FAO Regional Office for Africa

Transforming social and gender norms

We spoke to Carine Atchia (FAOBJ) about her work as the Organization's gender focal point in Benin

I'm responsible for ensuring that gender equality is considered in all the office's programmes. For example, pointing out the need for female applicants when recruiting; for more women to take part in a particular training workshop; or for specific actions for women beneficiaries of a particular project.

I also represent FAO at the UN System Inter-Agency Working Group on Gender, Inclusion, Diversity and Rights as well as on the Gender and Social Protection Thematic Group, which brings together all of Benin's bilateral and multilateral technical and financial partners and international organizations working on gender and social protection issues.

What do you like about your role as a gender focal point?

My role gets me out of the office and into the field. It's like a breath of fresh air, with new encounters, discussions and laughter. What usually touches me is seeing the joy sparkling in their eyes when they feel understood and considered by the leaders of the Organization. What's more, I've always considered myself to be a "rural girl", having grown up surrounded by the harvests of my father's family farm.

What challenges have you faced in your work as gender focal point, and how have you/will you overcome them?

My main challenge is language. Sometimes I don't understand or speak the language of the locality I'm visiting, but fortunately I manage to reach my targets, often with the help of spontaneous interpreters, but also thanks to the universal languages of smiles, laughter, song and rhythmic hand clapping. We manage to communicate and achieve our common goals.

Another challenge is the budgeting of gender-related activities by project coordinators. We lack funds dedicated to implementing gender work plan activities.

Tell us about a successful FAO initiative that addresses gender issues and what was/is your role/contribution?

One of the initiatives I’d like to mention is the celebration of International Day of Rural Women in 2022. This commemoration was the initiative of the current Benin FAOR, Isaias Obama, and falls on 15 October each year. That was the first time our office marked the occasion, celebrating with the women of the rural commune of Za-Kpota, where FAO had implemented the Prevention of malnutrition and food security project. The direct beneficiaries of this project were estimated at 300 households in ten villages. Thirty tonnes of fertiliser were distributed to 468 women and extended to another 168 women who hadn’t benefitted from the project. My contribution was to lead the preparatory mission, to mobilise the local authorities and the women from the groups and identify who had not benefitted from the project. The testimonies given by the women were pertinent indicators of this success.

What do you think FAO is doing well in promoting gender equality and women's empowerment, and what more should be done?

Taking gender into account in the activities of the offices is an obligation which the FAO Representatives are responsible for monitoring. This means that all colleagues at various levels are obliged to account for gender in their work. This is already a very positive point for the Organization. What remains to be done is linked to budgeting for the activities in the gender work plan so that they can be effectively implemented.

What do you hope to work on in the future?

We currently have a major project called the Ouémé Basin Resilience Initiative, financed by the Green Climate Fund, whose national coordinator is a woman. Component two involves the implementation of climate-resilient and gender-sensitive value chains, supporting farmers' livelihoods. We expect to build the capacity of small-scale farmers in climate resilient agriculture, through the Farmer Field School approach, and others.

Carrying out these actions will enable targeted communities to begin the process of transforming the discriminatory social and gender norms that are at the root of gender inequality.