WorldFish’s senior gender specialist Afrina Choudhury shares her perspectives on gender relations and social constructs that impact the livelihoods of rural women in Bangladesh.
Choudhury also discusses the importance of applying gender-sensitive approaches to research and innovation to ensure women’s needs are being accounted for in aquaculture systems.
WorldFish is a global leader 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.
Afrina Choudhury is a senior gender specialist and research fellow at WorldFish as well as a doctoral candidate at Wageningen School of Social Sciences. Her research work centers on improving gender relations within the livelihoods of aquaculture-dependent communities in rural Bangladesh. The main focus of her research work is to promote the application of Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs), a WorldFish-pioneered innovation, that challenges gender norms, promotes positions of social and political influence for women and addresses power inequities between men and women in Bangladesh.
It has been three years since your last interview with us. What are you currently working on now at WorldFish?
My work, as part of my doctorate, is focused on women’s entrepreneurship and inclusive enterprise development in aquaculture. My dissertation is titled ‘Revisiting women’s entrepreneurship from a gender-transformative perspective: Understanding positive deviance in the aquaculture and fisheries sector in Bangladesh.’ I am currently getting ready to start the fieldwork with women entrepreneurs in aquaculture under the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded project ‘Aquaculture: Increasing income, diversifying diets and empowerment women’ (IDEA). I am really excited about connecting gender-transformative perspectives to women’s entrepreneurship.
What made you attracted to join WorldFish?
I joined WorldFish over 10 years ago. I think the reason I stayed so long was because of the strong global gender team we have. I have always been attracted to research in development and WorldFish provides a perfect blend of that. It is also a well-reputable organization in Bangladesh for its vast quality of work in improving livelihoods and reducing hunger.
What’s a memorable piece of research you’ve been part of?
I will never forget the first time we started applying Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs) in aquaculture. GTAs were still something new we were figuring out, but being able to design, implement and study the approaches was something I am proud to be a part of. We first started by merging GTAs within technical aquaculture training and later, went on to experiment with the dissemination of women-targeted technologies, such as gill nets. It was important to apply GTAs here because the gill nets were opening up new avenues for women that confronted norms around gender roles and stereotypes. The paper on our experiences working with GTAs and gill nets will be coming out soon.
Can you tell us about a recent piece of research that you’ve published?
My gender colleagues and I authored the ‘The importance of sex-disaggregated and gender data to a gender-inclusive COVID-19 response in the aquatic food systems’ chapter in the Routledge Focus book Gender, Food and COVID 19: Global Stories of Harm and Hope with editors from Pennsylvania State University. As the title suggests, our chapter brings to focus the need for sex-disaggregated and gender data, using examples from India and Bangladesh, to achieve a gender-inclusive policy response and measures to COVID-19. We also recently published an infographic that provides a fun visual representation of our work on GTAs.
A majority of your research work involves rural communities in Bangladesh. What are some of your favorite moments and lessons learned from working with them?
I always enjoy fieldwork as I would come back with a wealth of knowledge. One of my favorite memories is from doing social consciousness-raising exercises with our project participants and their family members as part of our GTA work. These exercises are powerful in helping participants come to automatic realizations about harmful norms they took for granted, without any or much prompting from the facilitator. We applied customized exercises from Helen Keller International’s Nurturing Connections manual. During a role-play exercise on intrahousehold food distribution, some of the participants started to cry as they realized how much women sacrifice to ensure their families are fed. Some of the men, later, vowed to pay more attention to what their spouses eat to ensure their food and nutrition security.
What innovation has the most significant potential to improve gender relations and livelihoods in Bangladesh?
GTAs have great potential to improve gender power relations in Bangladesh across multiple dimensions. They also help women equitably engage, benefit and be empowered in aquaculture and fisheries. In Bangladesh, harmful norms greatly constrain women’s abilities to leverage the use of innovations to improve their livelihoods. GTAs help to address these norms by allowing women, their families and communities to critically reflect on the norms that govern their lives.
How do you hope your research will contribute to a transformative change in our global food systems?
I hope my doctoral research sheds new light on women’s entrepreneurship in aquatic food systems from a gender-transformative perspective. Current women’s entrepreneurship literature lacks the gender relational, social and institutional structures that provide the context for entrepreneurial interventions. I am hoping that through my study of “positive deviance” and inclusive business models, gender transformative designs can be refined and implemented in women’s entrepreneurship efforts in Bangladesh and beyond.