Big Data on Gender

Our Initiatives

Women play a critical and potentially transformative role in agricultural research and development. Worldwide, almost a third of women’s employment is in agriculture, including forestry and fishing. However, long-standing, persistent inequalities constrain women’s productivity in agriculture.

Women farmers have significantly less access to, control over, and ownership of land and other productive assets compared to their male counterparts. Globally, women account for only 12.8% of agricultural landholders, and women’s land plots are generally smaller, of an inferior quality, and with less secure rights than those held by men.

Furthermore, the digital divide is a gendered one, precluding a disproportionate number of women and girls from accessing empowering knowledge and resources in comparison to men and boys. Across low- middle-income countries, women are still less likely than men to own a mobile phone and less likely to use the internet on a mobile. These disparities hinder women farmers’ access to agricultural information and services. Most of the 3.9 billion people who are offline are in rural areas, poorer, less educated and tend to be women and girls.

Finally, data on women in agriculture is insufficient; gaps persist around women’s rights to land and natural resources, consumption and production, and environmental decision-making, and most data collection tends to be at the household level, which often does not capture nuanced intra-familial gender dynamics.

The full empowerment of women farmers would change agriculture as we know it. Studies have indicated that, given equal access to resources, women farmers would achieve the same yield levels as men and boost total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%, eliminating hunger for 150 million people.

As CGIAR continues to advance gender research efforts, big data is unearthing exciting opportunities for understanding and acting on the relationships among gender, agriculture, and rapidly digitizing economies and societies.

The CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture aims to advance gender equality in agricultural research and development by:

  • Increasing the visibility of sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive research and data within agricultural research and development.
  • Leveraging big data sources and methods in support of gender research.
  • Providing funding and support for gender-sensitive, big data-enabled agricultural research and development projects.
  • Contributing to sector-wide research and efforts to narrow the gender digital divide.

Big Data and Gender Platforms partnership

CGIAR’s Platforms for Big Data in Agriculture and Gender Research Platform formed a partnership in 2018 with the aim to co-design innovative uses of data science to help bridge the gender divide in data; a key step to ensure women are not left behind in digital agriculture revolution.

Our gender initiatives

Increase the visibility of sex-disaggregated data and gender-sensitive research within agricultural research and development

To unlock the full potential of CGIAR data assets for gender research, the BIG DATA Platform aims to enable easy discovery of gender-sensitive research and sex disaggregated data. This will be a valuable contribution to the agricultural research for development enterprise.


Preliminary, collaborative research by the BIG DATA and CGIAR Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results (GENDER) Platform on the findability of gender data sets informed recommendations made to the CGIAR Metadata Working Group to enhance gender data discovery, as well as allow for the reuse of gender-disaggregated data sets—essential for advancing gender research across CGIAR and unlocking new big data-enabled methods that can be used for researching and advancing gender equality.

Leverage big data sources and methods in support of gender research

A vast ocean of data is generated every day, and methods are still emerging for leveraging this data in ethical socioeconomic research. The BIG DATA Platform seeks to build the linkages between gender research and these emergent applications of big data.


The BIG DATA and GENDER Platforms spearheaded a novel approach to studying women’s economic empowerment in 2019. The partners conducted a phone-based survey of 10,000 respondents and used it to analyze billions of data points in call detail records (CDRs)—anonymous data generated by the operation of mobile phone networks—to predict gender and decision-making power among female farmers on a national scale in Uganda. The approach demonstrated the potential for observing changes in female farmers’ economic empowerment with greater speed and scale compared with solely survey-based methods.

BIG DATA and GENDER will seek to refine this approach to be replicable in any country where call detail record data can be obtained.

Provide funding and support for gender-sensitive agricultural research and development projects

Digital innovation presents new opportunities to reveal relationships between gender and food systems and inform strategies to make them more equitable.


The BIG DATA Platform’s Inspire innovation challenge prioritizes gender-sensitive research.

In 2019, 80% of Inspire Challenge participants included a gender component in their research proposals, up from 70% in 2018. The gender dimensions of the project proposals were evaluated with a rubric and scoring matrix designed to explicitly assess whether and how proposals deal with gender issues.

Inspire Challenge projects present a valuable opportunity to reveal insights about the evolving relationships among gender and digital agriculture. Following GENDER Platform recommendations, the 2020 Inspire Challenge will feature additional, rigorous gender mainstreaming components.

Contribute to sector-wide research and efforts to narrow the digital divide

Enhanced methods and learning about gender and big data in agriculture will not reach full impact in isolation. We must proactively apply these findings and participate in coordinated efforts to narrow the gender digital divide.


The BIG DATA Platform aims to support CGIAR and partner initiatives to annotate data, explore new big data-enabled methods, and leverage information and communications technologies (ICTs) to full effect to empower women in agriculture.

Working Groups on Gender


The Community of Practice on Socio-Economic Data is working on data harmonization and standardization through the definition of key concepts and related questions. Part of this work relates to minimum data that needs to be collected to get a basic sense of women’s empowerment.

For more information please contact Mark van Wijk.

Socio-Economic Ontology (SEONT)

The SEONT working group is working towards a socio-economic ontology of controlled vocabularies, classifications, and concordances that allow standardization of key indicators, including gender-related indicators.

The ontology has been developed by CGIAR researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Bioversity International, and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). The SEONT working group works in close collaboration with the Community of Practice on Socio-Economic Data led by Gideon Kruseman.

For more information, please contact Soonho Kim.