Panel 16

Gender research and gender-responsive methodologies

Panel organisers: Erla Hlín Hjálmarsdóttir and Pétur Waldorff, United Nations University Gender Equality Studies and Training Programme, Iceland

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Gender is a crosscutting issue in any contemporary social research. In this panel the question is posed: How do researchers include gender in their research and what research methodologies specifically take gender into account? How do we move from gender blind research methods to methods that are gender-responsive or gender-sensitive, methodologically taking into account, or giving special attention to gendered dynamics and various social and cultural gender norms or imbalances?

This panel offers a forum for proposing, discussing, and appraising various methodological issues, tools, techniques, and sources in gender research and gender-responsive methodologies applied in research on contemporary Africa. The forum is intended to engage these questions in a wider sense, encouraging the submission of abstracts that address issues related to all phases of research, including formulating research questions, concept formation, data collection, data analysis, and dissemination. We aim to take stock of current developments, continue existing debates, and open up spaces for possible new issues pertaining to gender-responsive research methodologies within and outside the sphere of gender research.

We particularly encourage panel paper submissions that focus on the following:

  • Methodological innovations and their implications for research on gender in present-day Africa – for example: new quantitative and qualitative methods; new tools; social media; mixed methods; interdisciplinary research; transdisciplinarity; collection, analysis and the application of sex-disaggregated data.
  • Methodological concerns, problems, practices and solutions in the analysis of key themes of gender research in Africa.
  • How gender-responsive approaches inform research and the application of gender-responsive research methodologies for research in which gender is not the overarching theme.

Approved abstracts Panel 16

1. Reconstructing gender through comparative historical linguistics: A South African case study

Author: Raevin Jimenez (Northwestern University, USA)

Gender studies in Africa overwhelmingly focus on the post-19th century period, with few key studies venturing into the more distant past. One of the reasons for this is the dearth of evidence for the pre-colonial period, and especially of the sort that allows for sustained and in-depth discursive analysis conducive to the study of gender. My research seeks to develop research protocols drawing on combined comparative historical linguistic and archaeological data, paired with gender-sensitive theoretical framing in order to pursue gender histories among Nguni-speakers of South Africa, 8th-19th century. The proposed paper addresses the challenges and shortfalls of using reconstructive methodologies in order to access gender in the distant past. It also discusses some of the valuable insights available only through this approach, including challenges to broad categories like “patriarchy,” “femininity,” and “masculinity.” In particular, my research counters the notion that pre-19th century Nguni-speaking communities organized socially around patriarchy, and that women occupied a marginal position in society. Female subordination, especially through marriage, emerged only in the last two hundred years, and initially only in coastal communities such as the Zulu kingdom. The process of marginalization was, however, incomplete until the codification of customary law as a function of the “invention of tradition” in colonial South Africa.

2. Method of engagement in gender research

Author: Thera Mjaaland (Independent researcher affiliated to UiB Global, University of Bergen, Norway),

Post-colonial feminist critique of Western feminists’ imperialist blind spots when doing gender research in Africa is premised on the assumption that North-South research is always a one-way communication. Long-term involvement in one district in north-western Tigray in North Ethiopia over a couple of decades has meant being involved in discussions on gender issues over time where also my perspectives have been up for discussion. From this dialogue it has become clear that biases and blind spots do not belong to outsiders only. In order to identify where power passes unquestioned in gendered social practices (cf. Bourdieu), a multitude of research methods has been necessary; ranging from participatory observation and informal dialogue, to in-depth interviews, explorative enquetes as well as visual methods (stills and film). In my current project where I probe into competing discourses on youth sexual and reproductive health from a gender perspective in the case of contraceptive use and abortion, I produced a short cinematic edutainment drama (23 minutes) that was used to initiate discussion among female and male secondary school students, teachers, parents, health workers and clergy. This drama, “Choices & Consequences”, is based on taken for granted gender norms defined in my earlier research; such as the disproportional burden of sexual morality that girls/women are left to shoulder and the lack of focus on boys’/men’s responsibility when sexuality is at issue. Screening of this drama will be followed by reflection on the advantages and challenges of using this method of engagement in gender research.

3. Gender-responsive value chain analyses as a social research strategy

Authors: Erla Hlín Hjálmarsdottir (University of Iceland, Iceland) and Pétur Waldorff (NAI and University of Iceland)

In this paper, we discuss gender-responsive value chain analysis as a methodology for scholarly inquiry and a tool for informing development interventions. Value chain analysis (VCA), as a research methodology and an analytical tool, originates in business studies and has in recent years been modified to focus on and capture gendered dimensions. The approach opted for is not to solely regard the gender-responsive element as an added dimension to the conventional VCA, but rather as a conceptual framework for carrying out gender research in Africa. Gender-responsive value chain analysis is hence regarded as a valuable social research strategy which accommodates the use of different methods to capture complex social contexts and their underlying gendered dynamics. Further, it is argued that gender-responsive VCA can serve as a logic for research design and guide field research.

The gender-responsive value chain analysis methodology is presented through a case from the small-scale fisheries value chain on the Lake Tanganyika shore in the Kigoma region of Tanzania. The research follows the value chain from fishing boats, through landing sites, to fish processing on shore and markets, and finally, to the consumer. Its goal is to supplement the knowledge of gendered aspects of small-scale fish processing, which traditionally has primarily been the role of women in Tanzania. The paper presents gender-responsive value chain analysis as a research methodology, using the case of Lake Tanganyika, and describes the underlying logic of the approach, its challenges and advantages.

4. Gender, international relations and African development: Challenges

Author: Sumit Roy (Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India)

This paper will unfold through political economy the ways in which International Relations (IR) has incorporated gender relations and how this impinges on African developmental challenges. This unfolds ‘gender’ as a relevant analytical, empirical and normative category for re-thinking world orders. This contests power and knowledge of mainstream Realist and Liberal IR and calls for a shift of IR away from a singular focus on inter state relations to a fuller understanding of transnational relations and global politics stressing the role of non state actors with special interest in gender perceptions. In this respect, till recently IR has centred on the causes of war and conflict and global expansion of trade and commerce with no particular reference to people. This makes it critical to investigate the extent to which femininist positions help to explain and improve IR encompassing the ways in which feminist IR throws light on global politics- exemplified by militarization and economic globalisation. In this respect, a key challenge confronting feminists in Africa is how to overcome the exclusion of women’s lives and experiences from IR and its impact on male biases in the development process. Indeed, it emerges that women have been a cheap and flexible source of labour in free trade zones with the downside of globalisation exposing sex tourism and transnational trafficking of women for prostitution. Moreover, poor implementation of projects pose major problems in eradicating poverty and empowering communities. However, it is often more efficient to provide women with appropriate agricultural technology, credit financing, education and health resources. Moreover, states with greater gender inequality are more likely to go to war or engage in state supporting violence against women. The study offers analytical and policy insights into gender and development in Africa.

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