among projects funded in 2021–2022 is a study of legal empowerment approaches to address police abuse in Malawi, where arbitrary arrests are often used by police to target vulnerable people, including sex workers, vendors, children who live and work on the streets, people who beg and people with disabilities. These people are often arrested and face various nuisance charges such as loitering, soliciting and disturbing the peace. This project studies the arbitrary arrest of the poor and marginalized, including analysis of root causes and differing experiences between genders, income levels and ethnic backgrounds. It examines the potential of using legal-empowerment approaches to translate grassroots efforts into improvements in broader law, policies and institutional practices. 

Strengthening climate-change governance through integrating gender-responsive climate action in Namibia

Launched in 2019, this project integrates climate change into gender and rural development programming in Namibia. The IDRC-supported Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) helped the University of Namibia work with the Ministries of Gender and Rural Development to improve the integration of climate risks into their project portfolios.

In collaboration with the Namibia project team, CDKN developed a range of communications materials in local languages, including a documentary film, to raise awareness about climate change impacts among regional council offices and parliamentarians. Officials learned how to use a tool that assesses risk to understand local and district-level vulnerability and to identify specific community and women-led projects to support in the Oshana region. The Oshana district is a semi-arid region expected to be heavily impacted by climate change. The tool was developed in an earlier phase of this project; this CDKN work seeks to ensure it has maximum impact.

Led by the University of Namibia, this project builds on work by the IDRC-funded Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project since 2014.

Project outcomes include:

  • Based on the successes in Oshana and Omusati, Namibia’s environment commissioner requested that the process be scaled to the remaining 12 regions of the country.
  • An animation on the impacts of a 2°C increase for different regions, as well as adaptation responses, was presented to Namibia’s Parliament in June 2021.
  • Regional leadership is increasingly engaged in the climate issue. For example, the governor of the Oshana Regional Council requested CDKN support in producing awareness-raising announcements on local radio stations. 

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Feminist Open Government Initiative

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an international platform committed to making governments more accountable and responsive to citizens. In partnership with IDRC, OGP started the Feminist Open Government Initiative in 2019 to encourage governments and partners to increase gender actions in their open government commitments. These efforts sparked research, reflections and reforms that are transforming the role of women and LGBTQIA+ people in the open government movement.

As a result, more action plans launched in 2020 and 2021 incorporated gender and inclusion commitments that build on the evidence and guidance provided by the initiative. Today, 25 OGP member countries are implementing 106 inclusion commitments related to gender and inclusion.

Esperance Munganyika (right) is an early-career scientist investigating viruses that affect passionfruit plants in Rwanda.

Closing the gender gap in science

Investing in the education of women and girls is vital to building more sustainable and inclusive communities and countries. While the proportion of women in tertiary education is growing, women still lag in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This gap reflects structural barriers arising from discriminatory norms, institutions and practices, which often drive women to leave their careers as scientists. As well, a lack of female scientists in leadership positions deprives countries of a significant body of ideas that, if tapped, could contribute to innovation and more gender-inclusive science and policies.

Supporting women’s leadership in science, technology and innovation through early-career fellowships

Since 2017, this early-career fellowships program has supported more than 200 female doctoral students and scientists in low- and middle-income countries. This programming increased the knowledge and raised the visibility of these women scientists by expanding their opportunities to collaborate with industry and other researchers outside their institutions, according to a midterm evaluation. The project, led by the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD), also strengthened the research infrastructure and the teaching and mentoring available for students within participating institutions. By enabling promising female scientists to further progress in their own careers and assume greater leadership responsibilities, science systems will evolve to better support the next generation of female scientists. Equally important is the opportunity for these scientists to access funding and pursue lines of research that can help to solve many of the problems faced by developing countries and global society at large.

In 2020 alone, 23 fellowships were awarded to advance important work ranging from the study of genetic risk factors for breast cancer in Ghanaian women to the development of drought-resistant rice varieties in Sri Lanka.

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Supporting Indigenous women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers in Mexico and Central America

This project supports the advancement of Indigenous women in STEM careers in Mexico through fellowships for professional development, mentoring and networking opportunities. The approach seeks to expose and respond to the overlapping marginalization and inequality that this group traditionally faces due to their gender and ethnicity. The project enabled Indigenous women to contribute to the development of their communities through research and training in STEM fields and has shed light on pathways for Indigenous women to pursue and sustain STEM careers in Mexico and Guatemala.

Funded in partnership with Mexico’s Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia, the project has supported 12 Indigenous women (representing seven Indigenous groups) through prestigious postdoctoral fellowships. This has allowed them to pursue leading-edge work in six STEM disciplines. Many of these women are now members of Mexico’s National System of Researchers, thanks in large part to their fellowships. Membership provides recognition or certification to researchers at the national level through peer evaluation, validating the quality of their scientific contribution. The fellowships have also provided opportunities to improve skills and undertake research abroad.

Breaking barriers: understanding obstacles facing women in STEM in the Global South

According to UNESCO, less than 30% of the world’s researchers are women. Research has already produced evidence of systemic barriers that prevent women scientists from advancing, but data and case studies are primarily drawn from high-income countries. In 2020, IDRC announced funding for 10 research teams to increase understanding of the unique obstacles for women and other vulnerable groups in low- and middle-income countries. The studies are generating evidence on how to improve gender equality and diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Five teams in Latin America are measuring gender gaps in academia, green energy and other technology sectors. In sub-Saharan Africa, five research teams are leading a variety of projects, including a study of the factors that shape the recruitment and advancement of women scientists across the private and public sector.

Dr. Oluwafemi Ogunrayi conducts a check-up during an antenatal visit at Okpekpe Community Primary Health Centre in Edo State, Nigeria.

Addressing gender inequality through healthcare

Enhancing healthcare for women and girls is a vital part of advancing gender equality. The potential for women to contribute to society is severely limited by inadequate healthcare, yet women and girls often lack access to basic health services, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and other essential public services. Progress in addressing barriers to adequate healthcare over the past decade, especially for those from marginalized groups, is threatened by the additional hardships caused by COVID-19.

Multisectoral approaches to early pregnancy prevention in colleges in Togo

Pregnancy prevention among teens in schools is a major concern in West Africa. In Togo, 17% of girls aged 15 to 19 have already given birth, and these early pregnancies have many adverse effects on the teens, their families and their communities.

This project reinforced the skills of community members and stakeholders in the education, health and legal systems to help implement effective strategies for the multisectoral fight against early pregnancies in Togo. Between 2018 and 2021, the project targeted eight secondary schools, which saw an 80% decrease in teenage pregnancy. The initiative is now being scaled up with a new project that targets 250 schools in 50 communes of Togo with the goal of reducing the prevalence of teenage pregnancy by at least 50%.

Changing gender norms to improve maternal and child health

Maternal death rates in sub-Saharan Africa have dropped almost 40% since 2000, yet the region still has the highest number of maternal deaths, at 533 deaths per 100,000 live births. Poverty, low education levels, violence against women, early marriage and adolescent pregnancy continue to mark the lives of many women and contributes to their poor health and high mortality.

Recognizing this challenge, the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa (IMCHA) research teams and their partners in communities and government have found practical, scalable ways of empowering women and persuading men to improve their support for women’s health. In Mara, Tanzania, for example, a research team turned to the community first to understand why women do not use available prenatal and postnatal services and to identify what could be done to change this reality.

Through focus group discussions with women and men, researchers determined that a lack of knowledge about the services and their importance, combined with traditional gender roles, were significant barriers. Led by the Shirati District Hospital in Tanzania, in collaboration with the Bruyère Research Institute, University of Ottawa, the research shows that the community itself can play a role in addressing these barriers. Community members participated in designing strategies to overcome barriers, including educating the community about the importance of skilled healthcare assistance before, during and after pregnancy, and promoting men’s engagement in women’s and children’s health.

The research team trained 89 community health workers (46 women and 43 men) to deliver prevention messages through locally popular methods such as songs, poems and dramas. Using these forms of communication to change behaviours was well received in most of the villages.

The project improved accessibility to family planning choices from 40% at the intervention sites in 2017 to 45% across the district in 2018 and then to 52% in 2021.

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CultiAF projects are providing practical solutions to food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Strengthening women’s food security leadership

Gender inequalities often undermine women’s ability to contribute to the food security and nutritional well-being of their families and communities. This includes unequal access to and control over land, agricultural technologies, financing, markets and climate information. Gender-transformative research aims to build social attitudes, behaviours and structures that support gender equality for people and communities, thus increasing food security.

Cultivating Africa’s Future

Cultivate Africa’s Future Fund (CultiAF) projects are helping to increase incomes and improve nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, where agricultural productivity is the lowest in the world. This research pursues practical solutions to persistent problems of food insecurity through development research.

The 10-year, $35 million partnership between IDRC and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research supports women and youth to develop resilience in agricultural value chains by adopting improved agricultural technologies and digital innovations, accessing finance, and building entrepreneurship and business skills.

The partnership leverages the strengths and resources of each organization to improve food and nutrition security, resilience, and gender equality across eastern and southern Africa. CultiAF funds have helped develop and scale up sustainable, climate-resilient and gender-responsive innovations for smallholder agricultural producers.

Research teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe are leading CultiAF-funded projects across four broad research themes:

  • increasing productivity and reducing post-harvest losses;
  • linking agriculture, nutrition and human health;
  • gender equality; and
  • climate change and agricultural water management.

Global cooperation for climate action: Southern engagement with climate negotiations and commitments 2020–2023

Many countries in the Global South are struggling to meet commitments to limit global warming, especially given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and continuing development challenges. This project, also called Impulsouth, seeks to increase the knowledge and capacities of six developing countries (four in Africa and two in Latin America and the Caribbean) to enhance climate action in a way that will be reflected at the 2023 global stocktaking under the 2015 Paris Agreement. It supports tailor-made participatory research syntheses of knowledge and capacities for each of the six countries; is training 84 young leaders on implementing and reporting progress of national climate action; and is consolidating the capacities of 24 young specialist leaders, at least 60% of whom are women, to lead, advise and communicate in the transition to a low-carbon economy. It will also secure the participation and engagement of researchers and practitioners from the Global South, particularly women leaders, in international climate forums, including the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COPs 26 to 28).

In 2021, the project took bold steps in building a network of partners and framing a collective agenda of action. The six countries faced a challenge in assessing the impacts, vulnerabilities and risks of climate change. In response, Impulsouth launched a unique, multi-country research process that will further characterize the needs and gaps of capacities and knowledge in this area and provide guidance for assertive research and capacity-building.

A woman living in a climatesmart village in the Province of Quezon in the Phillippines

Climate-smart villages as a platform to resilience, women’s empowerment, equity and sustainable food systems

Climate change threatens food security around the world and there is an urgent need to make food systems more resilient to climate fluctuations. Globally, millions of small-scale farmers, already burdened by food and nutritional insecurity, are experiencing the effects of increased climate variability and unpredictability, including the increased frequency and severity of extreme climatic events such as droughts, floods, storms and hail. These weather-related events are further exacerbated by a high incidence of pests and disease, all linked to climate change. Responding to these challenges requires transformational change that embraces the development of more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems, with special attention to small and marginalized farmers, while helping to reduce gender inequalities.

Climate-smart villages, which promote climate-smart agriculture using local adaptation platforms, are widely claimed to enhance resilience to climate change. However, sustainability is still a challenge despite these platforms being operational in more than 1,000 sites in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Now, with growing interest in scaling up climatesmart agriculture, there is an urgent need to enhance the evidence base.

This project used multidisciplinary research methods and comparative studies in Cambodia, Myanmar and the Philippines to generate evidence and new knowledge on the role of locally relevant platforms, such as climate-smart villages, in supporting gender-responsive climate change adaptation in agriculture and in transforming local food systems. The project also established the costs and returns from implementing climate-smart villages to present a compelling case for sustained investments by governments and donors.

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IDRC invests in climate-resilient development research


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Management’s Discussion and Analysis and Financial statements

This Management’s Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) provides a narrative discussion of the financial results and operational changes for the financial year ended 31 March 2022. This discussion should be read alongside the Financial statements starting on page 45, which were prepared in accordance with the International Financial Reporting Standards. All monetary amounts are presented in Canadian dollars unless otherwise specified.

Read: Management's Discussion and Analysis and Financial Statements 2021-2022 (PDF, 1.58MB)