How to integrate gender equality in a complex social research project
The case study was prepared by Barbora Černušáková, PhD
The following case study differs from the rest of the contributions in this volume in several ways. It does not describe a good practice from the institutional point of view, instead it offers a very personal perspective of individual researcher. This is reflected also in a different structure of the text and its personal tone. The case study was originally presented at one of the E4E trainings and as it provided an excellent insight into complexities of integrating gender, we asked the author to elaborate it further. The personal tone of the text is intentional – it should make the text more relatable to young researchers who, just like the author, have to find their own way of reflecting gender in their work.
In 2014 I started to work on a research project that focused on the situation of Roma workers in the Czech Republic. I was a PhD student in sociology at the University of Manchester, and although I was committed to gender equality, I was unsure how to integrate it into the methodology and into the pre-fieldwork research proposal. The research itself was complex, aiming to bring deeper understanding of racialised class formations in the post-socialist context. Gender was a layer of my analysis but not one of the two key categories of my research – those were race and class.
Below I present a reflection on the challenges of integrating gender and gendered inequalities into research drawing on this experience. I offer examples that illustrate that despite one’s commitment and sensitivity to gender equality, meaningful integration of gender into research requires constant dialogue between methods, data and the structural context within which they are produced.
Questions to consider
· How does gender relate to the broader research question?
· What are the mechanisms through which gender operates in my field of study? (e.g. state policies, family structures, employer preferences and prejudices).
· What data do I need to unpack the operation of gender in the field I study?
Identification of the problem
In the early stages of my research, I had a general idea about the need to focus the analytical gaze on the impact of the changes in the mode of production – from centrally planned to a market economy – during the first two decades of post-socialism on gender relations. In these early stages of drafting the research proposal, I operationalised gender in a somewhat mechanical and simplistic way and mostly reduced it to the issue of inclusion and exclusion of women from stable jobs. Despite this, my early research proposals were not entirely hopeless with respect to gender equality. They emphasised material conditions in which gender relations are produced, which proved important during the data collection and analysis (see below).
There are generally two types of approaches to gender in research – either the project focuses explicitly and specifically on gendered aspects of the problem (e.g. Federici 2012 or Kóczé 2011) or it integrates gender in research that focuses on other issues (e.g. urban marginality of Black or Latino residents of US cities: Stack 1974 or Bourgois 1995). My research falls within the second category. Its main focus was on racialised class formations, and it aimed to address these problems:
In the following sections, I will discuss how I integrated gender in the three stages of the research: design, data collection and data analysis.
The guidelines on research and gender equality generally come up with a recommendation that gender needs to be integrated into individual elements of the research plan: background, rationale, scope and methodology (Heidari, S., et al. 2016; Oxfam 2018). These guidelines have two main problems:
- They often remain vague on the practical steps a researcher needs to take to ensure a consistent and meaningful focus on gender during the research.
- The question of gender and gender equality is often framed as a matter of representation. This means that the focus remains on the need to disaggregate data by gender and to ensure that there is “gender equality” in the selection of research participants.
I will look into the modalities of inclusions and exclusions of men and women into the labour force. This approach is rooted in materialist analysis of data gathered through observation of daily lives.
Excerpt from the research proposal, 2015
What proved essential for meaningful integration of gender during my research was linking it to broader structural issues that I was examining.
While working on the research proposal, I decided that I would link gender to structural issues such as state labour market policies addressing long-term unemployment. The task ahead of me was to collect the data that would help me to identify the mechanisms through within these structures and policies reproduce gender inequality (Verloo, M. 2005). My research proposal included a background drawing on the literature on the sociology of post-socialism, Roma studies, urban marginality and critical race theory. It provided a very robust and complicated analytical framework for the research. Through the process, I observed two main challenges:
- In the literature, gender is often featured as an “add-on” category rather than an integral part of the analysis.
- While some of the literature was focused on gender and the effect of the change in state policies on labour market participation, it generally lacked data on race and ethnicity. This is because the Czech Republic, along with most other European countries, continues to fail to collect such data. This limited the empirical input for analysing the change in the situation of Roma female workers during post-socialism.
To give myself guidance ahead of the fieldwork, I drafted the following research questions:
- How do reproductive obligations – domestic labour and childcare (and any other) – affect Roma women’s chances of finding jobs?
- Are the above obligations predominantly the responsibility of women, or is the domestic work shared more equally in a household?
- What jobs (jobs in what sectors) are accessible to Roma women in Ostrava?
- How do employers treat male and female (or non-binary) prospective workers? How do they treat male and female (or non-binary) workers once they are on the job?
- How do state policies – in housing and employment – affect male and female (or non-binary) workers?
The main research method of this project was 11-month ethnographic fieldwork during which I lived and worked alongside my interlocutors. Throughout the process, I was reflecting on and re-assessing the methodology, and I decided that I would focus on the household as well as the neighbourhood as my “units of analysis”. This had significant implications on the integration of gender into the research, and it allowed me to move from the limiting approach of representation to a more meaningful analysis of the operation of gender in racialised class formations.
Through the participant observation, interviews and a survey, I noticed that women’s participation in the labour market was concentrated in low-paid jobs such as recycling, industrial cleaning and street cleaning. These jobs usually came with minimum wage, stigma and a degree of precarity.
There was a moment during the fieldwork, when I noticed the ostensible “invisibility” of female Roma workers. According to a survey carried out for me by the teachers at one of the “Roma only” schools, about 90% of fathers/male carers worked (informally) in construction while about the same proportion of mothers/female carers were “unemployed”. This did not seem right. Through ethnography, I learned most women did work, but only informally.
Focusing on the situation of individual households, helped me to understand that women’s engagement in informal work was not a choice but an inevitable effect of their responsibilities for household chores, including household budget, childcare, emotional labour to recuperate the experiences with racism (Bhattacharyya 2018); but also indebtedness.
Reliance on informal work for women with young children, was an adaptation strategy to their gendered roles but also to the racially oppressive labour market that contained Roma in low-paid jobs. I discussed these challenges with Nina, one of my interlocutors, multiple times. She is now planning to start working again at the recycling line. She described the working conditions as horrible and unsafe with rats running around, a bad smell, dangerous items in the waste and an unfair boss. But she does not really have many options but to work at night so that she could take care of Honzík [her son] and the household during the day.
Fieldnotes, August 2016
Ethnography with its emphasis on extensive fieldwork enabled me to collect data that challenge generalised tropes about Roma unemployment and particularly about the unemployment of Roma women. The jobs accessible to Roma women were often out of public sight – on the outskirts of the city’s recycling lines – with precarious contracts and unsociable working hours.
To avoid the reduction of gender equality to gender representation, I placed the analysis of factors behind the gendered labour market into the framework of social reproduction. What made this analytical focus possible was the data that focused not only on workplaces but also the households and the neighbourhood. I organised the data along the three main themes: space (neighbourhood); household finances (debt), and labour (workplaces) and coded them according to sub-themes that emerged during the repeated reading of my fieldnotes:
Organising the data along these codes helped integrate gender into the analysis, but to do it meaningfully, I needed to contextualise the situation of the Roma workers – both male and female – including their individual situations at work, family and in the neighbourhood, and link it to the state policies that provided the background for my analysis.
If applied sensitively and with a commitment to gender equality, ethnographic research, with its emphasis on the “lived experience” and building theory from the data, can help unpack gendered aspects of precarity or marginality. It is important to avoid approaching gender as an “add on” category to a complex research project, and integrate it – both during the data collection and the analysis – as a factor that shapes people’s experiences.
Bhattacharyya, G. 2018. Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and Survival. Rowman and Littleﬁeld International.
Bourgois, P. 1995. In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio. Cambridge University Press.
Czech Government, 2018. Twelfth and thirteenth periodic reports submitted by Czechia under article 9 of the Convention. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. CERD/C/CZE/12-13
Federici, S. 2012. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. PM Press.
Heidari, S., Babor, T.F., De Castro, P. et al. 2016. “Sex and Gender Equity in Research: rationale for the SAGER guidelines and recommended use.” Research Integrity and Peer Review No. 1, Vol. 2 https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-016-0007-6
Hooks, B. 2015. Yearning. Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Routledge.
Kóczé, A. 2011. Gender, Ethnicity and Class: Romani Women’s Political Activism and Social Struggles. A dissertation thesis, Central European University.
Stack, C. 1974. All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community. Harper & Row.
Verloo, M. 2005. “Mainstreaming gender equality in Europe: a critical frame analysis approach’, The Greek Review of Social Research, Vol.117, 11–34 (https://repository.ubn.ru.nl/bitstream/handle/2066/165981/165981.pdf).