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Training in gender for extensionists

Training in gender for extensionists

Training was conceived as a tool to reshape the attitudes of extension staff towards working with women. The great majority of extensionists held the view that women were suited to household and maternal functions only, and expressed the general attitude that a woman "only knows how to care for children, wash clothes and cook." Thus, for them, women's participation in production and in all activities related to rural development was insignificant. This bias limited women's access to agricultural extension.

The essence of the training was to promote broader acceptance among extension workers of the idea of working with women in rural development programmes and, at a macro level, to strengthen institutional capacity to work with women after project completion. It was considered vital to project success to bring about a change in attitudes within the National Agrarian Institute -- one of two agencies in the country responsible for extension. The Institute had a male production-oriented concept of rural development, few women employees, and only a nascent women's section. The training in gender was essential to guarantee women a minimum of access to extensionists' time.

The most important element of the extensionists' training was the course on "Methodology for Promotion and Organization of Rural Women". Training emphasized the need to: 1) better motivate field personnel to collaborate with women, 2) identify traditional and non-traditional roles of women, and 3) provide feedback to field personnel on their field work. This women-specific approach addressed the structural problems that extensionists and women confront in group organization -- such as the heavy domestic workloads of rural women, and the low priority extensionists often give to women -using dramatizations to enact real-life situations.

Training of extensionists emphasizes the need to better motivate field personnel to collaborate with women.

The four themes of the training were: 1) peasant economy, 2) the gender division of labour, 3) conditions in which women work, and, 4) compatibility of women's roles as workers and mothers.

Training courses were continually subject to adaptation and improvement, but each took a non-threatening, non-"feminist" approach based on traditional Honduran values. Through discussions, case studies, dramatizations and exchange of experiences, participants dedicated five days to changing their previously held conceptions. Begun in 1986, this training continues today in each of the executing agencies under the auspices of the FAO project and other supporting institutions.

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