Desiree Zwanck, Gender Expert at PARM: “Gender mainstreaming for a better Agricultural Risk Management by men, women and youth”

Focus Topic:
Gender / Youth / Social Inclusion

Desiree Zwanck, Senior Gender Expert at the Platform for Agricultural Risk Management (PARM), explains how and why gender lens should be better integrated into the Agricultural Risk Management (ARM) strategies, what are the main challenges and opportunities of involving women and youth in the whole ARM process, and the key role played by PARM in pursuing this goal. Read the full interview.


What does mean gender in Agricultural Risk Management?

Gender is a way to really take into account the specific needs of men and women, as well as of different groups – especially the most vulnerable or marginalized (e.g. not only women but also youth) within the community they live. It is also a way to understand how their vulnerable condition affected their role and the available opportunities. Last, it is an important step to really understand which are the specific constraints faced by men and women, the different potential and capacities they have in managing and responding to risk.

Why do we need to integrate gender into ARM according to you?

The reason why we need to fully integrate gender into the ARM cycle is that, it has been shown that men and women respond to risk differently and they are also affected by risk differently. For example, men and women have different activities along the agricultural value chain, they have different levels of access to resources and to information. They also have different access to land and to financial services and credit – women usually have a reduced access to credit compared to men – and training opportunities. They have different life experiences – due to different norms for men and women and they are expected to play different roles in the community and at the household level.

That means that women and men have different ways to act and react, as well as a different way and different capacities to manage the risk they face. Women can be risk adverse and might prefer different tools and resources to respond to the risk they deal with. So, if we really want to help farmers in being able to manage risks, we should consider the different requirements of women farmers to manage those risks. When we analyze risk management, we have to consider different contexts to really understand which are the risks for each group, both men and women, and which are their needs in a very specific context.

What are the gender gaps in current ARM strategies?

When I started to work on the specific topic of Agricultural Risk Management (ARM), I already had more than 10 years of work experience in food security, agriculture and rural resilience under my belt, but I’ve have never really focused on the specific topic of ARM. When I started researching, I was very surprised that there was no literature and no data available on this topic of gender in ARM.

So now with PARM we were able to create this key knowledge resource about gender, which is the Analytical Framework and Gender Toolkit commissioned by PARM in 2019 and that I helped create. However, some challenges still remain and the major one is the lack of data. This is often due to practical reasons: gender topic is quite complex and the collection of the evidences requires a long time that usually we have not: for example, the preparation of risks assessment studies is done with time constraints and so, many times it is impossible to properly conduct the gather of information or data on gender.

But we do need the evidence on this topic before being able to really understand the context, to figure out where men and women are along the value chain production, and to really understand how they are affected.

Also, the collection process of data should foresee a dialogue phase, to talk to men and women: very often there is a lack of participation of women during stakeholders’ consultation. If we want to make sure that men and women are positively affected by the ARM activities, we still need to make sure that the project design really seeks to benefit all the involved groups. I think we still lack the understanding of the right approaches for project design elements as well.

Lastly, we need to have more gender lens funding in ARM: taking gender actions requires money, it is quite expensive because it means designing projects encompassing additional activities tailored to the different needs of women and men.

What constraints limit women’s full involvement along all parts of the value chains?

Especially in emerging economies, one of the main issues is access to different types of resources: women have limited access to productive assets, such as lands, equipment, fertilizers and so on. They have less access to finance and financial education resulting in reduced financial inclusion and, more broadly, women have reduced access to education and training in general.

While this is one of the main constraints, there are other issues like time constraints: women experience time poverty because of the care work that men do a lot less: women surely have less time than men and they are extremely busy to look after children or other household members in need of care and so many other things simply deriving from being “mothers”.

In addition, women have less mobility than men because they are usually constrained in moving around due to practical and cultural reasons. Also, we should not forget that women are more

exposed to violence and quite often that doesn’t allow them to freely move out like men. As a consequence, women struggle in participating in the value chain activities: they cannot fully take part in the value chain or build their own agricultural enterprises, especially producing, marketing and selling their products. In the end, they are both vertically and horizontally excluded along the value chain. Vertically means, they do not understand the whole value chain, they are not able to know who are the different actors along the value chain and that means that they are not – they cannot be – fully aware of crucial information such as prices, fluctuation, climate information and how government regulations influence the entire value chain. Horizontally, because they are often not well linked to the other actors at the same level and therefore lack the right networks – this is why cooperatives and associations are crucial.

To sum up, I think that along the value chain, women can play a crucial role but they are often marginalized because they lack access to productive assets, time, mobility, information and this results in strong isolation, lack of horizontal and vertical integration of them along the value chain and, finally, in the inability of being aware of crucial issues affecting the production system.

Do you think PARM can play a pivotal role in integrating gender lens to ARM? How?

Yes, I think that PARM plays a key role and in a certain way, it already does, by providing knowledge products or by integrating gender into training for different actors but I think that it can especially play a role by focusing on championing and advocacy of gender. In its whole collaborative process with different actors and especially with governments, PARM has a role to play to ensure that this approach is meaningfully integrated and that people understand and apply it.

In this framework, PARM has a knowledge broker role: it should continue to share the right information and carry on the dissemination on gender and stimulate dialogues around gender. For example, FARM-D, which is hosted by PARM and, in my opinion, it represents a plus of PARM, is a great example of the dissemination and knowledge sharing that the Platform is able to ensure, even in the gender sector. However, to effectively play this role, PARM also needs to keep understanding the ecosystem in each target country and being able to make the right connections among involved actors around this topic.

What do you do in PARM for effectively integrating gender lens in ARM holistic approach?

As a gender specialist, my work with PARM is to make sure that the technical experts of our team really understand how we do gender in ARM. They already have some knowledge resources and information and we have a gender strategy in PARM, so my role is especially of operationalizing as much as possible the gender lens into the whole process of PARM and its technical team. That means working on each stage of PARM process to make sure that gender is integrated from the Risk Assessment phase, to the implementation of a concept note or of whatever manual produced by PARM, or in our training activities.

Also, I have to ensure capacity development of the team around gender, which means working on the job capacity building. I really try to engage and dialogue, so that all technical experts in PARM are able to think about gender and continue to work on that topic independently.

Furthermore, I regularly support the team in developing the gender ecosystem in the countries we work with and I contribute to implementing new strategies, for example, on de-risking investment in the climate space which is a sector where there’s a lot to do about gender. To sum up, my role as a gender expert in PARM is to ensure that our works turn into concrete actions. Very often our partners have gender strategies and agendas but, in the end, people are not able to translate this orientation into practice; this is really wanted and I try to help. I work to bridge gaps between what we want to do and what we are actually able to do in the field.


About the expert:

Desiree Zwanck is a Senior Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist Consultant with fourteen years of advisory and management experience across non-profit, private and public sectors, including in fragile and development contexts. She holds a Master’s Degree in Gender Studies from Berlin’s Humboldt University. Desiree lead on drafting the PARM’s first-ever framework and toolkit for gender in agricultural risk management in 2019. She is currently supporting the implementation of PARM’s gender strategy.

With WFP, she has coordinated the West African Gender and Markets Initiative and led the Green Climate Fund – supported R4 Rural Resilience Initiative for Senegal. With the International Finance Corporation, she ensures the integration of gender into Sustainable Infrastructure Investment. Desiree is also working with the World Bank on Gender in Digital Development, carries out gender analyses for GIZ programmes and continues to support international and grassroots NGOs.

Her areas of expertise include women and girls’ economic empowerment with a focus on value chains and financial and digital inclusion, rural resilience and community development, natural resource management, and gender-based violence (prevention and response). She has extensive experience with complex assessments, analysis of intersectional power dynamics, design of inclusive processes, ecosystem services, and strategic social investment.