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Using a 'gender aware' perspective to better target policy

Over the period 2007-2010, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA -- now Global Affairs Canada) funded an effort, led by IFPRI, to explore how investments aimed at improving food security, reducing poverty and achieving other human well-being objectives could be better-targeted by using a 'gender aware' perspective. 

I led the coordination of the analytical activities that took place under this project, and the final deliverables were submitted to CIDA in 2010. The final report can be accessed here. The annex to the report can be obtained here

The key policy recommendations of that work, and the suggestions for future research are summarized below. 

Policy recommendations and further work

  • Increase female secondary education rates. This will require responses to both the demand for female schooling and the quality of schooling opportunities. The report pointed out the enormous welfare gains that can be achieved, including the reduction of malnutrition and more desirable fertility outcomes for women. A detailed analysis on fertility also shows that having access to reproductive health and family-planning services is also an important component, and has been shown to improve retention of girls in schooling as well – providing positive feedbacks and mutually-reinforcing benefits.

  • Decrease the time spent collecting fuel wood and water overall, and especially for women and girls, through the provision of water, sanitation and access to electricity or other renewable forms of energy. Some successes with solar cookers have been demonstrated on a small-scale, if they are appropriately designed to local conditions and needs. The opportunities for local bio-energy initiatives is being explored in many places, but not fully exploited in regions where it could make more of a difference for households if targeted towards heating, cooking and lighting needs – and not just liquid biofuels for transportation uses, which is the predominant focus of current policy.

  • Increase the collection of time use data in surveys that capture time spent in production, leisure, and reproduction – where many of the unpaid activities that support and enable the productivity of household members on the wage markets do not get reflected adequately in economic accounting. The analysis of time use data can strengthen policies in key sectors such as agricultural commercialization, infrastructure, and employment. It can also provide guidance in prioritizing sectoral allocation of public expenditures to ensure gender-equitable outcomes and support a badly-needed information bank and knowledge base that can be used for monitoring, targeting and other decision-support activities.

In addition to these policy recommendations, five key areas are identified in which work urgently needs to be done to improve the conceptual and empirical foundations for building more sophisticated analytical tools and models that can capture important gender issues.


These are: (1) Improving the treatment of gender in labor markets; (2) Improving the treatment and representation of reproductive,non-paid work done within the household; (3) Relaxing the standard, neo-classical assumption of the unitary household decision-making model driven by the economic objective of self-satisfaction; (4) Addressing important considerations such as risk and uncertainty within household decision-making and economic behavior, and (5) Capturing the dynamics that underlie household investment decisions that balance important trade-offs between investments in care and nurturing and the future returns to productivity and reciprocal care from children.


This type of a research agenda addresses a real gap to be filled in our knowledge of how the gender intersect with economic behavior at the micro-level of the household, and how these relate to market-level effects and macro-level policy changes.


By improving our knowledge of the micro-and macro-level dimensions gender, better-targeted policies can be designed to more effectively reduce time-use burdens, increase individual-level productivity, and enhanced the educational and economic achievement for millions of men and women in the developing world.

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