P. BIFANI, CONSULTANT,
Women in Development Service, FAO
EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES ARE A FUNDAMENTAL part of Costa Rican policy, but many of the programmes to which women have access are not able to develop and improve women's standard of living. Gender considerations are rarely taken into account in development policies, plans and programmes for mixed farming, in spite of the efforts of various government and non-governmental entities to promote equality of opportunities.
To address these problems, in 1995, the Government of Costa Rica with the technical and financial aid of FAO decided to carry out a project called Support to Women in Rural Areas within the Framework of a Gender Approach. The project was carried out in the region of Huetar Atlantica between May 1996 and July 1997.
Huetar Atlantica was chosen as a pilot area because it suffers from accelerated environmental and socio-economic deterioration, which can be seen in the low sanitary, educational and general service levels of the region and its population, and in the scarce participation of both women and men in production organization (Madden, 1997).
The project aimed at supporting, reinforcing and encouraging efforts to introduce a gender-based approach to policy-making and strategic planning in the mixed farming sector. The Women Ministry Office (WMO) and the Women Sector Office (WSO), both of which had been created by the government as part of its earlier attempts to improve the living standards of rural women, gave substantial support to the programme. Directors from these agencies were present during the entire process, participating at each stage and forming stable and highly motivated work teams, which were a great help to the success and continuity of the project's activities. The teams were able to establish useful links with grassroots groups and high- and medium-level technical and administrative sectors.
While the project was starting, important transformations in Costa Rica where helping to modernize the economy. In the mixed farming and environmental sectors, institutional structures where gradually being adapted to new production demands, and there was a will to coordinate across the different levels and sub sectors of these areas. Integration of services and decentralization of institutions were among the most significant of the new measures taken. These made it easier for the project to operate at the regional level because local personnel were able to act in coordination and had greater contact with the bases and headquarters. People were willing to coordinate because they could see that participatory mechanisms and the direct involvement of farmers were valuable elements in the productive process. The project had to carry out sensitization activities and gender training; produce and validate the corresponding material; and define objectives and actions to further the integration of gender issues into the sector's guidelines.
Actions that complemented one another were fostered. For example, gender sensitization and training was carried out at the same time as the organizational and development plan was being drawn up, and this had a subsequent effect on policy formulation. Work was carried out at several levels (local, regional and national), which helped to identify and share problems as they occurred, and a variety of social actors participated at each stage throughout the process.
In the 1950s, Costa Rica began to develop a socio-economic and political base that raised the living conditions of its inhabitants and make the country one of the highest-ranking, in terms of standard of living, in Latin America. The per caput gross domestic product (GDP) increased from 144 000 colones in 1989, to 394 000 colones in 1994. Economic growth of more than 5 percent in 1986 and 1987, fostered by international trends, led to the expansion of the non-traditional export sector and the development of new export markets (EIU, 1995: 18-19).
Costa Rican society is characterized by political stability and a high level of social justice. A clause in the national Constitution, in force since 1949, forbids the establishment of an army.
In the educational field, Costa Rica has a high literacy level, reaching 94 percent in 1993, and surpassing Latin American averages. This figure, however, hides literacy levels that are lower than 30 percent among some sectors of the population.
Even though Costa Rica has achieved significant social and economic improvements, there are still acute regional disparities and severe social inequalities. The most important of these are inequalities in the distribution of income and land. The richest 20 percent of families receive more than 50 percent of the country's income, while the poorest 20 percent earn scarcely 5 percent (EIU, 1995: 16). With regard to land distribution, in 1984, 2.9 percent of the total number of farms (i.e. farms of more than 200 ha) covered 47 percent of the country's agricultural land, while 59.9 percent (i.e. the percentage of farms of less than 10 ha) covered only 5.4 percent of the entire mixed farming area (Rural Development Programme, 1994: p. 40).
Half of the population lives in Costa Rica's central valley and, specifically, in the large metropolitan area of San José, which attracts a lot of internal migration (FAO, 1996). Public investments and basic services are concentrated in the central region. In fact, none of the other areas receive more than 50 percent of the budget allocated to the central region (Rural Development Programme, 1994).
The poverty rate has diminished from 55 percent, in the early 1980s, to between 18 and 22 percent in more recent years. Recent massive increases in income levels have not, however, benefited the most vulnerable sections of the population. Causes of poverty include problems related to employment and earnings. In 1993, 33 percent of the total employed population earned less than the established minimum wage and, among employed women in rural areas, the figure was as much as 60 percent, with only about 34 percent of employed rural women being paid a little more than the minimum (FAO, 1996: 2-3).
Income inequalities and other imbalances, together with the worldwide economic crisis and structural adjustment programmes, have compounded poverty conditions, especially among rural families. Three-quarters of the country's poor reside in rural areas, especially in areas with a high proportion of black, native and farming communities where there is more amalgamation and extensive use of the land; 50 percent of the people in such areas live in squalor (Rural Development Programme, 1994: 19). About 22 to 23 percent of all poor families are headed by women, which means that there are between 35 000 and 47 000 poor woman-headed households (Mideplan, 1993).
Natural resources are the basis of the Costa Rican economy. During the last decade, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishing have generated about 20 percent of GDP, 28 percent of employment and 67 percent of exports (FAO, 1996). Costa Rica has a territory of 5.18 million ha, 3.5 million ha of which is used for mixed farming production (Rural Development Programme, 1994). Some 55.9 percent of the population lives in rural areas and is involved, directly or indirectly, in mixed farming activities. Subsistence production is practised in areas where edaphic or climatic limitations prevent the development of commercial farming and decrease the capacity of producers to guarantee their own food needs throughout the year (FAO, 1996: 34).
Costa Rica has rich biodiversity, but is facing an alarming environmental crisis, mainly as a result of deforestation. In 1940, forests covered an estimated 70 percent of the country's territory, now they cover only 30 percent, implying a loss of more than 50 percent in five decades. Not surprisingly, the lumber and livestock industries are among the most significant deforesting agents (FAO, 1996: 33-35).
Over the past couple of decades, Costa Rica has been going through a period of unprecedented instability, which has had a negative impact on the development process that had characterized the national economy until the 1980s. The mixed farming sector was seriously affected by the economic crisis of 1979 to 1982 and by the stabilization and structural adjustment strategies fostered since 1983. At the same time, the conflict in Central America has had negative consequences for regional trade.
The country reacted to these changes by adopting a Productive Reconversion Programme for the mixed farming sector (NPC, 1995; SEPSA, 1996). If Costa Rica were to be integrated into the global economy, it needed to modernize its productive system and direct production towards those goods best traded in the world market. As part of this process, the government changed its paternalistic, interventionist role into a policy of cooperation in which farmers' groups have the main roles in decision-making and in the economic development of the sector. One of the objectives is for small rural farmers, both men and women, to increase productivity so that they can face the challenges of competition and contribute to a better standard of living. The agricultural sector can then be extended and integrated with agricultural industry, commercialization and other sectors.
The competitiveness of agricultural production depends on the quantity, quality and biodiversity of natural resources, on technological improvement and management training and on modernized institutions. The Productive Reconversion Programme adheres to the principles of Agenda 21 by taking a political approach that is committed to sustainable development.
The process takes account of farmers' participation as a development tool, making farmers the participants in activities that lead to self-managing development. Public institutions, therefore, assume the role of facilitators and guides in the development of agricultural production and, for this, there is a need to "increase institutional efficiency in the attention given to producers (and women producers)" (MAL, 1997).
The new challenge to the humanist ideology that guides Costa Rican economic and social development is to promote social solidarity and integration through equality of opportunities and incorporation of the gender dimension into agrarian and environmental policy (Orlich, 1998).
Previous initiatives in favour of women were characterized by a marked urban bias. Such initiatives were first institutionalized in 1975 with the creation of the Women's Office which became the National Women and Family Office in 1979 and the National Centre for the Development of Women and the Family in 1986.
The Law of Promotion for Real Equality for Women, of March 1990, gave women small-scale producers more possibilities of obtaining land. The Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women1 establishes, in Article 14, the right of women to "receive equal treatment under the agrarian reform and resettling plans". In 1994, the government established an institutional base to take care of the needs of rural women through the creation of women's offices (WMO and WSO) within the mixed farming sector.
At the Beijing Conference on Women, Costa Rica adhered to the Action Platform with a Plan for Equality of Opportunities for Women and Men, centred mainly on urban problems. Reference to rural women was made only in the sections: Economic world and employment, and Gender and environment. These deficiencies, together with the poverty of women farmers, especially in households headed by women, and the productive reconversion process which the country is undergoing, led to a reconsideration of the problem. Research work carried out for, among others, IICA/BID, highlighted the underrepresentation of women's employment in the sector and the undervaluation of the activities that they carry out. Several studies show women's contribution to the production of basic grains and food security, their roles in harvesting and post-harvesting activities, and their roles as paid labour in non-traditional export crops.
In June 1997, political concern to incorporate the gender perspective into guidelines for the mixed farming and environmental sectors led to the creation of the Gender Unit in the Mixed Farming and Sector Planning Executive Secretariat (SEPSA), which became the managing entity for gender policies in the mixed farming sector. The same function is assumed in the environmental sector by WMO.
It is interesting to note that until 1997, official documentation referred to "rural farmers" as a homogenous group, grouping women and men producers together without referring specifically to women.
The change of language appeared in the revised and adjusted mixed farming sector policies of May 1997, which give special emphasis to redirecting policies that responded to the needs of men and women producers in the sector. Specifically, the policies point out the importance of "contributing to the decrease of rural poverty through total incorporation of men and women agricultural producers into the economy by applying differentiated policies with gender perspective" (SEPSA, 1997: Policies).
Self-management policies promoted by productive reconversion and its emphasis on grassroots organizations through "the active participation of men producers, women producers and farmer organizations in the definition of policies and the identification, execution, follow-up and control of the actions" (SEPSA, 1997: Policies), open up new spaces for women producers. Conquest and consolidation of these spaces are based on the capability and possibility of women farmers to organize and form part of existing organizations. Moreover, opportunities to improve productivity and encourage the development of women increase not only when women have access and control of available productive resources, but also when they participate in those activities considered the most profitable by the reconversion plan. The proposal reports, on which this case study is based, make recommendations about both these issues.
Finally, it is worth emphasizing that the improvement of rural women's living conditions was part of the commitment assumed by Costa Rica when it adhered to the Beijing Platform, which recommended the incorporation of gender equality into all public policies. This commitment affects not only women's sectors or groups, but the whole population, as various political forces, civil society organizations and government organisms converge to ensure its sustainability (CMF, 1997).
Women's contribution to agriculture has been systematically ignored and undervalued both in Costa Rica and in the rest of the Latin America and Caribbean region, with the result that gender issues have not been given enough attention in planning of the agricultural sector. Furthermore, even though the need to include the gender dimension has been acknowledged, the motivation and training of technical personnel at the institutions involved, the theoretical and conceptual knowledge of the gender issue and the methodological and operational tools used have been insufficient or inadequate to obtain the desired results and effects. At the political level, incorporation of the gender dimension into sector guidelines has been aimed at, but lack of gender-disaggregated statistics in household census and surveys has been an obstacle for the planning and formulation of policies and, in turn, has increased the undervaluation of women's activities in the sector.
Unfortunately, the institutional strategies and mechanisms adopted by the government have not produced substantial changes in the attitudes of executives and technical staff, nor have they generated greater and more equitable participation of women in the new productive scenario.
In fact, from the viewpoint of rural women, as at least one study points out (Campos, 1996), in spite of their increased occupational opportunities, women have not participated at all in economic, social and political life. Moreover, women small-scale producers have not had real access to training, research and technological processes in the mixed farming sector.
These shortcomings led the Government of Costa Rica to undertake the project Support to Women Producers in the Rural Area within the Framework of a Gender Approach (the MAL/FAO/GENDER project), which provided the technical and financial support necessary to strengthen the productive role of rural women and to improve their living conditions.
THE MAIN OBJECTIVE OF THE MAL/FAO/GENDER project was to promote the introduction and development of a new methodological approach, called the "gender approach", within the guidelines, policies, programmes and activities of the mixed farming and environmental sectors. To achieve this end, the national agents involved worked with project personnel to create adequate strategic and operational tools. The following are some of the most noteworthy of the actions followed:
The various project components generated their own dynamics and results and were integrated with, and provided feedback to, each other.
The execution of three main lines of activity (see table below) facilitated the joint and coordinated work of the relevant institutions and permitted the participation of both sector personnel and farmers' groups. The former acquired new sensitivity and knowledge regarding the problems of gender and the latter achieved more space in which to plan and manage development projects, empowering themselves as a consequence of their organizational capacity and access to the decision-making spheres.
Main components, activities and aims of the project
ACTIVITIES AND AIMS
Training of human resources
Sensitizing, motivating and training technical and administrative personnel, as well as farmers, on gender issues.
Strengthening of grassroots groups and the institutional system
Adopting a gender perspective at all levels of the sector.
Revision of policies
Identifying problems and indicating actions, measures and institutional mechanisms to solve them.
Correcting the differential impact of policies on men and women, through proposals sensitive to the differences of gender.
Revision of policies was centred on two interrelated issues: monitoring of the policies already in force to provide recommendations on how to incorporate the gender approach into sector guidelines; and strengthening of institutions so that the recommended measures and mechanisms could be adopted.
The first initiative was to define targets and the actions that would achieve them. The main objective was to improve women's access to and control of production resources, by establishing conditions of equality, competitiveness, efficiency and sustainability. The proposed measures aimed at acknowledging and valuing women farmers' work, overcoming a series of ideological and institutional obstacles that, in general, limited access to and control of resources.
Ways of creating or reinforcing institutional structures that benefit gender equality were identified during the second initiative, taking advantage of readjustments to the institutional system that were already under way. Gender-sensitive planning is based on the participation of women farmers in all the sector's organizational and decision-making institutions. The measures were aimed at overcoming the verticality of the planning system and its gender bias, favouring feedback from farmers in general and rural women in particular.
The new approach taken by Costa Rica, and by other similar initiatives in other countries throughout the region, represents a change from traditional approaches to the issues of gender and development. This change is not reflected as much in the processes themselves as in the way in which they are carried out. The processes can be summed up as sensitization, training, formulation of policies, and strengthening of the institutional capability of the organisms involved. The methodology adopted a cross-cutting approach that gave gender issues institutional support and incorporated them into all the social dynamics of the country. This new approach is more global and integral than the traditional one, which addresses individual problems in isolation.
The new methodology is more relevant for the following reasons:
It could be proposed that the incorporation of the gender dimension into the structure and dynamics of an ongoing process has a potentially greater impact than the partial treatment of specific problems. Obviously, the validity of any new approach must be verified after sufficient time has passed between the process of sensitization, training and formulation of recommendations and the process of adoption and consolidation of measures and actions.
The theory behind the new approach is based on the fact that the gender dimension, when inserted into the sector's strategic guidelines, becomes part of an integral development plan, which benefits all of the plan's short-, medium- and long-term targets and objectives. Integration also makes it possible to evaluate the achievements and difficulties of an approach within a given time-span. The gender dimension becomes an element of the whole system instead of being an addition to or separate part of it.
In addition, the introduction of gender perspectives into sector guidelines makes them become a strategic issue that can bring about substantial changes to the structure of the entire socio-economic system. When gender issues are dealt with systemically they become part of an interrelated and coherent whole in which economic, political, social and environmental issues interact and affect each other. An this is beneficial to the strengthening of gender issues.
The following additional actions aim at increasing women's participation and equality of conditions:
THE PROJECT WAS BASED ON A FAO MISSION and field trip to the Huetar Atlantica region in Costa Rica in April 1996. During the mission, several women's organizations and farmer's groups were consulted to generate community support for the project. To carry out and manage the project, a Gender Planning Committee was formed with representatives from the institutions of the mixed farming and environmental (MINAE) sectors. At this stage, decisions were made about the executive structure of the project, the levels of decision-making and the communityparticipation in the diagnostic, sensitization and training processes.
A national three-part body, made up of SEPSA, the direction of the region's Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) and the Women's Ministry Office (representing the WMO and WSO of the Mixed Farming Sector), facilitated decision-making by consensus and participation of the various actors from the sectors involved. Institutional management of the project was completed by the government's designation of a national project Coordinator from the MAL Women's Ministerial Office, who was supported by the groups of women and men farmers involved. This led to the establishment of the Atlantic Women Farmers' Branch as part of the National Association of Women Farmers.
The National Consultant on Gender coordinated the diagnostic, sensitization and organization activities of the training teams and performed the role of trainer with the support of two instructors/facilitators and a team of trainers on gender, formed and trained to support the execution of the project.
The men and women officials from the Agrarian Development Institute (ADI), MAL and the National Production Council (NPC), who were present in the Huetar Atlantica Region, integrated the training team. The team took an active role in the development and diffusion of a gender approach among their reference groups, in both the communities (grassroots agricultural centres [CABs], cantonal boards and producers' associations) and institutions. The team's direct and daily contact with the communities, together with the participatory dynamics prevailing in CAB strategy, helped them to communicate and strengthen the project's strategies and techniques. One of the major achievements of this process was the formation of a motivated team linked to all levels of the mixed farming system.
The formation of a professional team was backed by the FAO representative in Costa Rica who authorized the designation of two national trainers: one who had experience in participatory methodologies and one who was a communicator.
The team of trainers assumed the following tasks:
The groups and the National Consultant on Gender adopted a methodology of "learning while doing".
Before training started, a survey was made to determine how much the institutions to be trained already knew about gender and development. The survey tested the feasibility of an initiative of this nature in the mixed farming sector and the practicality of providing permanent support to the project. It also identified the training needs of the community groups and the institutions of the mixed farming and environmental sectors in the Huetar Atlantica region.
Three different types of training workshops were carried out. The first type aimed at sensitizing participants to gender inequalities; the second provided a series of tools for applying the concept of gender to development projects; and the third revolved around development strategies that had a gender perspective.
As a result of their joint efforts, the members of the project's planning team, who also participated in organizing project events, developed the following tools and reference material for the training groups:
The materials were validated during the training of officials (the sensitisation phase) and the training of women leaders. This phase was completed by a process of project diffusion to the authorities and communities.
Training teams then applied the knowledge they had acquired at the workshops to fieldwork. Additional workshops or working sessions on on-site technical assistance were held in the communities where MAL, ADI and NPC extension workers operated in each of the cantons within the project area. The interdisciplinary, interinstitutional and intersector groups that participated at these sessions had the opportunity of exchanging experiences, doubts and fears during the gender training. WMO/WSO coordinators attended the on-site technical assistance working sessions, where they were able to evaluate the achievements and difficulties experienced by the training teams in the adoption of the gender approach.
This experience had several important results. For example, by working together, regional directors and training teams were better able to express doubts, evaluate problems and conceive solutions. Committed regional directors actively supported the project by, for instance, incorporating the gender dimension into the operational plans of each of the institutions involved.
Another major achievement was the generation of gender-disaggregated statistics. These brought out a series of phenomena that had not been noted before, such as women's limited demand for the services usually offered by institutions. Awareness of this particular problem led to reformulation of certain strategies and the creation of women's and mixed CABs, or other communal associations, to encourage women's participation in CABs.
Systems and methodologies for gathering gender analysis material were established through a training course on socio-economic gender analysis for extension workers held by FAO and other UN agencies. The 27 officials who attended this two-week event were selected on the basis of their experience of gender participation in CABs, their organizational activities and their demonstrated commitment to adopting a gender approach in extension work at the community level.
Strengthening the negotiation capabilities of women is likely to make it easier to introduce and develop the gender approach in policies, programmes and projects. Activities aimed at this end included organization of workshops, mapping of groups and development resources, establishment of grassroots groups and training of women leaders.
Three workshops were held to help women to understand the important implications of project organization, identification and management on their families. Around 80 women from the Limón province and Sarpiqui canton were contacted by extension workers to attend the workshops which were on:
After they had received management and negotiations training, more than 80 women from the region organized the Atlantic Women's Branch with the support and participation of agricultural institutions (MAL, ADI, PDR and NPC).
The women in each canton identified their problems (ranging from lack of basic infrastructure to illiteracy and unemployment), found that they had many in common with other cantons and started to become aware of their potentials, resources and skills.
Each canton group prepared its own plan of action, while the MAL/FAO/Gender Project, with the help of an ADI facilitator and a promoter from the Rural Development Programme, took charge of project systematization. Local representatives and authorities were consulted to check the feasibility of the plans, and financial, training and technical assistance support was sought.
At this point, a second branch, the North Women Farmers' Branch, was organized. Both branches were guided and supported by the National Association of Women Producers, which was established in 1996 with the objective of representing women farmers' interests throughout the country, favouring their access to development resources and services (land, technical assistance, credit and organization).
Even though the action plans have not yet received the expected financial support, the women's and the farmers' groups have acquired a new capacity for negotiation and are realizing their potential for collective work to achieve common ends.
With the support of the Arias Foundation, an inventory was carried out of women's groups throughout the country and the government and non-governmental resources that these groups can count on to carry out their projects. The National Association of Women Producers helped to prepare a questionnaire to be answered by women's and mixed groups in rural areas. A total of 186 completed questionnaires were returned, and the information on these is being processed.
It was decided that a strategy centred on communication would contribute to the empowerment of rural women through the appraisal and adaptation of traditional educational, social and extension models. The essential issues of this strategy were put into practice in a workshop on communication for participation and equality in the mixed farming sector, directed by 20 extension workers from the Planning and Training Committee on Gender of the Huetar Atlantica region. One-day discussion workshops were also held by school teachers in the area.
Finally, the training plan was revised on the basis of the training material prepared during the project and taking into consideration the opinions and experiences of the extension workers trained in socio-economic gender analysis approaches. The topics were organized into three modules, and there was also a guide for the facilitator. Modules were validated by sector representatives in the Atlantica region, who had working experience of the implementation of the gender approach throughout communities.
At the beginning of the third stage, which aimed at incorporating gender policies, a detailed examination of policy guidelines was made, including the targeting, measures, mechanisms, tools and institutional arrangements that regulate the actions and services of the mixed farming and environmental sectors.
The revision involved more than 30 documents (Bifani, 1997), ranging from the National Development Plan to the operational plans and strategic guidelines of each of the institutions of the sectors involved. Those responsible for the policies were interviewed.
Documentation related to the status of women farmers in Costa Rica and the Central American region was also revised, since it served as a reference framework for analysis and a basis for subsequent recommendations. This activity permitted the identification of problems faced by women farmers regarding access and control of productive resources, comparison of figures and formulation of general theories. A clear analysis of the sector's policies was derived from this process and the sector's existing consideration of women farmers was identified. This analytic framework formed the basis for the sensitization and reflection process that followed.
An analysis of the gender implications of sector policies in force was made through workshops, consultations and discussion meetings with groups and farmers' associations, regional technical personnel, SEPSA, MINAE, NPC, PDR and ADI central offices, NGOs, municipal heads and officials, extension workers and, finally, grassroots groups. Consultations and discussions were held throughout the entire process and were centred on gathering information for policy guidelines, gender problems, policies and development; documentation of the ongoing process; and identification of relevant themes and specific proposals.
Direct work with communal groups in the various project areas was particularly relevant. It made it possible to obtain information about men and women farmers' personal experiences of living conditions, activities and organizational processes which, in turn, led to the identification of demands, resources and obstacles. In fact, the central axis of Costa Rica's new productive scenario is organization of grassroots groups.
Discussion of policy guidelines with technical teams working at the local level was of particular interest. The diversity of working experiences and interests among the different teams involved highlighted the existing links among various services in the mixed farming sector and the specific potential demands and needs of rural men and women to carry out their activities.
Consultation workshops on the role of gender in such areas as marketing, the agricultural industry, land, technology, extension, training, rural financing and natural resources were held with the mixed farming public sector, with whom proposals for gender strategies for agricultural policy-planning were analysed and discussed.
The workshops had the following objectives:
Each workshop followed a similar working programme which consisted of the following elements:
At the end of the Stage 3 a proposal for strategic guidelines that incorporate the gender approach into the sector's policies was drawn up.
The information gathered throughout the previous processes was analysed and organized and the proposed measures were discussed and revised with the institutions responsible for gender planning at the sector (SEPSA, 1996: 5) and national (CMF) levels. The actors involved formed an interdisciplinary work team to analyse and reformulate, when necessary, the objectives, measures and designation of responsibilities.
Sector policy-makers, together with other decision-making institutions, helped to validate proposals for incorporating the gender dimension into the sector's operational, long- and short-term plans.
IT IS STILL TOO SOON TO EVALUATE THE sustainability of the work, but policy recommendations and the plan for institutional strengthening are being consolidated into the sector's guidelines. In addition, an official document is currently being prepared in which deadlines are stipulated for compliance with its objectives. Farmers' groups, especially women's and mixed groups, have become more forceful, and are making more demands for the services they require. Much has been achieved, but this is only the beginning of a long process that requires follow-up and continuity.
It is difficult to determine which is the best entry point for promoting the incorporation of the gender dimension into sectors involved. Work at various levels - local, regional and national - and the participation all the relevant social groups - farmers' groups, officials, executives, etc. - were particularly effective.
The entry point was selected on the basis of feedback and sharing of experiences among the various levels, starting with the premise that a bottom-up approach was unlikely to be successful, especially with regard to women farmers. Communication had, therefore, to be reinforced by establishing lines of communication and increasing the flow of information among different levels, strengthening the different groups' participation in decision-making processes and, finally, improving the organizational capacity of the farmers', especially women's, groups.
From a methodological point of view, strategic recommendations did not start with "what to do" but with "how to do it" within the context of ongoing institutional restructuring and productive transformation. The "what to do" process, i.e. precise guidance on how to incorporate the gender perspective into the sector's actions, came as a second stage.
From the first stages of the project, and particularly during the workshops, it became clear that, while most of the services offered to men and women did not explicitly discriminate on the basis of gender, far more men than women were demanding them. Discussion and reflection on this issue showed that the obstacles to obtaining and controlling services were caused more by lack of demand than lack of supply. It is possible that gender stereotyping, tradition and a lack of knowledge about institutional mechanisms conditioned the demand and access of women to services and resources. Limitations at the supply level, which were initially denied by the sector's officials, were also brought to light during the group discussions on policy guidelines and institutional mechanisms. It was observed, for example, that the specification of men as heads of household frequently prevented women from demanding and obtaining certain services and that access to credit was conditional on a guarantee based on land or other goods, which women do not often own. Once this situation had been identified, it became possible to eliminate some of the obstacles to supporting women's role as productive agents. Factors and mechanisms that condition both the offer and supply of services were studied at the beginning of the project during the workshops and discussions with grassroots groups.
The methodology used during the project was derived from the socio-economic gender analysis approach. This decision was based on the following motivations and needs:
The effectiveness of the very diverse working tools used during the process was mutually reinforced. Among the tools used, the following are particularly worthy of note:
The capabilities of institutions and farmers' groups must be strengthened before the gender perspective can be introduced and consolidated within a sector's guidelines. This made the training of human resources one of the project's main objectives. Executives and technicians from the sector's planning institutions, regional personnel, extension workers and farmers' groups were sensitized and trained. The following are the most important features of this training:
The process had to produce horizontal and vertical multiplying effects. Horizontal multiplying meant that extension workers and technicians involved and trained an increasing number of people in gender perspective. Vertical multiplying meant that the different knowledge and experiences were fed back through links created among the various actors. Farmers' experience of gender issues had to be communicated to high- and medium-level decision-makers, to indicate their needs and guide policy formulation, while planners' and technicians' supply and provision of services, and formulation of policies had to be transparent and adapted to farmers', particularly women farmers', needs.
It should not be assumed that the multiplying effect has its own momentum and that the training of a few individuals automatically implied the training of a specific group or community. This effect had to be helped along by the creation of institutional mechanisms that favour the horizontal and vertical transmission of knowledge and experiences. Various significant lessons were learned from this experience. First, it was found that training cannot be given in isolation, but requires continuity through frequent workshops and specific events that establish their own routine, deadlines, etc.
Second, it was observed that the process becomes meaningful when the knowledge acquired is put into context within the daily and professional activities of each of the individuals concerned. This experience element should be analysed in subsequent training sessions and, when relevant, integrated into the overall body of knowledge.
Finally, the need to take into account the ways in which gender stereotypes vary according to the sphere in which they are manifested was demonstrated.
Most of the farms on which Costa Rican women work cover fewer than 10 ha. They are usually owner-occupied and registered under the name of the woman's husband or common-law companion. Access to land is scarce - in the ADI programme's 25 years of existence, only 11.8 percent of the beneficiaries have been women who have been assigned about 16.4 percent of the total hectares (IICA/BID, 1995). Women farmers have very limited access to credit - according to the Rural Credit Department of the Costa Rica National Bank, of the 8 000 credits granted, only 20 went to women and, of these, only ten were used by those who requested them (the remaining ten were legalized in the name of a woman to be used by a man) (IICA/BID, 1995). Extension and training programmes are generally aimed at men who are considered the heads of families. The extension and training model used is targeted to the main activities of the productive unit, leaving aside other activities that contribute to the family income, such as orchards and the handling of small livestock, generally done by women. In spite of their participation in all stages of mixed farming production, women are not generally involved in the commercialisation process.
Sector planners' and technicians' lack of information on gender distorts the planning process and confuses the debate on rural development. It is interesting to note that, across the region, there is enough research experience on the subject to support the reconsideration of gender stereotypes in the light of empirical data. Within the scope of the project, a document was prepared to serve as basic material for discussion in the gender and policy workshop. The contents of that document regarded the fundamental role played by women in multiple activities, and the under valuation of women's agricultural work, among other issues.
The principal role played by women farmers in small-scale agricultural production has traditionally been undervalued, and this is reflected in its underrecording in official statistics. As well as their domestic and communal activities, rural women usually work in family orchards and smallholdings (subsistence, animal breeding and commercial). They participate in farm tasks (as part of the family, self-employment or paid workforce) and in agricultural production. They engage in paid activities in non-traditional export industries and perform non-agricultural work in rural areas.
Women are the mainstay of the survival of farmer economies. Through their many tasks, women help to overcome the problems caused by lowered salaries, price rises in basic foodstuffs and decreases in global per caput income. The main strategies in this are diversification of production and income sources, production for self-consumption, family and communal solidarity and incorporation of the family labour force into farm production (IICA/BID, 1996).
Women play a significant role in the production of basic grains, which are the basis of food security, contributing 34 percent of the energy and 38 percent of the protein intake of the Costa Rican diet (SEPSA). Small-scale producers, both men and women, provide 73 percent of maize production, 70 percent of bean production and 14 percent of rice production (IICA/BID, 1996).
Decreases in the production and commercialisation of basic grains and the deterioration of grain producing areas have led women to take more active roles in the paid workforce. In recent decades, this option has been encouraged by the commercial development of non-traditional products (ornamental plants, flowers, tubers, roots, fruits and vegetables). Although these non-traditional crops have increased women's chances of finding paid work, they have not created a real possibility for the insertion of women into the new productive scheme, owing to the demands of investment and technology. With regard to the production of non-traditional goods, farmer units have limited themselves to root and tuber crops which adapt themselves better to productive possibilities and do not demand farm specialization (IICA/BID, 1996).
The project was strongly oriented towards participation. Throughout the process, all the actors involved (men and women farmers, technicians and planners) worked closely together and carried out simultaneous activities at different levels. Within this context, the methodology and tools used (consultation, workshops, interviews and group work) facilitated and promoted the establishment of the links shown in the table below.
Links created by the project
MECHANISM, STRATEGY OR ACTIVITY
The joint work agenda
Among the various organisms of the sector, both in the Huetar Atlantica region and with other WSO offices in the institutions and planning areas concerned.
Sensitization and training of the social actors to create dialogue and cooperation technicians at various organizations.
Among the informal groups of women farmers, farmers' organizations in the work area, CABs and regional technicians at various organizations.
Consultations, seminars, courses and team work
Among those in charge of sector and gender policy.
Identification of problems and proposal of objectives and development targets, translated into a women farmers' regional association
Among women's groups from various communities and municipalities of the Huetar Atlantica region.
Search for and establishment of institutional links
Among the academy, the NGOs, women and men farmers' organizations, unions and municipalities; feedback channelled towards the project's objectives.
The incorporation of the gender approach into the mixed farming and environmental sectors must be institutionalised so that the achievements already made can be consolidated and sustained. The project benefited from the institutional restructuring and modernization of the mixed farming sector that was under way in Costa Rica at the time. It was also helped by various actions that provided feedback for one another.
The government adopted reforms and strategies, which were subsequently supported by the project, to strengthen farmers' organizations (one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population) and to ensure farmers' participation and increased responsibility in the development process.
Decentralization, deconcentration and the integration of services provided new opportunities for dialogue and cooperation which strengthened the amalgamation of technicians' and producers' needs, knowledge and points of view. Among other effects, this made it easier to identify farmers' production needs and allowed the institutions responsible for satisfying those needs to obtain information from the participants themselves. Thus, local institutions became centres for participation to which women rural producers had easy access, in terms of both mobilization and transport, and where direct relations could be established with sector officials.
To face up to the challenges imposed by the new mixed farming model, "work teams were created of technicians from the different institutions and producers that play the main role in the management of their own development through their participation in decision-making" (CAB). This proposal implies three elements that permit or assume integration of the gender approach:
The various institutions of the sector, representing the different areas of specialization, follow common strategic guidelines. This supports and gives coherence to the institutionalization of the gender dimension, by providing a framework that directs the process. It also promotes implementation and follow-up through the coordinated work of the institutions.
As a result of Costa Ricans' political will to introduce the gender dimension into the policies and actions of the mixed farming and environmental sectors, Gender Units and Women's Offices were created. A gender training committee was formed by the relevant ministry officials in the Huetar Atlantica region (IICA/BID, 1996). These developments promoted diffusion of the gender approach to the base groups (grassroots agricultural centres, cantonal boards, producer associations) and its incorporation into the programmes and projects of each of the participating institutions. Sensitization, diagnosis and planning of future workshops were carried out at both regional and national levels.
The increasing power of the Women's Ministry and sector offices permitted representatives of different decision-making institutions to become involved in discussions and actions. This power was demonstrated in the gender and policies workshop and in the many project initiatives in which local and sector technical personnel participated.
Although some officials have not received gender training and others have been reticent about the subject of gender, many of them have attended discussions and sessions on the drawing up of proposals. Managing organisms and decision-making institutions, particularly SEPSA at the sector level and CMF at the national level, participated throughout the process.
It is also worth mentioning that, through adhesion to international agreements and the Beijing Platform, the government has commited itself to the incorporation of the gender approach into the sector's guidelines as part of national policy and the Plan for Equal Opportunities.
THE PROJECT SUPPORT TO WOMEN in Rural Areas within the Framework of a Gender Approach was inserted into an existing process of reconversion in which new possibilities were opening up for the creation or reinforcement of institutional structures that promoted gender equality. Its general objective was to incorporate the gender dimension into mixed farming sector guidelines, detecting the obstacles that hindered women's participation and contributing to improving the institutional conditions that would eliminate them.
Within this context, and following on from a strongly participatory orientation, methodologies and tools were developed (consultation, workshops, interviews and team work, among others) to train the different actors involved (technicians, planners and executives).
In many ways, the project has achieved more than it originally set out to do. The positive results are, in great part, owing to the fact that the officials, men and women farmers and experts worked together with similar targets and aims in a climate of cooperation and exchange. The new approach permitted the gradual adoption of operational and conceptual tools, generated by the project itself, by the executors of the agrarian policy and technical personnel linked to rural development projects.
A gender methodology was adopted that complemented the transformation process the country was undergoing. In general, the approach was accepted and supported at local, regional and national levels because its proposals were consistent with the objectives of the Development Plan. Among the factors that helped this process were: an interest in reinforcing and strengthening equity in the productive roles of men and women; and the aim of increasing the participation of small-scale producers, both men and women, in the analysis of their problems (production, deterioration of natural resources, food security, etc.) and the search for appropriate solutions.
Without doubt, the project contributed to the strengthening and creation of grassroots organizations and womens' groups. Such new groups as the Association of Women Farmers and the Atlantic Branch Association of Women Farmers were created and women's participation was encouraged both in the institutions that assumed the main role in the new productive scenario (grassroots agricultural centres, cantonal boards, development boards) and in traditional associations where patriarchal representation was the norm. This last development was particularly difficult to achieve because these organizations are guided by a series of gender stereotypes that take a long time and much effort to eradicate. The project's efforts in this direction were assisted by the reorientation of the mixed farming sector towards women and men producers, and by the need, expressed in government plans, of preparing for this new orientation.
An interesting aspect of the process was that institutional proposals were guided by the ideas and observations of users, which were expressed during the training sessions. The sessions, directed by extension workers, served to identify the problems of the group and zone concerned, propose targets and strategies for achieving them, and identify possible obstacles to the processes and resources required. Mixed farming and environmental orientations and measures were also discussed, and comments and suggestions made. This exchange across the various areas and groups of the Huetar Atlantica region made possible, on the one hand, orientation and definition of the objectives and actions of institutional proposals and, on the other, a first appraisal of the feasibility of certain recommended measures.
Participation with the project team allowed women farmers to express their needs and incorporate them into development plans, and was the first step in women's participation and influence in the mixed farming development process. This result must be one of the main objectives that guide the diffusion and extension of the project to other regions in the country. Future actions must be directed towards using the experience acquired to reinforce communication channels, opportunities and mechanisms among the different levels, which has not been easy. For example, in many cases, sensitization, gender and organizational training teams have acted as mediators between user groups and the organisms responsible for the financing and technical support of the work plans they have formulated. In spite of MAL's and PDR's follow-up and negotiation process, no financing has yet been obtained for any of the projects women need, and this threatens the newly initiated process since it could generate frustration and pessimism among branch members.
Throughout the project, an initiative started to develop which was related to the definition of indicators for the systematic and coherent measurement of the progress made in implementing actions. The use of indicators demands greater precision in the formulation of actions and measures, providing more scientific accuracy to the entire process. The fact that there were no positive results in this regard could be directly attributed to lack of time, and this should be taken into account in future projects.
It was observed, however, that certain types of formulation tended to make men uncomfortable or defensive. Among these formulations were those involving discriminatory measures, based on "machismo", patriarchy, etc., or those that in some way attacked deeply rooted gender stereotypes - responsibilities regarding child care, preparation of meals, the freedom of women to absent themselves frequently or for long periods from their homes, etc. This experience emphasizes the need for a careful revision of approaches, contents and forms of presentation since the idea is to promote the joint and harmonious activity of men and women for the achievement of their objectives, uniting efforts and minimizing controversies and fears.
At the same time, a favourable atmosphere was created for the consolidation of the results obtained with regard to sensitization, training and orientation of policies and institutions, as well as for the diffusion of achievements in other regions of the country. In fact, the institutionalization of the sensitization and training activities in the guidelines of the mixed farming sector became the basis for future expansion of the pilot project.
Not only did the project create and form coordinated groups of experts who acted at the central and local levels, it also aroused interest about gender problems among men and women farmers, officials and technicians. The project had the cooperation of officials with close links to the community and to medium and high decision levels who were aware of and able to manage everyday rural development problems. The mobilization of these experts, who acquired sensitivity to gender issues, as well as the use of a common methodology and tools that had been specially developed for the project itself, where among the features that allowed a coherent and integrated expansion of the process to other regions in the country.
The continuity of the work undertaken will also be supported by the commitment and dedication shown by officials of the sectors' institutions. The National Coordinator and the National Counterpart are especially important, because they have the capacity to motivate, convince and establish links with actors at the different sector levels.
It should, however, also be mentioned that the success of the process was limited in part by the short duration of the project. Projects that attempt to make such structural changes as incorporation of a new approach and a change of attitude among involved agents, require a longer period to mature.
Although, in general terms, the project was successful and provided a basis for its subsequent diffusion, the ongoing process must be subjected to periodic evaluation and positive results must be duplicated and converted into new working tools. It is also necessary that methodologies and working tools maintain their flexibility, transformation potential and adaptability to new situations.
In conclusion, it is worth emphasizing the importance for the project of its links with other organizations outside the sector. Of particular note are the support provided by the First Lady's Office and the Women and Family Centre, the managing entity of gender policies at the national level. An expert in planning from the centre participated in the legalization process of the proposals and in subsequent consultations, contributing her experience and dedication and giving the project a continuity with previous gender initiatives.
The project was sponsored by the Norwegian Government, which funded the interregional project on Improvement of Information on Women's Contribution to Agricultural Production for Gender-Sensitive Planning (GCP/INT/ 602/NOR), carried out in Namibia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Nepal between 1995 and 1997.
This project was enriched by the team work and dedication of the people involved. Special mention should go to the Local Counterpart, Luz María Campos, and the Local Coordinator, Lidiethe Madden. The work and contribution of Ana Isabel Alvarez and Cristina Rovira, of FAO, were essential for the outcome and success of the process. WSO/WMO, MAL, MINAR, NPC, ADI, SEPSA Gender Unit and CMF directors provided support and continuous participation. Regional officials, women's groups and other institutions made important contributions to the project. Costa Rica now has a network of people and institutions that will continue the initiated work.
The original language version of the document was edited by Martha Osorio.
1 Approved by the UN in 1976 and ratified by the Government of Costa Rica in 1984.
2 This, and the following section on Stage 2 of the project, is adapted from Madden, 1997.
Bifani, P. 1997. Proposals for the incorporation of the gender approach into the strategic guidelines of the mixed farming and environmental sectors, p 93-95. Consultant's Report. Rome, FAO.
CAB. Mixed Farming Sector, Team Work. (brochure)
Campos, L.M. 1996. A New Challenge to Strengthen Equality and Impartiality. Seminar workshop RUTA III on The Gender Approach in Institutional Reconversion Processes in the Mixed Farming and Natural Resources Sectors, Guatemala, November 1996. (with the Women's Ministry and offices of the mixed farming sector in Costa Rica)
CMF. 1997. The Beijing Commitments and their observance in Costa Rica. (with FNUAP and UNICEF). San José.
NPC. 1995. General Framework for Reconversion of the Mixed Farming Sector. San José.
EIU. 1995. Country Profile 1995-1996. The Economist Intelligence Unit.
FAO. 1996. Costa Rica. Report for the World Food Summit, November 1996, Rome.
IICA/BID. 1995. Corn women. By M. Chiriboga, R. Grynspan & L. Pérez. San José.
IICA/BID. 1996. Women food producers in Costa Rica. Work Paper. By L. Martìn, I. Romàn & S. Lara. San José.
Madden, L. 1997. Support of women producers in the rural area within the framework of the gender approach. Final project report. Costa Rica.
MAL. 1997. Mixed Farming Division, Strategic Axes.
Orlich, F. 1998. National Development Plan, 1994-1998.
Rural Development Programme. 1994. Guidelines for the Sustainable Development Strategy.
SEPSA. Basic grain policies. (mimeograph)
SEPSA. 1996. Productive Reconversion.
SEPSA. 1997. Strategic Planning Area. Mixed Farming Sector Policies.