FAO understands that women are of paramount importance to household food security in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) and wherever possible selects women participants for its food security projects there. Nearly 70 percent of agricultural work in the WBGS is done by women as part of their household duties*: their activities include plantation, cultivation, animal raising (milking, feeding ,processing) and occasionally marketing**,among others. Their major role in food production has caused them to be severely affected by the security measures and economic restrictions imposed on the WBGS which are jeopardizing the whole agricultural sector, thus increasing the burden of food provision they bear. In the deteriorating crisis in the Palestinian territories – ongoing since the second intifada - it is essential to promote the participation of women in the WBGS in the social and economic life of their communities by empowering them to initiate and conduct entrepreneurial activities in agriculture, and therefore improve food security. Female-led backyard food production and cottage industries can offer an alternative livelihood for these women and their families.
When women receive assistance from FAO, whole families benefit and enjoy better food security and/or household income. A special focus on women has also been possible in other recent FAO projects, in particular OSRO/GAZ/703/SPA, “Emergency support and employment generation for female-headed households through backyard farming and cottage industry in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
Objectives of the project OSRO/GAZ/602/NOR:
- to improve the livelihoods and nutritional intake of the beneficiaries’ households through agricultural production;
- to contribute toward improving the food security in the WBGS;
- to diversify the income of women farmers through the transformation of perishable surplus into preserves that can be sold over a longer period of time;
- to organize rural women and build their production and economic capacity and rights to promote and strengthen their role in the rural community, as entrepreneurs, producers and home-based workers, through income-generating opportunities and training;
- to improve the quality and marketability of agricultural production;
- to help alleviate the difficulties in marketing the fresh products due to the frequent military closures and mobility restrictions;
- to enhance the value of rural and traditional mode of production.
Method of selecting female beneficiaries:
Once a needs assessment has been made for the project localities, all the women’s community-based organizations (CBOs) in the area are invited to a meeting, in which information is collected regarding the number of families and inhabitants in the community, their traditional working methods and problems they tend to face. Obtaining this information via the medium of women’s CBOs ensures a link between the project and community representatives which ultimately makes it much more likely to succeed. Not only are CBOs more familiar with the social and economic status of potential beneficiaries and their traditional practices, but collecting information in this public manner also provides more transparency and reassures community members that the process is open to all. Local FAO project teams are also satisfied that exploiting the familiarity of CBOs with their communities helps ensure that all segments of society can benefit from the project, and no-one is overlooked.
Furthermore, even after the selection process is completed, the members of these organizations provide collective support and motivation to the selected beneficiaries to commit themselves sufficiently to the project. With female-focused projects in particular, the support of community groups is considered invaluable by the participants, whilst FAO benefits greatly from their local expertise and their position of influence over beneficiaries. CBOs are also well-placed to report on and – where possible - solve any problems that may arise during the implementation of the project (such as misunderstandings, frustration or lack of motivation on the part of beneficiaries etc), given their close links with the participants and the community as a whole. They also assist practically by helping to prepare and carry out training sessions.
After the initial selection stage, for two weeks announcements are made at community events (such as after Friday prayers) and notices published in widely visible sources (newspapers, posters in the market, local shops, village council building etc). These announcements and posters contain information about the project, including its location, methods and the selection criteria for beneficiaries, which are divided into two types: social and technical. The former includes family income, the number of family members (which must be more than seven) and that the family is female-headed: in our experience, women who are the sole providers for their families stand to benefit more from the skills and income with which a FAO project will provide them than women in male-led households, even if such women meet (and even exceed) the other requirements. The technical selection criteria include the availability of supplies and suitability of the family’s location and assets (eg whether they have land for home gardens, experience in rearing sheep etc). Potential beneficiaries are then invited to apply to participate in the project.
The local project committee, which is made up of members of women’s CBOs, then assists FAO in choosing the final beneficiaries by providing information on applicants’ social criteria and carrying out home visits on those who meet these criteria to clarify their general suitability. These home visits are both an excellent way to assess potential beneficiaries, and also are highly valued by those visited, who subsequently report feeling that their application was given due attention, that the selection process is fair and transparent and that in their opinion community ties were strengthened as a result.
The list of beneficiaries is then finalised according to priority. It is important to stress during the selection process the commitment to the project that is required , and that an in-kind contribution is expected from potential participants. This helps to ensure the dedication of those chosen as beneficiaries.
The only problem of the selection process is the large amount of time it takes from start to finish. To improve this, FAO has started to involve more community bodies in the process (such as village councils and municipalities) so that data on applicants can be gathered more quickly and unsuitable applicants identified earlier on in the selection process. In this way, it is hoped that the number of unnecessary home visits carried out to applicants who fail to meet the basic criteria can be reduced by three-quarters. By working closely with village councils, the community as a whole can be mobilised to ensure the success of the project.
These communities will probably face new emergencies and crises in the future. However, it is our expectation that the specific methodologies used in the implementation of this project (namely, the fruitful use of women’s CBOs and other community organisations), can be used to tackle any emergencies that may arise. The involvement of women’s groups and the mobilisation of the whole community to ensure the success of the project have set a precedent of co-operation and collaboration, which will be key in tackling future challenges. Moreover, the use of CBOs in selecting participants and supporting them for the duration of the project makes it much more likely to succeed in the long term, thus increasing and improving the efficiency of cottage industries, as well as strengthening the economic situation and community standing of the female participants. These achievements leave the communities in question stronger (both economically and socially) and thus more able to resist the shocks and crises that might confront them.
* United Nations Development Fund for Women, Revised Consolidated Appeal Process, 31 May 2006
** Nitham Ataya, 2005, Agriculture is a Key Pillar in the Palestinian Economy,Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC); Needs assessment framework, Food Insecurity, 2006, UN Agencies.