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"While frustrating at times, challenges do make me far more passionate and determined"

This success story written by Afrina Choudhury, Gender Specialist at the WorldFish, is part of the "Young women and Youth's Gender Perspectives in Agricultural Development" series that spotlight young professionals' experiences for women's empowerment in agricultural development. From research to private sector, mass media to civil society work, YPARD 2015 Gender series will feature, every month, young "gender champions" from different regions of the world. This series is part of YPARD work as special youth catalyst in the GAP : Gender in Agriculture Partnership.

It’s interesting what Gender professionals connote in people’s minds when they hear it and it’s not always good. 

We are deemed to be man haters, of being too independent to have a family or maintain one and many assume we are striving to become men. I quickly realized in the 3 years that I have been working in the field of gender in aquatic agriculture that it is not an easy job to convince others of the benefits of looking into equity issues.

It’s not a simple task either to make others understand the heterogeneity of humans, the importance of the social setting and gender relations upon which the biophysical science stands and depends on and finally to be seen as an equally important science that needs to be heard. While frustrating at times, when I think of my trajectory, these challenges do make me far more passionate and determined.

“Be careful that you don’t become a feminist”

My trajectory in WorldFish (my current organization) in fact has been stimulating. They have always been very encouraging about enriching my job. I started working on gender soon after I completed my Masters in Development Studies from BRAC University. Whatever I know about gender issues were enhanced threefold when I actually started working on it. 

Then again, when I did start working on gender issues in aquatic agriculture, everyone had their two cents to add. This included comments like "be careful that you don't become a feminist" and " Oh no, now you will never get married or have children" but I knew which comments to pay heed to.

Thankfully, my organization gave great support and importance to gender integration and this helped a lot in my quest. Furthermore, along with great mentoring and capacity development, we focused on conducting evidence based diagnostic research on the need for gender transformative approaches in aquatic agriculture that tries to understand and address underlying norms and social structures that constrain women and men from realizing their full potential.

Even amidst all this support, I felt the pressure of last minute requests for gender integration, discrediting of research which questioned the effectiveness of technical interventions and a difficulty in being heard.

While I remained strong and determined, I looked around me and noticed a young pool of women (and some men)  like myself struggling to so call “mainstream” gender in their projects beyond the quota targeting of women in projects, which many assume is “doing gender”. Many of these women remained frustrated with their lack of voice, with the lack of mentoring and organizational support, and the overburdens they feel with last moment requests to incorporate gender into proposals, reports, etc.

Building a Bangladesh National Gender Working Group

Their reality was not far from my own. Realizing the need for a common platform where gender folks could share experiences and learn from one another, we (myself and a gender expert Ramona Ridolfi from Hellen Keller International) formed a National Gender Working Group which has been running for the past 1.5 years.

The group has bi-monthly meetings covering various themes around gender and includes up to 40 international and local organizations as members. Members volunteer their spaces for meetings and each theme is led by a member who also invites non-member experts to present. The group liaises with other groups like the nutrition working group and the government and donor level gender group from time to time.

Overall, I see a lot of changes in the way gender is looked upon in Bangladesh, even in my 3 years of experience. There has been a lot of realization and pressure from donors and this is reflected in media, in a new demand for gender specialists and in institutional change towards making organizations more women friendly. Many still believe increasing the number of women or simply targeting women is enough to do gender.

This is a main area my team and I have been working to bring about a shift towards working on gender relations and understanding that simply targeting women with an agriculture or aquaculture solution isn’t enough to bring about transformative change in their lives. We have made strides in that direction through research findings and a redesigning of the way we target women and men and are hoping to influence others through the gender network and others. 

Click here to read:

  1. Shaping my future in Gender, Agriculture and Global Development, by Moses Owiny, Project Officer with the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET);
  2. Empowering Women in Agriculture through Mentoring, by Michelle Jambui, Fulbright scholar graduate student;
  3. Agriculture has managed to change my career, by Wouedjie Alice-Norraa lawyer who works at the Cameroon youth Initiative for Rural Development, CAMYIRD;
  4. A young spirit in search of change, by Anauim Valerín Pérez, a young journalist and environmental activist. 
  5. AltroPaesaggio - Empowering Gypsy Women through Urban Agricultureby Luisa Cartesio, coordinator of the project "Orticulturom" within the association AltroPaesaggio;
  6. Supporting Sinai Bedouin Women through Agriculture and Handicrafts, by Yasmeen Atta, founder of  the Youth Sinai Foundation for Development and Human Rights and the Youth Sinai Development Company.