FSN Forum

DISCUSSION No. 142   •   FSN Forum digest No. 1307

Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts

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Dear Members,

We would like to share with you the latest contributions to the online discussion Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts, which you will find their summarized below.

In addition, Clare Bishop, facilitator of the discussion, shares her feedback on the new contributions.

All comments received so far and the introduction to the topic are available on the FSN Forum website in English, French and Spanish.

We look forward to keep receiving your comments, which you can send to FSN-moderator@fao.org or post online upon registration to the FSN Forum.

Your FSN Forum team

Clare Bishop, facilitator of the discussion

The recent contributions have highlighted various barriers which result in women missing out on opportunities, including:

  • Shortage of time: the huge burden of unpaid care work which takes up a big proportion of the time and energy of women and girls, leaving little for education, paid employment or their own businesses (Bedford from Italy); the seasonal workcare time trade-offs with negative implications not only for women’s opportunities for empowerment but also for the care of young children and their nutritional well-being (Rao from India); and the inability to share the care workload with men in settings where men have migrated to town (Rao from India);
  • Cultural norms held by parents and families: which prevent women and girls attending training and mentoring events to broaden their horizons and develop skills, or to participating in developmentoriented meetings (Chander from India);
  • Absence of legal recognition of women’s equal entitlements to resources as men (Rao from India), especially land tenure security (Holt from America);
  • Chronic poverty: which disproportionally affects households headed by women (Houngbo from Benin).

What I have found particularly exciting in the recent contributions is the recognition of the importance of the household, not only in terms of women’s empowerment but also for transformational change that benefit all household members. McCarthy (from USA) draws attention to the benefits derived from cooperation within the household – through joint decision-making and shared visions – as distinct from women’s empowerment and increased bargaining power in the household. Houngbo (from Benin) talks about the importance of making households more viable and the role of reducing gender inequalities in a fight against chronic poverty, especially those headed by women.

Ways of supporting change in cultural and social norms at the household level include: family counselling (Chander from India), participatory approaches through household methodologies (Bedford, Italy) and the Gender/Family Action Learning System (Mbuchi from Kenya); breaking away from traditional gender roles by encouraging sons – as well as daughters – to help their mothers at produce festivals (Sahakyan from Armenia); and overcoming mistrust by hiring women trainers and inviting husbands to accompany their wives to training (Sahakyan from Armenia).

It is also recognised that, in some contexts, specific affirmative action is necessary to push forward on the women’s empowerment agenda. Examples include: creating space for women through women-only initiatives in Sudan (Marouf); promoting women’s dairy cooperatives in India (Chander); women’s employment on the metro train in India and positive media coverage of successful women (Peter); visibility for rural women’s produce through festivals in Armenia (Sahakyan); peer-to-peer exchanges among rural women initiated by the Huairou Commission (Holt from USA); child care facilities, especially in communities where men have migrated (Rao from India). Explicit legal recognition of women as farmers with equal entitlements as men (Rao from India), with legal frameworks both granting and protecting these rights (Holt from USA) is also essential.

The use of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) as a tool for identifying the principal sources of women’s disempowerment was noted (Huang from China).


iconEmile Houngbo, National University of Agriculture, Porto-Novo (UNA), Benin

Emile stresses that interventions addressing poverty have insufficiently taken into account the heterogeneity among “the poor”. Furthermore, he thinks that rather than focusing on women’s autonomy – as households are held together by the interdependence between different family members – one should concentrate on making households more viable and coming to the aid of women. He points out that the chronic poverty rate is higher in households with a female head, and stresses that the promotion of women in order to reduce gender inequalities would actually be a fight against chronic poverty. However, an effective approach has so far been missing. Emile also shares an article on gender and chronic poverty.

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iconKuruppacharil V. Peter, World Noni Research Foundation, India

Kuruppacharil argues that the government of India has taken many measures to promote women’s empowerment. An example constitutes the ration cards, which are issued to each household in Kerala under the name of the eldest woman in the house. He also points out that at the national level, women’s representation in politics is rather low, but that at the local political level female participation rates are higher.

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iconNancy McCarthy, LEAD Analytics, Inc., United States of America

Nancy builds on the comments that were posted earlier by Peter Mbuchi, focusing on the need to work with both men and women in order to gain transformative impacts. During a research carried out in rural Malawi, Nancy and her colleague found that greater women's empowerment can lead to increased household income per capita, but that collective action led to much larger increases in household income and consumption per capita. However, she stresses that it is expected that household welfare outcomes for all members are best when there is both women's empowerment and cooperation amongst family members.

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iconYanfang Huang, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), China

Yanfang refers to a number of methods that have been used to measure women’s empowerment, such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index. She discusses an impact assessment she carried out with her colleagues regarding agricultural development projects in Inner Mongolia and elaborates upon various factors affecting women’s empowerment, such as credit ability. The research showed that ceteris paribus, the more women were empowered, the higher was their food security.

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iconNitya Rao, School of International Development and LANSA, India

Nitya stresses that women’s explicit legal recognition as farmers with equal entitlements as men is a precondition to removing inequalities in access to resources and services. In addition, she refers to the issue of increasing women’s time burdens during peak agricultural seasons, squeezing women's care work with negative implications for their own health and that of their children. Alongside encouraging men to share care responsibilities, reliable and good quality facilities for childcare and feeding should be provided, especially during peak agricultural seasons.

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iconMahesh Chander, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, India

According to Mahesh, India has made significant steps in terms of women’s empowerment, but deeply embedded societal norms have been hindering faster progress. For instance, women are often still the last ones to eat in the household, leaving them with little and less nutritious food. Another example concerns the fact that babysitting and infant and young child feeding are not considered suitable to men in some parts of the country.

Mahesh also elaborates upon several training programmes, which have generally found it difficult to achieve a gender balance in participation rates as women’s engagement is often constrained by family pressure or responsibilities. This could be addressed by counselling that involves all family members, conveying the message that both women and men need training for better outcomes.

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iconHazel Bedford, IFAD, Italy

Hazel stresses that redistributing the burden of care work is crucial to giving women and girls the possibility to be empowered economically and socially. She shares the link to information on IFAD’s Household Methodologies, which are participatory grass roots approaches to intervening at the household level. 

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iconAstghik Sahakyan, ICARE Foundation, Armenia

Astghik mentions that recently, many NGOs in Armenia have been particularly active in addressing the issues women in rural areas are facing. She shares a couple of examples in this regard, including the Harvest festival, gathering women from different regions of Armenia to sell their homemade products. Prior to the festival, rural women are provided with training in packaging and marketing. A particularly positive aspect about the event is the fact that it engages the whole family and shows the value of the work women are doing; in this way it contributes to changing mindsets regarding the division of work between men and women.

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