FAO in Cambodia

Shifting mindsets on gender for rural development, food security and nutrition in Cambodia

Farmers carrying out the Vision Journey exercise, which is part of the WE-FBS approach. ©FAO/Verdiana Biagionigazzoli

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March, the government of Cambodia and the FAO Representation in Cambodia have called for robust efforts against gender-based discrimination and bias through investments in local capacity development and ownership, highlighting the progresses in this direction made by their joint activities under FAO’s Flexible Multi-Partner Funding Mechanism (FMM).

“If we want to foster women’s economic empowerment in a sustainable way, we must advance a long-term vision that addresses the root causes of gender inequalities,” said H.E. Hor Malin, Secretary of State of Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and Head of the Gender and Children Committee. She added that, “This is precisely what we are focusing on. Through our joint work with FAO, we aim to promote a legacy of capacities and knowledge that will enable women and men to critically reflect on their social attitudes, shift their mindsets, and hence have the opportunity to thrive in equal terms.”

Ms Rebekah Bell, FAO Representative in Cambodia, stressed how crucial gender equality is for long-lasting food and nutrition security: “Achieving Zero Hunger requires closing the existing gender gaps through transformative approaches that induce new ways of thinking among individuals, households, communities, institutions, policies and legislation.”

Under the FMM subprogramme Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Food and Agriculture, the government and FAO are piloting two gender transformative approaches in the context of food and agriculture for the first time in the region: namely the Dimitra Clubs (DCs) and the Women’s Empowerment Farmer Business Schools (WE-FBS)

The DCs are a community-led, participatory mechanism that places a strong emphasis on gender and social inclusion which also tackle intersecting inequalities and patterns of marginalization. The members (men, women, and youth) of the DCs hold discussions to find and implement solutions to locally based problems using their own knowledge, skills, and resources. 

FAO is promoting the DCs approach to achieving gender equality in 20 villages of the Banteay Meanchey and Siem Reap Provinces in collaboration with the Village Support Group, the local partner that will be facilitating field activities. The 1,307 members (60% women) of the 40 newly created DCs in Cambodia have already identified 41 development issues that they consider important, ranging from village road issues; poor waste management; lack of necessary infrastructure and technical know-how to support agricultural activities; lack of clean water for drinking; to children dropping out of school. Additionally, some Clubs have also focused a lens on the need to put an end to domestic violence. 

With the aim to facilitate women’s participation in agribusinesses, MAFF is collaborating with the Ministry of Women Affairs (MoWA) to implement the WE-FBS. This approach applies a gender perspective to business skills development interventions and the promotion of family farming as a business. Through a series of learning and facilitation sessions, it works with mixed producers’ groups and creates a safe space for unpacking gender norms while strengthening farmers’ entrepreneurial skills and capacity to improve farm business activities through engagement in lucrative value chains and the pursuit of market opportunities.

The launch, implementation, and evaluation of the approach allow for men and women to reflect critically on their roles, resources, and activities in farming, and to develop strategies that are needed to maximize their commercial potential. Therefore, WE-FBS looks at how men and women can sustainably increase farm profits by valuing their respective contributions to family farming. As of today, a total of 60 WE-FBS groups have been established, reaching more than 1,200 women and men.

“This approach is different because it looks at gender in depth. It is not only about ensuring women’s participation, but it also gives space to discuss inequalities and empowers farmers to apply the tools on their own,” said WE-FBS facilitator, Ms Champey Ream from Phnom Srok district of Banteay Meanchey province.

“This tool helps us to establish the long-term vision for our families. If you have the dream, you can try to walk through it and achieve what you want in the future,” commented a farmer participating in the WE-FBS learning cycles Mr Hos Salon from Svay Chek district of Banteay Meanchey province.

The objective of the FMM project is to contribute to closing the gender gap in agriculture by enhancing rural women’s economic empowerment and strengthening their crucial role in rural development, decision-making and resilience building, as agents of change. Men are also key partners in unpacking gender stereotypes and biases and promoting an inclusive culture that will benefit the whole community.