My Ph.D. journey has been an eye opener to gender-responsive research. As a Doctoral student in Agricultural and Rural Innovation at Makerere University, my research has been aimed at understanding the social dynamics in Banana Technology Development (BTD) and implications for uptake. Results of the exploratory study during my research indicated that the BTD process was largely gender “blind” and/or “neutral”; although efforts were being taken to reach men and women farmers, little was being done to benefit and empower women.
Following the call for the Gender-responsive Researchers Equipped for Agricultural Transformation (GREAT) Gender-responsive Root Tuber and Banana (RTB) Breeding Course in 2016, I teamed up with two scientists, Dr. Reuben Tendo Ssali and Ms. Mary Gorreth Namuddu, from the banana research program working on a project “Improvement of banana for smallholder farmers in the Great Lakes region of Africa” and we submitted a joint application. I looked at the GREAT course as an opportunity for me to gain knowledge, but also to engage with scientists in the banana program to share ideas on how gender can be integrated in banana breeding. Our application for the GREAT RTB course was successful, and our research team was selected to participate in the first cohort of GREAT course attendees.
The GREAT course marked a turning point in my research life.
What is GREAT
GREAT is a 5-year collaboration between Cornell University and Makerere University, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at equipping researchers to create more inclusive and effective agricultural systems by addressing the priorities of both women and men in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It is a certificate program delivering applied gender training for agricultural researchers to offer tailored skills development in gender-responsiveness along the design, implementation, evaluation, and communication of agricultural research, focusing on gender training linked to practice, building communities and effecting change within institutions and national policies. The training is structured in three phases of class and field work: Week 1 (face-to-face training), five months of field practice, and Week 2.
In September 2016, we convened for Week 1 which introduced us to general theory, concepts, principles, data collection and analysis methods of gender-responsive research approaches. After Week 1, we engaged in gender-focused field application with virtual support from mentors and GREAT facilitators. Our research team successfully competed for a seed grant to apply our GREAT knowledge and skills. Our research focused on understanding how the different needs and preferences of men and women shape acceptability of cooking banana varieties (Matooke) by value chain actors in central Uganda.
In February 2017, Week 2 of classwork was held. The focus was mainly on data analysis, interpretation, stakeholder engagement through feedback/advocacy, and institutional change. At the conclusion of the course, 28 GREAT RTB participants graduated with a certificate marking our newly acquired skills in gender-responsive research.
We had now become the first group of GREAT Fellows.
My team developed and presented a poster to showcase the findings during Week 2 of the GREAT RTB Course. This poster was also presented during the 3rd annual meeting for the on-going project where we implemented our GREAT fieldwork, and was awarded a certificate of recognition. A research article is underway and will published in a special issue of Food Research International (Elsevier) that will focus on RTB research in SSA, highlighting emerging gender-responsive research and bringing due attention to the importance of gender issues in RTB research.
In late May I was notified by the GREAT team that I had been chosen as one of two GREAT Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Gender Specialists from the first cohort of trainees. This position will allow me to stay engaged with GREAT through the next cohort, to co-lead training sessions, attend the GREAT annual meeting and curriculum development meeting, serve on the GREAT Community of Practice (CoP) Advisory Board, and receive GREAT support to attend an in-depth follow up training to further develop my skills.
GREAT is much more than a training course. Beyond the training, it gave me access to the GREAT Community of Practice, linked me to updated resources (the GREAT Resource Hub), and connected me to related projects, such as Advancing Women in Agriculture through Research and Education (AWARE). The course also provides opportunities for networking with other gender professionals as we build a science of gender.
As an individual, the training has transformed my thinking to look at all my research activities with a gender lens. Throughout the GREAT course, I underwent a personal and professional transformation.
I now have a better understanding of the concepts and methodological approaches that guide, shape and frame gender-responsive research. I have been able to level my understanding of the difference between sex and gender, and why it matters in agricultural research. My ability to design and conduct gender-responsive research was strengthened. I now appreciate the importance of using the mixed methods research approach – a blend of qualitative and quantitative methods – to understand and address gender issues in agricultural research. I believe with the kind of knowledge, skills and resources I’ve acquired, I am positioned to be a more gender-responsive agricultural researcher today and in the future.
Equipped with the GREAT training, and coupled with a positive attitude and appreciation of the value of gender-responsive research, I am committed to championing gender-responsive research in the Uganda National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO). At the institutional level, the GREAT experience will contribute to the way we work. Deliberate efforts will be taken to integrate gender and will strive to ensure that in all activities that we do, we put gender first so that we are able to achieve more equitable outcomes.
Moving forward, I intend to create interest among my peers to appreciate gender and how important it is to our work. Together, we can create a GREAT CoP in NARO and create institutional change. However, this will require a renewed commitment to championing gender-responsive research by advocating for institutional change within NARO. Like Dr. Deborah Rubin (Technical Content Coordinator for GREAT) emphasized at the closing ceremony, the training is just the beginning! The real changes will occur when we widely apply the gender-responsive approaches for more inclusive and effective agricultural systems.
With the second GREAT Course starting in August, my GREAT experience will continue on through my new role as a GREAT SSA Gender Specialist. Through this opportunity I’ll be able to further develop my skills, and take on a new leadership role within the emerging GREAT network.
I am proud to be a GREAT Fellow, a member of the GREAT CoP Advisory Board, and a GREAT SSA Gender Specialist!
Losira Nasirumbi-Sanya, is a Research Officer at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), a Ph.D fellow at Makerere University, and GREAT RTB Fellow