FSN Forum

DISCUSSION No. 142   •   FSN Forum digest No. 1306

Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts

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Dear Members,

Today we are happy to provide you with an update on the online discussion Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts and the first feedback from Clare Bishop, the facilitator of the discussion.

In her message Clare gives a summary of the contributions received so far, and invites you to share examples of working with men and at the household/family level to tackle the fundamental causes of gender inequality.

For the other discussion questions and to read the contributions received in full, please refer to the webpage in English, French or Spanish.      

To take part in the discussion, please send your comments to FSN-moderator@fao.org or post them online upon registration to the FSN Forum. For this consultation we accept comments in all UN languages.

We look forward to keep receiving your valuable input!

Your FSN Forum team

Clare Bishop, facilitator of the discussion

Dear all, 

Thank you to the early contributors for getting the discussion off to an interesting start.

The main challenge is to secure a mindset shift which several contributors noted: How to help rural women gain self-respect and understanding of their role (Ekaterine Gurgenidze from Georgia)? How to encourage young girls to know how important they are to society (Byansi Hamidu from Tanzania)? How to overcome the traditional division of work between women and men, with respect to productive tasks (Mahesh Chander from India) and reproductive and care tasks (Marcela Ballara from Chile)? How to move on from the ‘Technical know who’, for example, where the private sector uses men to solve women’s problems, rather than letting women work to solve their own challenges (Byansi Hamidu from Tanzania)?

Several pathways for change have been identified, including:

- The crucial role of education and training (especially for non-agricultural rural work) in empowering women to look for more skilled opportunities (Bertha Yiberla Yenwo from Cameroon, Marcela Ballara from Chile, Mahesh Chander from India, Dr. Amanullah from Pakistan, Byansi Hamidu from Tanzania);

- ICTs – and in particular smart phones with internet access – are also a game changer. As noted in India, social media are challenging social norms and encouraging women to be more assertive even though, at present, girls have less access to phones than boys.

- The feminisation of rural areas, as a result of male outmigration, is enabling women to be recognised as the principal decision-makers and actors in the rural areas (Marcela Ballara from Chile and Kala Koyu from Nepal).

- The growing agribusiness sector could engage more with women, working in groups to make their voice heard and supported by extension services reaching out to women and girls (Byansi Hamidu from Tanzania).

- The importance of an enabling policy environment, such as the Rural Women's Dialogue Table in Chile, which focused on the integration of rural women into economic activity.

But change is not without its challenges. Men can feel uncomfortable when traditional roles are challenged (Mahesh Chander from India) while women left to manage households in areas of male outmigration can be subject to negative public scrutiny and labelling which are degrading and demoralising (Kala Koyu from Nepal).

Working with both men and women can overcome some of this backlash to change and result in gender transformative impacts. The Gender Action Learning System (GALS) encourages men and women to have common visions at household level and to analyse family issues that can hinder the achievement of these visions (Peter Mbuchi from Kenya). Through enabling both women and men to appreciate the benefits of more equitable approaches, the productive potential of the family is unlocked.

Please share more examples of working with men and at household/family level to tackle the more fundamental causes of gender inequality.



iconMahesh Chander, Indian Veterinary Institute, India

In his first contribution, Mahesh stresses that current interventions are not designed towards attaining early gender-transformative impacts. He points out that the traditional division of work still prevails in many societies, with women being responsible for productive tasks such as cattle feeding and the collection of fuelwood. Women themselves often even agree with this situation; in order to change this mindset they need access to education, which will empower them to look for more productive and skilled work.

Read the contribution

In his second contribution, Mahesh points to the important role ICTs have in achieving gender-transformative impacts, and shares a number of articles on this topic. He points out that social media challenge established patterns and encourage women to be more assertive, which sometimes makes men feel uncomfortable.

Read the contribution

In his third contribution, Mahesh points to the fact that entrepreneurship programmes are mostly focused on men, while women find themselves engaged in menial jobs lacking the potential to turn them into entrepreneurs. Girls should be made aware of the importance of economic independence and the value of income generating skills from an early age. Additionally, Mahesh shares links to information on a couple of programmes focused on women’s empowerment and dairy cooperatives in India.

Read the contribution

iconMarcela Ballara, Red de Educación Popular entre Mujeres REPEM LAC, Chile

Over the last decade, the countryside of Chile has become increasingly feminized as men have left in search for better job opportunities. In general, Chilean women are still responsible for reproductive and care tasks. However, over time women’s access to education has increased as during the 1990s, the government has supported a substantial expansion of schools in rural areas. It also has encouraged agricultural institutions to implement activities aimed at rural and indigenous women.

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iconBertha Yiberla Yenwo, Tabwand Support Network, Cameroon

Bertha underlines the importance of education and skills, and in particular the need for young girls to get familiar with ICTs, especially considering the ageing of the female rural population.

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iconByansi Hamidu, Makerere University, BIANS COPAS CO., Uganda

Byansi discusses the situation in her home country Tanzania and argues that in some tribes, female circumcision is still a widespread practice. Another problem concerns the fact that women do not have access to quality education and resources. She argues that extension services should reach out to women and girls and that the growing agribusiness sector could engage more with women, who should form groups to make their voice heard. Additionally, instead of using men to solve women’s problems, women themselves should be allowed to solve their challenges.

Read the contribution

iconDr Amanullah, The University of Agriculture Peshawar, Pakistan

Dr. Amanullah stresses that in rural areas, job opportunities for women are lacking and that religious norms do not allow women to move freely in society. Furthermore, he stresses the need to adopt context-specific approaches to gender inequality.

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iconPeter Mbuchi, Sustainable Management Services Ltd., Kenya

Peter shares his experience of working with smallholder coffee producers in Kenya, where coffee was traditionally considered a “male crop” and where men owned the bank accounts, constraining women to profit from the income earned. In order to address this issue, the company Peter has worked for has introduced the Gender Action Learning System, which has the aim to encourage men and women to have common visions, and to plan on how to achieve those visions, while analysing the family issues that can hinder this. The approach has yielded positive results, such as providing women with access to the income earned and a lower work burden for women.

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iconKala Koyu, Rural Enterprises and Remittances Project, Nepal

Kala elaborates upon the situation in Nepal, where the feminisation of rural areas due to male outmigration leads women to be recognized as temporary heads of the household. However, these women are generally subject to negative public scrutiny and discrimination. Kala argues that current programmes are focused on safer migration and channelling remittances into productive investment, but this will not be sufficient to bring a change in women’s discrimination; it will rather change its form. Furthermore, rather than only empowering women and promoting access to education, to achieve gender equality male family members need to be targeted as well. According to Kala, “we advance in technology and education but lack the wisdom on analysing discriminatory practices and actions”.  

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iconEkaterine Gurgenidze, IFAD/AMMAR Georgia Project, Georgia

Ekaterine raises the question of how to help rural women gain self-respect and understanding of their role in the family and society.

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iconCathy Holt, Holt Transition Strategies, USA

Cathy highlights that land tenure is crucial for women’s security, and argues that addressing this issue requires the establishment of legal frameworks that grant and protect women’s rights in this regard. However, these frameworks must be addressed in conjunction with other laws that affect women, such as marriage and inheritance laws, and women must receive education and guidance about their tenure rights. Furthermore, she addresses the question raised by Ekaterine, pointing out that worldwide, many grassroots women's groups are organizing and formulating solutions to the challenges they encounter, and that “having women empower women with similar circumstances works”.

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iconAtika Marouf, Seed Development Project (SDP), Sudan

Atika believes that certain components of projects should exclusively target women, which will allow them to gain better access to and benefit more from project opportunities.

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