What strategies should be adopted to boost rural women's participation in decision-making bodies so they can implement development policy in their territories?
Sub-regional workshop in Mbour, Senegal from 3 to 5 July 2007
This sub-regional workshop gave 85 men and women - members or partners of the Réseau National des Femmes Rurales du Sénégal (RNFRS) and representatives of Dimitra's focal points in Burkina Faso, Gambia, Guinea, Mali and Niger - the chance to discuss the problems facing rural women in participating in the decision-making bodies in their country. Strategies were drawn up to encourage women to get more involved.
The workshop was organised by the RNFRS, ENDA-Pronat and Dimitra, with the financial support of Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC) and the Swiss Development Cooperation Office in Senegal. It was the follow-up to a meeting organised by the same partners in February 2003 on rural women's access to land. That meeting had, among other things, stressed the importance of developing strategies for including women in decision-making bodies so that they could fight for their cause more effectively.
The workshop's main objective was to identify and analyse the sociocultural, economic, legal and political obstacles preventing or delaying rural women's participation in decision-making bodies in the countries of West Africa.
The meeting was a way of boosting women's self-confidence and so encouraging them to play a more active role in the political life of their community. It was also a tool for supporting collaboration between rural women and community radio stations, promoting a better knowledge of men and women's rights and duties in relation to their communities and the institutions governing them, and working out strategies to ensure increased involvement of rural women in decision-making bodies.
Group activities and more informal exchanges of experiences between participants drew on the input of communications and presentations on the situation in the various countries of the sub-region.
In Senegal, as in the other countries in the sub-region, women make up 52% of the population and 51% of the electorate yet they are marginalised in areas of decision-making at all levels. Aware of this, the RNFRS decided to draw up an analysis of the situation in four rural areas of the country. The results of this participatory research, presented at the workshop, confirmed that overall women are indeed under-represented in decision-making bodies. The article on page x provides more details of this survey.
Awa Guèye, a lawyer specialising in local government law and gender, examined the legislation and the access that women have to decision-making spheres in the context of the decentralisation process in Senegal. She showed that, with the legal framework in place and the reform proposals that have been put forward, the proportion of women in the local authorities should increase at the next local elections. However, to meet this objective, women will have to mobilise en masse and assert their right to equality.
Siga Fatima Jagne © Dimitra
Siga Fatima Jagne, from the Pro-Poor Advocacy Group, took the Gambian experience as a basis for presenting strategies for boosting rural women's participation in decision-making bodies. It is important to build women's capacities not only through legislation but also at the economic level: a woman who is economically independent will have fewer difficulties playing a role in public life and taking part in decision-making and will also be able to advocate for equal rights.
To increase their production and therefore their power, rural women - most of whom work in agriculture - must have access to resources for production, meaning land first and foremost. Therefore, one key strategy to improve their lot is to fight for their rights to land. Thought also needs to be put into relieving women of some of their work burden so that they can have some free time to get involved in other activities.
Education (including functional literacy) is another key strategy for getting rural women involved in the decision-making process. There has to be female capacity building in fields such as leadership and management. They must learn to have confidence in themselves and dare to express their opinion in front of men.
The government needs to recognise the contribution that rural women make to the economy and the role that they can and must play in decision-making at national level. Politically, they need to be given support to be elected, not appointed. Finally, men must also be involved in this dialogue, as they have to realise that sharing power is important.
The Groupement Féminin de Benkadi pour la promotion de la femme rurale (Benkadi Women's Group for the Advancement of Rural Women) is involved in building women's organisational and practical capacities, promoting income-generating activities and fighting illiteracy. To strengthen rural women's participation in political decision-making, Benkadi decided to organise training programmes for its members and to join the Union des Femmes de la Région Ouest Africaine et du Tchad (UFROAT - Union of Rural Women of West Africa and Chad).
UFROAT, which was represented at the workshop by its President Ira Haoua, and the Réseau d'Appui à la Citoyenneté des Femmes Rurales de la Région Ouest Africaine et du Tchad (RESACIFROAT - Support Network for Citizenship of Rural Women from West Africa and Chad), represented by its President Rosalie Ouaba, want to be unifying frameworks for rural women, promoting exchanges between them at national and sub-regional levels.
Mbalou Fofana Sylla, from the Association Guinéenne pour la Promotion de l'Agriculture Biologique (Guinean Association for Promoting Organic Farming), talked about the mechanisms put in place by Guinea to improve the representation of women in society. The political will to boost women's role is expressed in the declarations by authorities at all levels. However, despite the regulatory and legal provisions, women continue to be victims of discrimination - something which manifests itself in their marginalisation when it comes to participating in public life.
While attention is being paid to rural women in advancement and support policies, their marginalisation is reinforced by poor development of their role as an economic player, lack of knowledge and illiteracy, poverty, the weight of their household burden, a lack of involvement by the government, and so on. Despite the primary role that rural women play in ensuring food security, and although they are key figures in finding solutions for development problems, their contribution remains undervalued in the strategies that seek to further this development.
Communication, freedom of action and material and financial independence can help rural women achieve their potential. Moreover, if women were to enjoy the same opportunities and resources as men, they could prove that they are effective and dynamic and essential partners in the development of their lands.
Despite the important role they have in political life, the level of representation of women in Mali's decision-making bodies remains very low. Women are seen as voters rather than candidates for election themselves. Yet equal democratic rights can only be achieved through a balanced proportion of men and women on electoral lists. This political objective is currently a central demand of the women's associations in Mali, but unfortunately a draft law setting a quota of 30% women on all electoral lists was rejected by the National Assembly.
Mah Keita Tamboura, president of the Association Sigui te Mogo Son and chair of the council of the district of Koulikoro, spoke about her professional and political journey. The lessons she learned from her experiences were that women need to know their roles and responsibilities in terms of local development and have to fight hard for their cause.
As in the other countries, there are a number of constraints that hold back rural women's advancement in Niger: sociocultural pressures, an unequal distribution of roles and responsibilities in the division of labour, inequality of access to economic opportunities (land, paid employment, etc.), a discriminatory differentiation of rights and duties between men and women, and so on.
These factors explain the low rate of female representation and participation in decision-making bodies and rural development policies. Legally there is no discrimination on the basis of gender which prevents them from taking up positions of responsibility on an equal footing with men, and some progress has been made (for instance, the adoption of a law on quotas). And yet women continue to be under-represented or even completely absent from political decision-making bodies and elections.
The NGO VIE Kande Ni Bayra, which was represented at the workshop by Daouda Mounkaïla, is active in the field of basic education and adult training. In terms of rural women and their participation in decision-making bodies, its activities focus on the synergy between literacy centres for women and community radio stations; training illiterate municipal councillors; providing guidance for community organisations; and building rural women's capacities through community extension work sessions.
Group discussions: pinpointing barriers facing women and strategies to adopt
Following these presentations, the participants discussed barriers and strategies to adopt in the economic, political, sociocultural and legal spheres.
The discussions on barriers underlined the ones identified during the presentations. The most significant obstacles are:
- sociocultural: problems of access to land, women's low level of education and/or literacy, insufficient awareness of women's rights and duties; lack of access to information; women's heavy work-load;
- economic: inadequate resources, means of production and processing, training in technical activities and business administration;
- political: women's low level of economic power; their lack of self-confidence; the insufficient training and information provided to them; their ignorance of the electoral process and the rights and duties of citizenship;
- legal: women's lack of knowledge of the details of laws and agreements and recourse if their rights are violated; the lack of commitment by decision-makers; and poorly organised structures.
Then the working groups drew up a number of strategies to remedy the situation:
- sociocultural: access to equipment relieving women of some of their household work burden; raising women's awareness of their rights (to land, etc.) and providing women with information about these rights; supporting women's groups; organising women such that they have access to information; improving women's literacy and promoting schooling of girls; programmes to train women leaders in the areas of lobbying, leadership and organisational management, communication techniques and negotiation;
- economic: putting in place a local and sub-regional consultation forum to stimulate exchanges of products and experiences; mobilisation of resources to fund women's economic activities; encouraging female entrepreneurship and family farms; creating an environment favourable to economic development;
- political: training women leaders and raising their awareness of relevant matters; improving female solidarity; putting pressure for women's rights on religious and political leaders; setting up networks/consultation forums on the issues surrounding women's participation in decision-making bodies; choosing female candidates based on their skills; boosting women's economic power;
- legal: training grassroots female paralegals; promoting the establishment of legal structures at local level; repackaging legislative and religious texts on women's rights, translating them into local languages and disseminating them to rural communities; introducing legal topics into literacy lessons.
At the end of the workshop, a number of general recommendations were also drawn up. For instance, on returning home all the participants should share the workshop's discussions, experiences and recommendations with his or her organisation and community; enlarging the RNFRS in Senegal and setting up a rural women's network in West Africa.
For the presentations of the Mbour workshop, click here (French only)