UNRISD: "Equality for women is progress for all"

„Equality for women is progress for all“, the 2014 theme for International Women’s Day, is a vision at the core of UNRISD’s social development research. The theme integrates gender equality into overall development aims and points to its role in achieving progress in all three dimensions of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental.

The demand for UNRISD expertise and research findings on gender, notably on the care economy and social reproduction, remains high from the development community and the UN system, with participation requested in various processes and working groups framing the post-2015 agenda.

Current UNRISD gender research has a strong focus on rural development, and on women’s claims making. Read on to find out how the programme is growing with new projects and increased staffing.

Rural Development and Gender

UNRISD is launching two new projects on the gendered implications of recent shifts in rural development, following successful bids for funding. One is an R4D project titled Feminization, Agricultural Transition and Rural Employment, led by the University of Bern and funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. It starts in June 2014 and investigates the developmental and gendered implications of the rise of non-traditional agricultural exports (NTAE) in developing countries.

The other is a scoping study funded by the Ford Foundation’s Beijing Office on Gender Dimensions of Food and Water Security in Dryland Areas. Its geographical focus is on China, and it examines the often neglected gender dimensions of a major global challenge at the intersection of environmental and social policies: livelihood security in dryland areas.

These activities build on recently completed UNRISD work. A highly productive workshop on Gender and Agriculture after Neoliberalism, organized jointly by UNRISD and the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in July 2012, started the ball rolling. It assessed knowledge gaps and tried to define new perspectives on policy and gender power relations in the countryside via genuine discussion of different conceptual frameworks among researchers from North and South.

As a result of the workshop, there have been two UNRISD publications of note: First, an analytical report, drawing out the key conclusions of the workshop and pointing out questions and issues to take forward; and second, a working paper on Conflicting Priorities in the Promotion of Gender in Ethiopia, which concludes that even when, on paper, women may be granted rights, in practice politics or discriminatory social institutions often prevent gender equality from being realized.

Gender-Egalitarian Claims Making

UNRISD’s largest current gender project, When and Why Do States Respond to Women’s Claims? Understanding Gender-Egalitarian Policy Change in Asia, seeks to understand how policy change to strengthen women’s rights occurs. Using the signature UNRISD multi-disciplinary, multi-country research design, the project adopts a comparative approach, focusing on the complexity and particularity of claims making around two specific issues in the three country contexts: violence against women and the rights of migrant workers, especially domestic workers, in China, Indonesia and India.

Since the kick-off workshop in August 2013 in New Delhi, country teams have undertaken literature reviews, and fieldwork is expected to begin in the coming weeks. Three thematic papers have been commissioned—on the political economy of women’s claims making in relation to labour rights, land and inheritance, and violence against women—and a fourth one is planned—on the implications of different systems of governance for women’s claims making.

The project emerged from prior work on Women’s Organizations in Asia and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which, while eliciting views from women social activists on their development priorities, laid the groundwork for the current project by reviewing claims-making processes and varying state reactions as described by the interviewees. The synthesis report from the original project is under review prior to imminent publication.


In order to carry out its gender programme, UNRISD is pleased to announce a growing gender team. In addition to the current staff, a PhD student from the University of Bern working on the Feminization, Agricultural Transition and Rural Employment project will be regularly seconded to UNRISD. The Swiss government has recently agreed to fund an expert on gender issues at UNRISD, with recruitment expected to begin shortly.

Finally, we will soon be able to announce the appointment of a new Gender Research Coordinator, following the departure of long-serving researcher Shahra Razavi to UN Women last year.

With a full team in place, UNRISD research on gender equality will continue to contribute to the efforts of the United Nations, and the wider development community, to create more just and equitable societies in which progress is something all women and men can aspire to every day.

This year’s International Women’s Day celebrations at UN headquarters in New York, taking place on 7 March, will be webcastat http://webtv.un.org/ making it a truly global event. Celebrations at the United Nations Office at Geneva include an exhibition of paintings by the Romanian artist Stela Vesa entitled The Touch of Muses.

More information

Source: UNRISD, Author: Joannah Caborn Wengler