Date released
16 June 2023

More women and people with disadvantaged or marginalised statuses will be involved in designing, implementing and monitoring ACIAR-supported projects as part of a newly developed ACIAR Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) Strategy and Action Plan.

The new strategy was developed through the ACIAR GESI committee, co-chaired by Professor Ann Fleming, Research Program Manager, Fisheries, and Ms Eleanor Dean, General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building.

Ms Dean said the rigorously developed strategy would integrate GESI into all of ACIAR work and amplify its efforts to meet its research-for-development objectives in the region.

‘Our ultimate purpose is to improve food security in developing countries and the lives of the world’s poorest people,’ said Ms Dean. ‘And if we have an intentional approach to gender and social inclusion, we can do a better job in that regard.’

Professor Fleming said involving people from diverse backgrounds in projects brings a broader range of skills and insights to project designs. This will help develop the innovative responses to inequality needed to better tackle the complex social and environmental issues in the region – and improve outcomes for women and others with marginalised statuses.

A new action plan

ACIAR launched its Gender Equity Policy and Strategy 2017–2022 to articulate and commit to working towards organisational policies and development outcomes that improve the lives of women and girls.

Consultations with ACIAR staff, in Australia and in partner countries, revealed that ACIAR work on gender equity and social inclusion over the period of the first strategy resulted in some successes and learning, but there was still a need and commitment to be more effective.

Responding to the demand of ACIAR staff for bolder aspirations and stronger engagement, a new strategy and action plan was developed to ‘build on and build better’ to amplify the ACIAR commitment to gender equity and social inclusion.

The ACIAR GESI Strategy and Action Plan 2023–2027 recognises that the efforts to bring about change will be needed at different scales, from households and communities to national and regional policies.

A woman talking in a group
Building partnerships and relationships facilitated through the GESI Hub is just one way research will have more impact and buy-in. Photo: ACIAR

A strategy to reduce inequality

The strategy was developed with the Stockholm Environment Institute’s (SEI) Asian-based Gender, Environment and Development team. They drew on global GESI good practice and consulted extensively with ACIAR staff and partners.

It is underpinned by 10 guiding principles and includes a detailed action plan that will be overseen by a specially created GESI Hub.

The strategy includes a Theory of Change created by Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) specialist Tracey Delaney at Outcomes Matter to map the pathways and steps required to achieve intended impacts. The MEL framework aims to ensure appropriate metrics are gathered to accurately monitor success and to help ACIAR learn for ongoing improvement.

Inclusion for transformative impact

SEI senior research fellow Dr Cynthia McDougall said the new strategy has been built on substantial groundwork in GESI and is underpinned by a history of authentic engagement with stakeholders.

It gives ACIAR the opportunity to lead meaningful change in the region as it strives for transformative impacts that advance gender equity and social inclusion by addressing underlying causes of inequality.

‘It is a critical time to double down on social and gender equity. Having a clear, effective and ambitious strategy
by an organisation like ACIAR that other organisations look to for leadership in this space is incredibly important,’ said Dr McDougall.

Research on GESI-related topics proposed as part of the strategy will also help to unpack drivers of inequality in particular contexts and identify pathways to transformation.

A broader vision

The new GESI Strategy builds on ACIAR Gender Equity Policy and Strategy 2017–2022 that laid some important foundations including achieving gender parity among ACIAR research program managers.

The GESI Strategy expands its remit to include social inclusion, and also frames gender beyond binary definitions to include a spectrum of gender identities, said graduate research officer Mr Isaac Ewald, who helped coordinate project activities on the ground. Mr Ewald said this will enable these often disadvantaged and overlooked people to be considered within research design and implementation.

In developing the strategy, SEI led focus groups involving Australian-based ACIAR staff as well as its offices and partners throughout the regions.

ACIAR South Asia Assistant Country Manager Ms Chetali Chhabra and Philippines Assistant Country Manager Ms Mara Faylon facilitated interaction between the GESI Committee, SEI and the ACIAR Country Network.

Ms Chhabra said staff at the 11 ACIAR country offices have a nuanced cultural understanding of the regions and partners they work with, and it was essential to include their advice in developing the strategy.

Effective implementation

Using regionally relevant approaches, drawing on local knowledge and involving people from the community in project implementation are highlighted among the 10 guiding principles at the heart of the strategy.

ACIAR is also committing to provide adequate funding and human resources to effectively implement the strategy, which includes the appointment of social scientist Dr Rebecca Shellock who will lead implementation.

Dr Shellock is based at the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, where she has been researching barriers to women’s participation and leadership in marine science.

Her first task for ACIAR will be to activate the GESI Hub – a funded virtual operational centre as an interface for ACIAR staff and partners.

A family of farmers in a field with farming tools
Recognising the role of women in farming systems helps to improve the impact of new practices, such as the sustainable intensification technologies adopted by this family in Tanzania as part of an ACIAR-supported project. Photo: ACIAR

Walking the walk

‘Because the GESI Strategy is coordinated through the GESI Hub, rather than a collection of individual projects, it will have the capacity to facilitate meaningful, ongoing change that can be built upon over time,’ said Dr Shellock.

The GESI Hub will support the ACIAR Country Network, local partners and stakeholders in tailoring the GESI approaches to local contexts. The hub will also encourage and champion ACIAR-supported projects that recognise and value diverse forms and sources of knowledge, such as Indigenous and local perspectives.

Having that process of co-learning and co-producing research with women, socially marginalised groups, and local scientists and building those partnerships and relationships, will make sure that research will have more impact and more buy-in, and that’s what will make it successful.


Dr Rebecca Shellock
University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies

Dr Shellock will also undertake GESI-focused research herself. This will include monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the GESI action plan across ACIAR programs, and how research for development contributes to (or limits) equality.

‘Impact will be measured via a rigorous monitoring, evaluation and learning process that will be central to my work and central to looking at the next strategy and action plan,’ said Dr Shellock.

Professor Fleming said outcomes will be enabled by the strategy that will include a broad representation of gender and culture through its teams and leadership. And bringing diverse perspectives and knowledge systems together would help to find solutions to complex issues.