Promoting gender equity in Rural Producersí Organizations (RPOs).
Mauro Bottaro, FAO, Rome (Italy)
Applied Participatory Approaches:
Women make essential contributions to agriculture and rural economic activities in all developing countries. The vast majority of food production attributable to women makes them the principle agents of food security and household welfare in rural areas.
Yet, despite their central role in the development of production, distribution and consumption of agricultural products, women farmers face a myriad of constraints such as poor access to inputs, productive resources, services and opportunities.
Rural Producer Organizations (RPOs) can play a key role in overcoming these constraints and in closing the gender gap along the value chains by ensuring women’s participation in markets, financial services, the public sphere, decision making and leadership roles. Indeed, RPOs can empower their members (women, men and youth) to improve their livelihoods through the provision of a broad array of services aimed at ensuring: (i) access to and management of natural resources, (ii) access to markets for goods and services for food production and distribution, (iii) access to technology, information and knowledge to improve human capital and (iv) active participation in policy formulation.
For this to happen, RPOs need an enabling environment that ensures them to become instruments of social inclusion for both women and men. The creation of enabling environments translates into specific legal frameworks, gender sensitive policies, as well as the establishment of participatory frameworks to facilitate a multi-stakeholder dialogue between RPOs, policy makers and other relevant actors. This will ensure gender equality at all stages of production, processing and marketing of agricultural products.
Yet, equal and full participation of women and men farmers within RPOs still remains a challenge. The drivers that hinder this participation as well as the enabling factors that would facilitate it are context specific and need to be identified and understood.
FAO (2010) advocates a long term engagement to capacity development of women farmers through training aimed at enhancing technical and financial management skills and at developing the RPO’s human and social capital. Also, FAO promotes dialogue between small farmers and policy makers, as crucial mechanism for gender-equitable development in terms of employment, incomes, participation in public institutions and social welfare.
The FAO project “Gender in Rural Producer Organizations: participation, leadership and entrepreneurship”.
FAO has recently launched a research-action on women’s participation within Rural Producer organizations (RPOs) in developing countries. The project aims at understanding constraints and enablers of women’s participation in RPOs, in order to establish multi-stakeholder dialogues with policy makers and other relevant actors, to inform gender-sensitive policies with the ultimate goal of improving gender equality in leadership and decision-making processes.
The project methodology includes the review of existing literature and surveys in the field. A consultative process and a participatory approach, with key stakeholders - rural producer organizations and potential other relevant actors - will be carried out through interviews to determine main drivers and factors that may facilitate or hinder women’s participation.
The field survey tools include various instruments of social investigation (i.e. data collection through interviews and questionnaire, mobilization of partners and networks). Specifically an ad hoc questionnaire was developed and administered to the potential respondents. The questionnaire explore three main areas: participation, access to resources, organizational structure and decision-making. Key stakeholders of the whole process involve producer organizations, including men and women farmers, relevant Ministries, and other key actors such as NGOs, development organizations and practitioners.
A pilot survey was conducted in Niger, in order to identify both factors of exclusion and enablers of women’s participation in RPOS and to allow fine-tuning the methodology of the program to be applied to other selected countries. Niger is one of the poorest and least developed countries, where the status of women is unfavorable. Moreover, in Niger, there are several existing FAO projects, in particular the FAO DIMITRA project, which proved to be successful and features an excellent local network to rely on for the survey in the field.
The project is ongoing. The filed survey has been accomplished and the data are now being analyzed. Preliminary results show that , despite the crucial role that women play in rural economies, their participation within RPOs remains minimal, especially in leadership positions and decision making.
Through the data collected from the field and processed using adequate methodologies, some lessons learned will be drawn. The aim is to demonstrate the importance for RPOs to ensure the full participation of both men and women in production activities, management and decision making, to maximize their efficiency in serving the needs of farmers and rural communities. One restitution workshop will be organized at national level in each country to share results with participating RPOs and their representatives, government representatives and other decision makers, local partners and other relevant stakeholders and actors.
How to take advantage of gender differences within the RPOs while improving community livelihoods
There are various enablers that are instrumental in promoting gender equality and in empowering the rural women by promoting their participation in RPOs. Also initiatives alleviating her work burdens are an enabler to her participation, improved infrastructure increases mobility and the ability to participate, and many others.
Based on the evidence from the ground, FAO gathered some good practices regarding two major enablers, namely:
- Ensuring women’s access to assets and resources (including land, natural resources, microfinance, markets, training opportunities and many others) and in particular to information and communication opportunities : Ensuring women’s access to assets and resources is a key enablers in the promotion of gender equality in RPOs. Dimitra-FAO has been supporting with its local partners the creation of the Community Listeners’ Clubs in two African countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some 8500 people (50% of women) in South-Kivu and Katanga have become members of these clubs; and in Niger where there are currently over 8000 members (75% are women). The clubs are true citizens’ groups whose members share their concerns and needs, acquire information that would otherwise be beyond their reach and take constructive action together. In this process, community radio is used as an information medium and a communication relay that facilitates setting up flows of information and communication. To listen to the radio programmes and to their own and others’ interventions, the clubs use solar-powered and hand-crank radio sets. The use of solar mobile phones is an important complement to the mechanism. The Community Listeners’ Clubs have proved to be an effective way for isolated rural communities, women in particular, to gain access to information and become involved in the communication and development process, serving as a sort of steppingstone for action and empowerment. Furthermore, the Dimitra initiative demonstrates that improved access to information and communication leads to improved self-confidence, effective agency, increased self-esteem, solidarity and dialogue.
- Quotas for Women: Research confirms that quotas have been instrumental in removing deep-rooted biases against women’s participation in RPOs, and guarantee representation and ensure participation in decision management. In the long run the quotas also play an important role of increasing the bargaining power and voice of rural women in the RPOs, and their sense of self worth. By ensuring representation, quotas can play a positive role in establishing a critical mass of women as members and ultimately leaders in RPOs. Although quotas are a great enabler for female participation, there needs to be cognizance that they may be at times mere passive participants with the men having the decision making prerogative (World Bank, 2009). Hence, quotas need to be accompanied with a gender-sensitive monitoring system ensuring that women themselves are gaining value from the quotas imposed (Quisumbing and McClafferty, 2006). The WB Report further informs that targeting an increase in women’s participation through quotas is not enough and empowering participation needs to be preceded by a period of intensive social awareness training of women.
In conclusion, RPOs can play a key role in overcoming small farmers’constraints and in closing the gender gap in rural areas in developing countries.
To this end, small producers, governments, profit and non-profit private actors, need to find better ways to collaborate to shape the environment that enables and supports producer organizations to formulate and design better gender-sensitive policies that recognize womens’role in food security.
From their traditional role of provider of assistance, governments need to become facilitator of change, in a people-centered approach to develop knowledge and capacities of individuals that are central to fortifying rural institutions.
Through its multi-stakeholder approach, the FAO ongoing program represents a preliminary step and a precious opportunity to raise governments ‘awareness and to foster the adoption of gender-equitable participatory approaches in RPOs and other relevant rural institutions in developing countries.