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Empower women livestock keepers key to food security


Livestock is considered a key asset for rural households worldwide and a primary livelihood resource for rural communities: about 752 million of the world’s poor keep livestock to produce food, generate income, manage risks and build up assets. Depending on the region and livestock sub-sector, rural women and men often have specific knowledge about various aspects of animal husbandry and livestock, and diverse responsibilities and tasks to carry out (e.g. in dairy farming women are frequently responsible for feeding and milking while men for selling and slaughtering). These tasks are often assigned to women and men on the basis of customary gender roles, which are assigned according to what a society considers appropriate for men, women, boys and girls.

Rural women play a major and crucial role in livestock farming, often responsible for multiple daily tasks. In rural livestock-based economies they represent two-thirds (approximately 400 million people) of low-income livestock keepers. For example, in the Gambia 52 percent of sheep owners and 67 percent of goat owners are women. In the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico, sheep husbandry is mainly women’s responsibility, providing 36 percent of household income through wool processing and sale. In Afghanistan, traditional backyard poultry activities are entirely carried out by women, who tend to manage an average of ten hens producing around 60 eggs per year, which are sufficient to cover household consumption needs. In dairy farming, across different regions and cultures, milking and processing of milk is mainly undertaken by women.

In spite of their heavy involvement in livestock farming, customary gender roles are often biased, so rural women face obstacles more regularly than men in obtaining the necessary tools to reach their full potential in the livestock/agriculture sectors. Rural women tend to have limited access to resources and extension services,  less participation in decision making and enjoy a smaller share of the income derived from livestock farming if compared to their male counterparts. Recognizing the different roles that women and men play in the livestock and agriculture sector is key to identifying the diverse challenges they face and to tailoring projects and programmes on their specific needs. Understanding and integrating these diverse roles and specific dynamics into projects and programmes can in fact significantly improve their outcomes and effectiveness.

Considering the above scenario, the Animal Production and Health Division (AGA) and the Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division (ESW) of FAO work together to pave the way to facilitate gender analysis in projects and programmes in the livestock sector.

A product of this inter-divisional collaboration is the booklet “Understanding and Integrating Gender Issues into Livestock Projects and Programmes – A checklist for practitioners”. The booklet identifies the main challenges faced by smallholder farmers, especially women, in small livestock management (particularly poultry and small ruminants) and in dairy farming. The booklet issued from a regional consultative training workshop held in November 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and involving 4 East African countries. In the  workshop specific country experience were shared, studied, commented, critically analyzed from a gender perspective and then collected. The booklet “Understanding and Integrating Gender Issues into Livestock Projects and Programmes – A checklist for practitioners” compiles this knowledge and is intended to facilitate livestock experts and professionals involved in field projects and interventions to:


    • Identify the main constraints faced by women and men in accessing, controlling and managing small livestock and dairy farming;
    • Design projects and programmes that address the challenges faced by women and men in access to, control over and management of small livestock and dairy farming.

The booklet identifies seven broad categories of challenges often faced by small-holders livestock keepers and provides a more detailed overview of the main gender issues in small livestock management (particularly poultry and small ruminants) and dairy farming. It then includes  two tools: a set of tips and gender analysis tools and a checklist that, through all the stages of the project cycle, guides livestock experts and professionals in designing , implementing or monitoring livestock project and programmes in a gender sensitive way, taking into consideration the challenges faced by both women and men in livestock farming.

Considering the successful experience of the Addis Ababa workshop, FAO is organizing a regional consultative training workshop, to be held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 4 to 6 June 2013. Representatives from eight countries from the South East Asia region and Bangladesh will attend the three-day workshop. A second booklet centered on the specificities of the livestock sector in Asia will steam from this upcoming second training workshop.