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المنتدى العالمي المعني بالأمن الغذائي والتغذية

Re: Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts

Sofie Isenberg
Sofie IsenbergUN FAOItaly

In response to Questions 2 and 3, I would like to add that achieving significant progress in closing the gender gap and transforming gender relations requires development actors to first come to terms with their own responsibility in relying on excessively broad (and often outdated) assumptions about gender in the planning and design of interventions aiming to empower rural women. There is no question that global data on the constraints faced by rural women is of paramount importance to furthering our understanding of the issues and enhancing advocacy efforts. The sharing of recommended actions and documented good practices to address constraints is also a valuable enterprise. The problem arises when these resources are adopted as cheap replacements for context-specific analysis and participatory approaches in the implementation of interventions.

Time and again, we have seen efforts to empower women “miss the mark” because of blanket assumptions about women’s needs that do not take into consideration the households and communities they are situated within, or their own agency and preferences. Not only is the desired effect not achieved in such cases, a detrimental impact is often felt instead (e.g. women’s work burden increases, discrimination and socioeconomic tensions in the community worsen, men appropriate profitable inputs and activities, etc.).

In this sense, I find myself in agreement with Dr Amanullah when he says: “I do not agree the approaches and policies are ok for every region in the world. I means different policies and approaches are required for different regions, different countries and different religions.“ In response to his comment as well as Ekaterine Gurgenidze’s question: “How can we help rural women to help with self respect and understand their significant role in community, family and society?”, I would like to reiterate an often-cited but rarely implemented solution: include rural women in the conversation.

The Dimitra Clubs approach cited by my colleague Andrea Sánchez Enciso provides a rare example of the radical potential benefits of putting communication at the centre of efforts to empower women. By putting women and men at the centre of the conversation, the approach has stimulated significant changes in gender roles and strengthened the organizational capacity, participation and bargaining power of the most vulnerable people in every country in which it has been implemented. As a result of the inclusiveness of this process, the benefits seen by women have been accompanied by strengthened social cohesion rather than increased tensions in the communities. (for more information: http://www.fao.org/dimitra/home/en/)

Finally, in order to be included in the conversation, rural women must also be included in the story. A 2015 report by the Global Media Monitoring Project found that women made up “only 24% of persons heard, read about or seen in newspaper, television and radio news” and that representations of women as economic actors were scarce. In the rural context, these statistics become even more stark: a mere 6% of stories about rural economy, agriculture, farming, and land rights included women as a central focus or discussed issues of gender equality/inequality (http://whomakesthenews.org/gmmp/gmmp-reports/gmmp-2015-reports).