- WorldFish researcher Faridul Haque explains how his work can lead to gender transformative change within aquatic food systems in Bangladesh.
- Further research into power relations can steer programs, policies and best practices that can help men and women achieve greater self-sufficiency, equality and mobility in income generating activities.
WorldFish and the CGIAR research program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH) are global leaders in aquatic food systems research and innovation, and science and partnerships are the foundation of our work. Our team delivers robust evidence to policymakers and technological innovations to producers, supply chain actors and consumers to transform food systems. In this series, we profile our accomplished scientists in the spotlight.
Faridul Haque is a gender specialist at WorldFish in Bangladesh. He is a Chevening scholar and earned his second master's degree in development studies from the University of Sussex in the UK. He has worked for national and international organizations including CARE Bangladesh and the Gender and Water Alliance. At WorldFish, his primary responsibilities include leading gender assessment studies and gender mainstreaming in aquatic food systems.
What are you currently working on at WorldFish in Bangladesh?
As a gender specialist of the Aquaculture: Income, Diets and Empowerment (IDEA) project, I lead different activities associated with gender integration and transformation in the aquaculture sector. My responsibilities include conducting studies on gender issues, providing training to field staff and stakeholders and establishing partnerships with public and private institutions to ensure women benefit equitably from aquaculture.
At the beginning of the IDEA project, we conducted a gender scoping study. This formative study is intended to identify the initial gender dynamics of the project region before interventions take place. The study’s findings on local gender dynamics can be used to compare conditions after interventions, which will demonstrate the project’s success or shortcomings.
In addition to this gender scoping study, we conducted a gendered supply chain study with the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT). The aim of this supply chain study was to generate a knowledge base for designing project interventions. We focused specifically on developing inclusive aquaculture supply chains that are more productive and contribute to poverty reduction, in which women and youth are equitably included and can benefit in a dignified way.
Based on the findings and recommendations of these two studies, I worked to develop a gender strategy for the project. This gender strategy calls for gender integration throughout the project cycle, conducting strategic gender research towards women's empowerment and implementing gender-transformative approaches to address underlying structural barriers.
What are the roles of rural women in ensuring the sustainability of their households, communities and food systems in Bangladesh?
In rural Bangladesh, women play multiple roles to ensure the sustainability of the household. They take part in different activities to earn an income, which they then save for the family. In order to ensure food is available for the household, women cultivate vegetables and raise livestock or fish.
Though women’s contributions to agriculture and aquaculture activities are underreported, government data shows that around 1.5 million women are involved in different tasks related to aquaculture in Bangladesh. This accounts for 59 percent of women in Bangladesh who are employed in agriculture.
Like other low-income countries, rural women in Bangladesh are primarily responsible for managing and conserving resources for their families. I would say that rural women are the managers of food preparation and distribution systems at the household level. They are also the protector of food production systems at the community level.
What local innovation has the most significant potential to help rural women overcome COVID-19 challenges?
Data shows that 91 percent of employed women in Bangladesh work in the informal sector, and many of them have lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics also show that many women in the formal sector lost their jobs, especially in the garment industry.
Moreover, due to lockdown measures and the closure of schools to contain the spread of the virus, women are overburdened with unpaid care work. A survey conducted by Oxfam International found that women feel more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked or ill due to the overburden of unpaid care work in this current pandemic; they are forced to spend more time watching children who are now at home instead of being at schools thus losing opportunities for income-generating activities. In addition, gender-based violence has increased.
To address these impacts of COVID-19 in Bangladesh, the IDEA project is working to connect women to new technologies and services. Many women in villages do not have the capital to develop themselves as aquaculture farmers. After providing training to the farmers, the project connects these farmers with banks or financial institutions so that these women can get loans to initiate their businesses independently. We have also developed a digital platform where farmers can share their problems with our specialists to address their situations.
How can we ensure Bangladesh’s aquatic food production provides healthy, sustainable diets and supports the livelihoods of rural women dependent on the sector?
Though many women in Bangladesh are engaged in the agriculture sector, land ownership is notably low among women. Women in Bangladesh have sole or joint ownership of only 12.1 percent of agricultural land. This low percentage of ownership reflects the powerlessness of women when it comes to decision-making. Gender inequality in social relationships is connected to land ownership, as control over land also impacts who can benefit from government policies, financial schemes and input services. If we can gradually change the ownership pattern of production resources, we can hope there will be a day when rural women in Bangladesh can achieve sustainable livelihoods.
For example, one of our pilot initiatives under the IDEA project in Taraganj, Rangpur, is the 'Taraganj Model,' where we have been studying women's engagement in aquaculture since January 2021. Our study found that most women do not have access to markets and fish farming resources, such as ponds, to ensure their households' food, nutrition and income security. Through this pilot project, the Rangpur government, with technical support from WorldFish, has been helping these women diversify their incomes and diets as well as strengthening the supply chains by allocating ponds for fish cultivation in Taraganj. If successful, we intend to scale up this initiative to help women groups in other areas. This would also generate evidence that women's access and control over resources are a prime condition to ensure a healthy and sustainable livelihood for rural women in Bangladesh.
From your work experience, how is gender mainstreaming helping women overcome structural barriers and discriminatory social norms in rural areas?
Women’s limited access to and control over production resources, women’s restricted mobility and men’s inability to viewwomen in nontraditional roles are all major structural barriers. All these challenges could be addressed through the gender mainstreaming approach. In our gender scoping study, we found that women respondents believed they would be able to overcome all these challenges if they had their husbands’ support. Based on the recommendations of the women respondents, we have designed a business development service for couples in the aquaculture sector.
The service is designed to develop women’s entrepreneurship. One of the primary objectives is to jointly support the efforts and roles of husbands and wives in managing their businesses. Besides this, the IDEA project is keen to engage women in the formal aquaculture business process by removing structural barriers and teaching men how to support their partners.
Under this intervention, 40 couples have been selected to receive business development services from the IDEA project. All 40 women will obtain a formal business license and open business bank accounts by year-end. The IDEA team will monitor the progress of these couples throughout the year and provide necessary support if required. This is an example of how gender mainstreaming can help us achieve gender equality.
Why is it equally important for men and women to be part of solutions to achieve gender equality in aquatic food systems?
Before answering this question, I would like to explain gender transformative approaches (GTA) from an aquatic food systems perspective. Usually, GTA is about shifting the underlying causes of gender inequality, including unpaid care work and limited mobility that reinforces unequal gender relations at the community, household and supply chain level. In aquatic food systems, this transformative change removes the barriers, norms and practices that impede women’s full participation in the sector. Through GTA, both men and women have to change their views, attitudes and perceptions regarding the existing gender order of society. Both men and women should be part of the solution, and they should equally participate.
Although women are involved in different aquaculture activities like fish feed preparation, fertilization, pond management and fish harvesting, their contributions are undervalued and underreported. We must endeavor to increase awareness and recognition of their critical role in supply chains and their contributions to food security and economies.
Do you think these gender transformative approaches can be scaled and applied to help rural women communities in other parts of the world?
Gender transformative approaches are about addressing harmful norms and practices that limit opportunities. A little focus on the tools that we usually use for GTA would be helpful to understand their replicability. Our IDEA project used various GTA tools to demonstrate that gender equality is a “win-win” for everyone. Thus, it catalyzed both men’s and women’s interests in being agents of change and are responsible for their individual, household and community change processes.
For women and men from fish farming households, we designed social consciousness exercises at the community level. The sessions were designed to help participants identify and reflect on common gender-biased practices and the underlying constraining gender norms in their own context and lives—and critically assess how these affect wellbeing. These tools were derived from Hellen Keller International (HKI)’s manual “Nurturing Connections- adapted for Homestead Food Production and Nutrition” and “Promoting Gender Transformative Change with Men and Boys", a manual jointly developed by WorldFish and Promundo.
We are also organizing forum theatre shows as a form of GTA in 60 villages within our project implementation areas. In forum theatres, the audience is shown a short play in which a central character encounters a form of oppression or obstacle that s/he is unable to overcome. In our shows, the plot highlights the challenges that limit women’s access to financial resources, hinder women’s decision-making and increase women’s burden with regards to household tasks. After the show, the audience can share their views about these issues and suggest how the challenges could be overcome. By exchanging ideas, the audience will spread the message within the community about the kind of transformation expected and who can bring this change. The concept of organizing forum theatre shows was adapted from an intervention already applied by WorldFish in Zambia.
How do you hope your research will contribute to a transformative change in our food systems?
As a gender expert, I am keen to address the power relations between men and women. I want to tackle women’s limited entitlement to land, discriminatory food distribution practices within households, women’s engagement with unpaid care work and non-recognition of women’s contribution to agriculture and aquaculture.
I am also interested in the concept of invisible power. Invisible power contributes towards shaping a man’s life by imposing the notion of ideal manhood—men do not dare to cooperate with women in household work like cooking and childcare. These are the areas where women and men have been conditioned for generations, and in most cases, they do not object against the gendered allocation of household duties. As a result, unequal gender relations perpetuate.
Invisible power also exists in the intra-household food distribution systems. Historically, women have been the center of household food management in Bangladesh. This means that they are responsible for “cutting the coat” according to the family’s needs, but they are not allowed to buy the “cloth”. Yet, they have to ensure that everyone’s needs are fulfilled with the resources made available to them. In many instances, this situation forces women to compromise their own needs leading to malnutrition, chronic sickness and anemia. Oftentimes, this unequal distribution of food goes unquestioned and is instead glorified as the sacrifice of women.
Through my work, I want to break this cycle of discrimination and exploitation. Once this invisible power in food systems is addressed, we will be able to see a transformative change within this system. More women will have greater decision-making power over production resources, receive equal food intake like other family members and have greater mobility to engage with income-generating activities. Men are also expected to come forward to contribute to unpaid care work. Coupled with increased economic activity, women can achieve greater self-sufficiency and equality.
Faridul Haque’s work contributes to the goals of the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems (FISH) under its key cross-cutting theme on Gender.