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The context of livelihoods in rural areas has changed significantly during the last 20 years: so new needs and ambitions are emerging from rural women with a very high level of demand and requirement to overcome poverty and food insecurity, to strengthen their economic empowerment and to make their voices heard in peasant organizations and rural institutions at local and national levels.
My conviction is that Africa (the region I know best) is progressing slowly but surely on rural women's empowerment even if gender inequalities are a persistent reality. We all know that the underlying causes of these inequalities are deeply rooted in gender norms and behaviours, power relations and social institutions. The systems of social and cultural organizations still influence and very often the distribution of responsibilities in the public and domestic spheres.
Lesson learnt :
1. Qualitative changes in male-female relations, roles and positions in household and public arenas occur over a period of time, well beyond the normal timeframe of a project: these cannot be obtained by command and will have to be pursued over time.
2. Among the main levers of change, I think two are more crucial in striving for transformation impacts on rural women's wellbeing: education and workload reduction: Due to their low educational levels and heavy workloads (food cropping, domestic duties, the transportation and sale of agricultural products, food preparation, etc.), any strategy aimed at reducing the poverty and vulnerability of rural women and hence of their families must focus strongly both on alleviating their workload through new technologies and on enhancing their access to knowledge and skills.
3. More focus on rural young girls' education: The education of young rural girls can be a driving force and a strong accelerating factor of change. The situation of girls in West and Central Africa region is particularly challenging, especially in the rural areas where only 55% of the girls of school age are in school (compared to 88% for boys). Difficult access to education, early abandonment of school and a heavy workload within the home, are major reasons why adult women do not know how to read and write. A young woman’s prospects for a better life are further compromised by early marriage and frequent pregnancies.
Some good practices:
In order to reach the poorest and most vulnerable rural women for transformative impacts, promote the value chain approach and focus on crops/sectors in which poor households and women are already more present or could easily integrate
Re-position food crops (millet, maize, cowpea, rice, fonio, etc.) to market-oriented crops/cash crops
Document and share good practices and innovative models and approaches that have achieved conclusive results and sustainable impacts on the living conditions of rural women
Scale up these innovations /good practices and lessons learned (from less successful experiences) to reach a critical mass of rural populations, including women particularly
Implement this scaling up with a differentiated approach that takes into account the specificities of each context according to its social and cultural realities
Deliver the different support and services as a "package'' rather than separately.