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Journal article | August 16, 2023

Promoting Gender Equity in Livelihoods Projects: Practitioners’ Perspectives Through the Lens of a Socio-ecological Model

This article points to the untapped potential for meaningful and mutually beneficial exchange between development research and practice, by presenting an example of an iterative process of knowledge formation, whereby project staff’s collective experiential insights and inductive learning are used to obtain an enriched Socio-ecological Model (SEM), which is attuned to the lived experiences in the field and is reinforced by the available research evidence. Using Catholic Relief Services, one of the largest humanitarian and development organizations worldwide, as case study, interviews were conducted with project staff from nine livelihood and food security projects and gathered staff’s perceptions and experiences with promoting gender-equitable outcomes through improved intra-household gender dynamics and men’s involvement. The qualitative analysis of the interviews shows that, while projects tried to integrate activities across the four levels of the SEM (individual, family, community and societal), staff perceived that the stickiness of social norms, women’s time poverty and limited buy-in from local organizations affected progress and presented new challenges that required constant adaptation. Our proposed method shows how an SEM can be enriched by incorporating these additional elements and by using existing research to confirm the significance of the exercise. An enriched SEM, by explicitly pointing to cross-cutting challenges that emerge from the field, is better reflective of the realities in which the staff works than a simple SEM. A process of SEM’s validation through incorporating insights from field staff and collaboratively involving researchers has the potential to deepen how projects or organizations think about the way they can foster gender transformative change; as well as to lead to more informed research and enhance researchers’ appreciations of the practical nature of development project challenges.