Virginia Tech program empowers women through gender workshop in Mali

As part of a program to raise the standard of living in developing countries, a Virginia Tech researcher led a four-day gender workshop in June 2009 in Baguinéda, Mali.

“It’s exciting to go to the developing world and find people who are eager to learn more about gender, and to see men learn that empowering women is a good thing and does not threaten them.”
—Maria Elisa Christie, WGD program director and IPM IL Gender Global Theme program leader

The workshop, Gender, Participatory Research, and Technology Transfer, drew 30 researchers, extension agents, and representatives from institutions in West Africa that partner with the Integrated Pest Management Feed the Future Food Security Innovation Lab (IPM IL), managed by Virginia Tech’s Center for International Research, Education, and Development. The program is funded by USAID.

Participants came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Mali to attend the training event, held June 15–18 at the Office of the Irrigated Perimeter of Baguinéda, a regional center outside of the capital of Bamako.


Workshop leader Maria Elisa Christie, director of Women and Gender in International Development at Virginia Tech, notes, “Large donor organizations that fund development work recognize that one cannot conduct successful development projects without taking women’s needs into account.”

Yet simply including women is not enough. According to Christie, “It’s important to understand gender as relationships between men and women that affect development rather than simply focusing on involving more women.”

Attendees—both men and women—learned how to think about gender relations through the Rubins/Caro Domains Framework for Gender Analysis: practices and participation, time and space, access and control, and knowledge, beliefs, and perceptions.

After studying the framework in a classroom, participants divided into groups and visited villages in the surrounding area. There, they held discussions with men and women, asking about village resources. Participants also developed activity profiles, learning who (men or women or both) does what activity, when, and where. In one exercise, villagers drew a map of their village and its resources—a mosque, a soccer field, a maternity clinic, a well, and a cemetery.

“The group was surprised to learn that while women had access to most of the resources, women also had control over very few,” says Christie. “For example, while women are the ones who do all the collecting and carrying of water, men control the wells.”

Understanding resources and who controls them is critical to a successful development program, especially one as large as the IPM IL. The program works in 16 countries, using research to find ecological, low-cost solutions to agricultural pest problems. Partnering with other U.S. universities as well as with local country institutions, it tackles such issues as invasive species, insect-transmitted viruses, and other threats that affect world food security.


Muni Muniappan, director of the multimillion dollar program, says that it is now more important than ever to incorporate gender considerations into development projects. “By taking gender into consideration in our projects, IPM can make a big leap, reducing the use of pesticides and introducing and adapting alternative techniques.”

The workshop was the first of its kind for the IPM IL, and Christie is determined that it will not be the last. She plans to assist IPM IL regional partners in presenting similar workshops. “Agricultural institutions in the developing world usually have gender experts in-house, but they are left out,” she says. By holding this workshop, she hopes to highlight the importance of gender considerations and thereby give local experts more clout.Christie explains, “We’ve learned that women control the [adult] literacy classrooms and the market-oriented horticulture. This means that we should target women specifically for our IPM interventions and that we can work with entire populations by providing information for women to teach.”

“What’s exciting is to go to the developing world and find people who are eager to learn more about gender, and to see men learn that empowering women is a good thing and does not threaten them,” says Christie.