Flexible Voluntary Contribution (FVC)

Leveraging Community Engagement to enhance gender equality and women's empowerment


On Thursday, 11 March 2021, the second of five webinar series on “Community Engagement Days” took place. The event was organized by the Dimitra Clubs Team of the Rural Institutions, Services and Empowerment (RISE) team within FAO’s Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equity Division (ESP), with the support of the Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM), and in collaboration with the Belgian Development Cooperation. The second webinar, entitled “Community Engagement for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”, showcased the extent to which community engagement approaches have been promoting the advancement of gender equality and people’s empowerment, including changes in gender relations and roles.

Moderated by Mr Daniel Gustafson, Special Representative of the Director-General of FAO, and with simultaneous interpretations in English, French and Spanish, the webinar attracted large turnout of over 130 participants. During the event, four international guest Speakers shared their experiences and research insights related to community engagement and community-driven development with a focus on indigenous peoples, gender transformative approaches, positive masculinities and women’s empowerment pathways.

Ms Margarita Dalton, Professor and researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology, CIESAS), opened the event by presenting her gender research and field work concerned with indigenous communities in Oaxaca. When talking about her experience with indigenous communities and the importance of recognizing women’s commitment to community building, she affirmed that “Deep changes need to be made within the structures of the communities themselves…Women indigenous leaders are proposing profound changes in their communities.”

The second presentation featured Professor Andrea Cornwall, Pro Director (Research and Enterprise) at SOAS and Professor of Global Development and Anthropology. In her presentation, she discussed different pathways for women’s empowerment and shared key lessons for community engagement based on her work on power, inclusion and rights. Professor Cornwall further shared two essential insights about women’s empowerment. First, “Gender equality and women’s empowerment is about changing the environment, changing the context in a very holistic way. A second insight is that women’s empowerment is not a place you get to, it’s the journey of getting there.”

The third presentation was delivered by Mr Bafana Khumalo, Co-chair of MenEngage Alliance. It focused on a different perspective, which is also considered paramount for women’s empowerment: how to best promote positive masculinity at the community level to fight gender discrimination.  In his presentation, he demonstrated that women’s empowerment requires men’s engagement because men are key allies for women’s empowerment. In his closing remarks he affirmed that “an empowered woman leads to an empowered community.”

Closing the event, Ms Hajnalka Petrics, Global Coordinator of the EU-funded Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition (FAO, IFAD, WFP), delivered an inspiring presentation on how rural communities can become catalysts for gender transformative change. Highlighting FAO’s Dimitra Clubs, which are voluntary, informal groups for women, men and youth to discuss common problems and determine ways to address them by acting together and using local resources, she stated that a collective action is needed to address misconceptions that perpetuate in communities. She affirmed that, thanks to the Dimitra Clubs, women are more involved in collective decision making and that there has been a significant change in the gender-based division of labour.

During the question-and-answer session, when asked about women’s empowerment in places that are very conservative, Professor Andrea Cornwall affirmed that, sadly, gender discrimination and patriarchal patterns occur all around the world, suggesting that “gender discrimination is a social disease that is global, just like COVID-19.” As the world transitions to a new-normal, collaborative and holistic approaches are required to enhancing women's empowerment and achieving gender equality.

In his closing remarks, recalling his longstanding experience at FAO, Mr. Gustafson said: “The projects that had the most impact in fact embodied precisely what the four speakers talked about today.”

1. No poverty, 5. Gender equality, 17. Partnership for the goals

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