Сельские женщины: достижение воздействия гендерных преобразований

In March 2018, at the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), once again the spotlight will be turned on to address the challenges and opportunities  rural women and girls face.

This online discussion, led by FAO with IFAD, UN Women and WFP, invites you to reflect on the current understanding of gender dynamics of rural livelihoods and share information, views and experiences in preparation for CSW62. The main objective is to highlight critical gaps and priority areas for action on how to accelerate gender transformative impacts for rural women. The discussion will focus on three principal questions, presented below, over the next three weeks.

Changing context of rural livelihoods

Moving forward from the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, the needs and priorities of rural women have been firmly on the development agenda and significant progress has been made. Many women have gained improved access to markets, information, financial services, greater engagement with the private sector, skills development, energy, labour-saving technologies and remittances, and some became successful entrepreneurs, leaders in the community and more respected in their homes. Women fulfil important roles throughout agrifood value chains, and play essential roles in food security and nutrition, and in the management of natural resources.

Nevertheless, the lives of many rural women remain unchanged. They work long hours combining productive work with unpaid care and domestic tasks, and their empowerment opportunities are constrained by limited security over land and an inability to borrow. Too often rural women cannot benefit from improved technologies, are exposed to the risks of climate change, and experience significant post-harvest losses. Their lives are also challenged by rapid population growth results in the youth bulge, out migration, an aging rural population and degraded natural resources.

Gender transformative approaches

To achieve the SDGs and “leave no one behind”, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for transformational change, in countries and at all levels. There is growing recognition that the standard approaches to addressing gender inequalities have often not been enough. Many gender mainstreaming initiatives have focused on empowering women economically – ensuring they have access to inputs, technical advice and markets, and have a voice in decision-making bodies and rural institutions – which contribute to short-term productivity gains. However, to enjoy long-term sustainable benefits, women want not only be able to work productively and have a voice in how the income they generate is spent. They want the quality of their lives to be improved, reduce the time spent on unpaid domestic and care work, and be free from gender-based violence.

More needs to be done – and in a different way - to achieve lasting benefits for improving the quality of life for rural women and their families. This involves moving beyond treating the symptoms of gender inequality, such as the unequal access to resources and benefits, to addressing the underlying causes deeply rooted in gender norms and behaviours, power relations and social institutions.

Question 1: What are the main challenges rural women and girls are facing today? 

  • The context of rural livelihoods has changed significantly during the past 20 years, with significant implications for rural women.  Is our understanding of the challenges rural women and girls are facing still up-to-date?
  • How do the needs and priorities of rural women differ based on their age, education, household composition, resource base and cultural context?
  • How do some rural women manage to move forward and become successful entrepreneurs, whereas others are trapped in a life of food insecurity and poverty?

Question 2: Are we using the right approaches and policies to close the gender gap?

  • How can the policy gap be closed? Most countries have ratified international and regional instruments to protect and enhance women’s rights. Yet, in many countries there is a gap between the policy framework on gender and what actually gets delivered, including the failure to mainstream gender considerations into other policy frameworks, such as food security and nutrition policies.
  • Why is it so challenging to convince the private sector to engage with rural women as economic actors, despite the evidence demonstrating that this generates profitable outcomes?
  • As we approach 2020, what are the emerging economic opportunities for rural women? Are current capacity development programmes enhancing the right set of skills for rural women and girls? How can we better update them?

Question 3: How can we best achieve gender transformative impacts?

  • What can be done to strengthen women’s voice and wellbeing in the household and the community? Many initiatives focus on empowering women in their productive role and as members and leaders of producer and community groups. While they become empowered in the public space, this does not necessarily translate into improved household dynamics and quality of life.
  • Has sufficient attention been paid in engaging men and boys for positive behavioural change? Do they understand the links between gender roles and inequalities, and their impact on the productivity and wellbeing of their households? Are their needs being overlooked, resulting in their marginalisation and disengagement from household development?
  • What approaches have proved successful to address deeply rooted gender norms, power relations and social institutions? 

Thank you and I look forward to a stimulating discussion,

Clare Bishop

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Halimatou Moussa


English translation below


Question 1 : Quels sont les principaux défis que doivent relever les femmes et les filles rurales ?

Dans le contexte particulier du Niger, des facteurs tels que le changement climatique, des contingences liées à la sécheresse, aux crises alimentaires et nutritionnelles, aux inondations régulières, les invasions de criquets, les afflux massif de réfugiés, créent un environnement difficile qui menace les moyens de subsistance de la population rurale.

En outre, filles et femmes rurales adressent chaque matin des défis qui font obstacle à leur bien-être et leur potentiel socio-économique (4 des 5 pauvres sont des femmes). Ces contraintes incluent :

  • l’analphabétisme (taux d’alphabétisation pour les personnes âgées de 15 et plus haut (c'est-à-dire qui peut lire et écrire) est de 19,1 % (hommes : 27.3%; femme : 11 % (2015).Leur faible taux d’alphabétisation et de scolarisation, limitant leurs connaissances et compétences indispensables pour mieux conduire leurs activités productives, économiques et politique
  • le très haut taux de fécondité (indice de fécondité est de 7, 6 enfants par femme – (EDSN 2012),
  • l’accès limité aux ressources productives (terre, intrants agricoles, finances et crédit, services de vulgarisation et technologie) : Une étude réalisée par le NEPAD[1] en lien avec l’accès aux services de vulgarisation, de formation/d’information/de communication, de diffusion de la technologie et de l’alphabétisation démontre que : 76% de personnes n’ayant pas accès à un service sont des femmes ; seules 34,7 % des femmes ont accès aux services de vulgarisation ; 38 % des femmes ont accès aux semences ; 32,5 % des femmes ont accès aux engrais ; 22,8 % des personnes qui bénéficient d’un crédit rural sont des femmes ; 88,5% des terres appartiennent aux hommes. Les 11, 5% restants sont détenus conjointement par le mari et la femme, ou par la femme et les enfants.
  • Les femmes sont surchargées avec les travaux domestiques : (préparation des repas, la corvée de la collecte de l’eau et de bois, de transformation de produits agricoles, le travail pastoral et l’éducation des enfants), prendre soin des malades et personnes âgées, le poids des traditions et des coutumes, la confusion entretenue sur les préceptes de l’islam (mauvaise interprétation), les règles des communautés et les droits de la femme.
  • Le faible accès des femmes rurales aux services publics, à la protection sociale, aux innovations, aux marchés locaux et nationaux et aux institutions en raison de normes culturelles enracinées et des défis sécuritaires.
  • L’accès difficile au foncier et aux moyens de production éloigne les jeunes en milieu rural (filles et garçons) du monde agricole ; les formations professionnelles y sont peu accessibles et les opportunités de s’installer à son propre compte sont limitées par manque d’accès aux crédits. Les hommes décident sur les dépenses des ménages, de la vente du bétail (84,7% des cas) et l’utilisation de la culture (84,1%). Dans les espaces privés et publics, les hommes incarnent l´autorité, fixent les règles, les codes de conduite et assurent le contrôle des biens familiaux et communautaires. Cela contraste fortement avec la participation massive des femmes dans les activités agricoles et génératrices de revenus. Pour ce qui est des décisions par rapport aux produits agricoles 30,3% des femmes en décident, 29,6% pour les produits de l’élevage et l’accès au crédit (20%)[2].
  • L’accès à l’information, qui pourrait permettre aux femmes rurales d’élargir leurs connaissances et d’échanger leurs savoirs et pratiques, est très restreint. L’accès et le contrôle des biens et des services ; les inégalités sociales, économiques et politiques entre hommes et femmes compromettent la sécurité alimentaire, freinent l’accroissement économique, atténuent les avancées dans tous les domaines et limitent la prise en charge des changements possibles par les populations rurales elles-mêmes en générale et par les femmes rurales en particulier.

Question 2 : Sommes-nous en train de suivre les bonnes approches et politiques pour réduire les inégalités entre les sexes ?

En termes d’approches, j’aimerais souligner l’importance d’agir en partenariat à tous les niveaux (partenariat entre acteurs au développement et partenariat hommes-femmes pour un bienêtre partagé), car les défis sont nombreux et aucun acteur pris individuellement ne peut les gagner tout seul.

Ceci m’amène à partager l’expérience du programme conjoint « Accélérer les progrès vers de l’autonomisation économique des femmes rurales » (Rural women economic empowerment) RWEE au Niger. Il vise à soutenir l’effort du Gouvernement Nigérien pour l’autonomisation de la femme et la sécurité alimentaire à travers une approche multisectorielle basée sur le renforcement de la synergie entre l’ONU Femmes, la FAO, le FIDA et le PAM pour une mise en œuvre conjointe et complémentaire, afin d’avoir un impact plus important sur les bénéficiaires au niveau des communes.

Les quatre agences ont convenu que l’approche des clubs Dimitra soit la porte d’entrée pour les activités du programme, ce qui a permis de travailler avec les hommes et les femmes, jeunes et non jeunes sur plusieurs questions du bienêtre en milieu rural en gros investissement extérieur. D’importants résultats ont été atteints par ce programme en termes d’accès à l’information et à la communication participative, d’augmentation de la production agricole par les agricultrices, d’accès aux marchés avec les produits agricoles par les femmes, d’allègement des tâches ; de la participation des femmes et des jeunes aux processus de prise de décision communautaire, le score de diversité alimentaire est passé de 3,8 à 5 en moins d’une année etc. On note également l’amélioration de la participation des femmes aux institutions rurales telles les comités de gestions des établissements scolaires, les organisations paysannes etc.

Question 3 : Quelle est la meilleure manière de générer des changements significatifs en matière de genre ?

La meilleure manière de générer des changements significatifs en matière de genre est de s’attaquer aux causes profondes de l’inégalité entre les sexes et du déni de droit avec plus d’engagement des hommes. Il est important de travailler avec les femmes, les hommes afin de transformer les normes sexo-spécifiques néfastes à l’équité et à l’égalité de genre, de transformer les attitudes et les considérations sociales qui légitiment la discrimination. Étant donné la place sociale et le rôle que les hommes jouent dans la famille et dans la société, il est important de reconstruire avec eux, une masculinité positive aux droits des femmes ; de bâtir une masculité et une féminité qui perçoivent les droits des femmes comme partie intégrante des droits humains. L’expérience du RWEE au Niger a permis une fois de plus de confirmer qu’hommes et femmes sont victimes de socialisation, qu’ils peuvent ensemble être le moteur du changement social. Il s’agit maintenant d’aller de l’avant, en mobilisant plus de ressources afin que les hommes et les femmes revoient ensemble les processus de gouvernances qui régissent les institutions, les normes qui règlementent les relations de pouvoir dans lesquelles chacune et chacun se bat pour se frayer le chemin.

[1] Etude réalisée par NEPAD dans le cadre de son Programme africain d’appui au genre, aux changements climatiques et à l’agriculture, 2012

[2] Etude réalisée par NEPAD dans le cadre de son Programme africain d’appui au genre, aux changements climatiques et à l’agriculture, 2012

CONTRIBUTION from MME HALIMATOU MOUSSA IDI /National Coordinator for Rural Women Economic Empowerment (RWEE) in Niger

Question 1: What are the main challenges rural women and girls are facing today?

In the context of Niger, factors like climate change, events related to drought, to the food and nutrition crisis, to the recurring floods, the invasion of locusts, the massive influx of refugees, create a difficult environment that threatens the livelihoods of the rural population.

Furthermore, rural women and girls have to face each morning the challenges that obstruct their well-being and their socio-economic potential (4 out of 5 poor people are female). These restrictions include:

  •  Illiteracy (the rate of literacy for people aged 15 and over (that is they can read and write) is 19.1% (male: 27.3%; female: 11% (2015). Their low rate of literacy and schooling limits their knowledge and the much needed skills in order to carry out their productive, economic and political activities.
  • The very high fertility rate (fertility index is 7.6 children per woman (EDSN, 2012).
  • The limited access to productive resources (land, agricultural inputs, funding and credit, information and technology services): A study carried out by NEPAD [New Partenership for Africa´s Development][1]in connection with access to services for dissemination, training/information/communication, for promotion of technology and literacy have shown that: 76% of the people who do not have access to a service are women; only 34.7% of women have access to dissemination services; 38% of women have access to seeds; 32.5% of women have access to fertilizers; 22.8% of people who benefit from a rural credit are women; 88.5% of land belongs to men. The other 11.5% are owned jointly by husband and wife or by the wife and children.
  • Women are overloaded by domestic work: (preparation of meals, the chore of collecting water and firewood, the transformation of agricultural products, farming and the education of children), taking care of the ill and elderly, the burden of traditions and customs, the confusion maintained on the precepts of Islam (faulty interpretation), the community rules and women´s rights.
  • The poor access of rural women to public services, to social security, to innovations, to local and national markets and to institutions owing to deep rooted cultural norms and security risks.
  • The difficult access to land ownership and to the means of production, pushes rural youth (girls and boys) away from the world of agriculture; very  little professional training is accessible there and the opportunities to start up on their own are limited because access to credit is not available. Men decide on household expenditure, on the sale of animals (84.7% of cases) and the management of crops (84.1%). In the private and public spheres, men personify authority, fix the rules, the code of conduct and undertake the control of family and community assets. That contrasts strongly with the enormous involvement of women in agricultural activities and the generation of income. For decisions on agricultural products, 30.3% of women decide, 29.6% for livestock products and for access to credit (20%)[2].
  • Access to information systems, which could allow rural women to increase their knowledge and exchange their knowhow and practices, is very restricted. The lack of access and control of goods and services; social, economic and political inequalities between men and women,  jeopardize food security, hold back economic growth, reduce progress in all areas and limit the undertaking of possible changes by the rural population themselves in general and by rural women in particular.

Question 2: Are we using the right approaches and policies to close the gender gap?

In terms of approaches, I would like to underline the importance of acting in partnership at all levels (partnership among development agencies and partnership between men and women for shared wellbeing), because the challenges are many and no actor working alone can overcome them by themselves.

This brings me to share the experience of the colaborative program « Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women» RWEE in Niger. It aims to support the effort of the Nigerien government for the empowerment of women and food security through a multisectorial approach based on the reinforcement of the synergy between UN Women, FAO, IFAD and WFP for joint and complementary implementation, in order to have a greater impact on the beneficiaries at the communal level.

The four agencies have agreed that the approach of the Dimitra clubs should be the entry point for the activities of the program, which has made it possible to work with men and women, young and not so young on several questions of wellbeing in the rural areas with major external investment. Important results were achieved by this program in terms of access to information and participative communication, increase of agricultural production by farming women, access of women to agricultural products markets, easing of taxes; participation of women and young people in the community decision process, and the rate of food diversity has moved from 3.8 to 5 in less than a year, etc.  One notes also the improved participation of women in rural institutions such as management committees of schools, farmers’ organizations, etc.

Question 3: How can we best achieve gender transformative impacts?

The best way to generate significant changes in terms of gender is to tackle the deep causes of inequality between the sexes and of the denial of rights with more involvement of men. It is important to work with women and men so as to transform the sex-specific norms damaging to equity and to gender equality, to transform the attitudes and social considerations that legitimize discrimination. Given the social status and role that men fulfil in the family and society, it is important to rebuild with them a masculinity positive towards the rights of women; to build a masculinity and femininity that perceives women´s rights as an integral part of human rights. The RWEE experience in Niger has allowed once again to confirm that men and women are the victims of their social upbringing, that they can together be the drivers of social change. Now it is a question of forging ahead, by mobilizing more resources so that men and women together revise the processes of governance that rule the institutions, the norms that determine the balances of power in the midst of which each one is trying to make their way.

[1] Study carried out by NEPAD in the framework of its program Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture Support Project, 2012

[2] Study carried out by NEPAD in the framework of its program Gender, Climate Change and Agriculture Support Project, 2012




This very interesting and important discussion makes us realize that although, gender has been on the agenda for decades, we are still in some areas not or only partly progressing. There are some islands of happiness but overall rural women and girls are still facing many challenges, which are not only impacting on the individual but on entire nations. There is no “one size fits all” but there are some fundamental human rights to be respected including the rights of a child hitting in particular the girl child.

Girl child education is essential for empowerment of women. There are still a number of countries in which early marriages are almost a norm and not an exception. Even if the legal framework is there, girls are becoming brides even before they reach the age of 18 years. They are too young to become mothers and too young be a wife. If we talk about the educational level of rural women we cannot avoid to look at this. Early pregnancies often resulting in low birth weight babies – a major risk factor for undernutrition - do not only perpetuate the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, they also destroy the educational hope of a girl child. Later in their life, they might be included in a development programme focusing on women’s empowerment but the full potential is already gone. Being a nutritionist, of course I connect gender issues with their impact on nutrition and it is shame that this is not really captured in the SDGs – strictly speaking.

I see numerous agriculture programmes in which the major trunk e.g. large irrigation schemes are directed to men or male dominated Farmer Organisations and the small scale kitchen gardens left for individual women or women’s group (sometimes described as mother’s support group) almost as an alibi for women inclusion. Kitchen gardens targeting women for home consumption and irrigation projects targeting men as majority for commercialization. The “logic” behind this is still the perception that women deal with cooking and feeding and the men deal with the real business. This also means too often that kitchen gardens do not get sufficient attention by extension workers in terms of services like training, high quality agricultural inputs, innovative technologies etc. And, by the way, a kitchen garden by definition looking more or less at vegetable and fruit production only is even from the nutritional point of view not sufficient and an Integrated Homestead Food Production approach integrating livestock and fish is of higher value.

The request for more female extension workers needs to be taken serious, however, let’s not forget that the women are already educationally deprived and might not have the right qualification for becoming an extension worker. I personally don’t mind having the majority male extension officers provided they have received a proper gender (and nutrition) training and this goes beyond being aware that setting up meetings have to take the busy schedule of women into consideration. A crash course in gender does not help much as extension officers are coming from the same community/society in which cultural norms are not necessarily in favour of adolescent girls and women. These cultural norms not allowing women to participate in meetings and trainings without the consensus of their husbands are norms hindering the progress of women in agriculture. Of course, men and boys have to be included in discussions and they need to have the understanding that these training programmes targeting women or also for their benefit but I don’t think this enough. What is needed is also an enabling political environment promoted by policy dialogue on the importance of women being fully accepted by Ministry of Agriculture. Often I find the women in MoA mainly in the Home Economics department dealing with cooking demonstrations and kitchen gardens. This is not the idea of empowering women in agriculture. Food security and nutrition at household level is determined by women and they need to heard and need to be seen. And, I totally agree, that we have to listen more and discuss with them and not about them. This also counts for the Youth. I am actually very frustrated when I read “Youth”. There is the female and the male youth with different opportunities and different challenges. My favourite example is a dairy project, in which the successful job creation for youth turned out to be the establishment of milk transportation with motorcycles operated by young men. This is gender-blind – full stop!

The feminisation of agriculture is very much a result of the rural exodus of working male. This is a challenge we need to address. Agriculture needs to become more attractive and profitable for women and men. Otherwise, everybody who can run will end up in the city and the ones remaining – often the women with their children or other family members in need of care – have to carry all alone the burden.

We need role models of young women being successful in agriculture and this requires engaging more women into value chains. We might need affirmative actions for this but it is worth it.

Right now, gender is not the only cross cutting theme but we have nutrition, climate change and youth as well. The problem with cross cutting themes is always that they are everybody’s business but nobody’s responsibility. Sometimes, I sense the perception that cross cutting means it is automatically everywhere and does not need special attention. This is killing the theme.

IFAD has taken up the challenge of a horizontal integration of the cross cutting themes of gender, nutrition, climate change, and youth. It is still work in progress but at the end of the day, it will hopefully break-down the silo thinking.

Although, I am in favour of checklists but many checklists became tick boxes only – meaningless and useless. This also applies to some targets e.g. 30% of beneficiaries are women – this does not tell the story ... what are these women do, what role do they play and what authority do they have and not to be forgotten: what change did they experience in their lives.

We need to apply a detailed accountability framework on gender transformation with SMART indicators. It is not new but still not universally applied.

In the discussion, we learnt of many positive examples but these examples need to be replicated and scaled up. The islands of happiness will not bring the change unless we take them as guiding format.

There is so much more to say and to do (in particular on gender and nutrition)… maybe there will be another opportunity.

Juliane Friedrich


Senior Technical Specialist Nutrition

Jeanette Cooke


Comments re the implementation of behavior change approaches based on recent primary research in rural Malawi.

The effectiveness of tools to bring about behavior change and overcome the root causes of gender inequality strongly depends on how they are implemented. Even the most proven and well-designed tool can have a limited impact on people’s lives if it is not matched with local capacity in terms of skills and resources to implement and monitor it. Across several of the poorest districts in Malawi, the Household Approach is being implemented through the public agricultural extension service. An important lesson learnt, in a context with limited local capacity, includes the need to monitor the trade-off between quality (of implementation and impact) and quantity (number of households reached).

Comments re male outmigration based on recent secondary research into gender roles in rice farming systems in the Philippines. (Key sources in research: Paris et al, 2010, Interrelationships between labour outmigration, livelihoods, rice productivity and gender roles; Asian Development Bank, 2013, Gender equality in the labor market in the Philippines)

In the Philippines, more women have migrated away from rainfed rice farming systems than men and roughly equal proportions of men and women have migrated away from irrigated rice farming systems. Where the outmigration of men has led to de facto female headed households, women’s workloads have not necessarily increased thanks to income from remittances used to hire farm labour. Women are more likely to face problems accessing key inputs and extension services. Meanwhile, it is reported that when women migrate, the men left behind often find it difficult to take on responsibility for domestic chores and care work.

Jeanette Cooke, Consultant, Italy

The Malayalam month "Karkadakam" prior to "chingam" is celeberated as "Ramayanam Month" and Hindus spend time in prayers and adorations.The great saint Valmiki wrote the epic Ramayanam -the story of Lord Ram and Lordess Sita-.Lord Ram,Lordess Sita and brother Laxmana were send to wilderness to fetch for them self.The devilish Ravana hijacked Lordess Sita and took her to Sri Lanka.The celestial war ending in the rescue of Sita and total destruction of Sri Lanka is the anti-climax of the great epic.The epic reveals the importance and central position given to women in socio-political and cultural fabric of Asia.Annie Besant,Sarojini Naidu,Indira Gandhi and many others molded the destiny of 1000 millions of people.Many acts and judicial pronouncements came to protect women and prevent atrocities against them.Women empowerment through collective self employment is showing positive results."Kudumbasree" an all women movement in Kerala is making waves in sectors like hospitality, street vendoring, public cleanliness, environment protection,patient care,postal services, banking, postal services etc.The success stories in Kerala need to be spread to northern states of India where honour killing and child marriages are common.I am attaching a paper published by LANSA, MSSRF Chennai.

Joycia Thorat


Working with women farmers and farm laborers in Yavatmal I would like to share the following input:

Rural women’s life is limited between their home and farm land even in this time and age which is a huge drawback. Mobility, increasing the mobility of women through exposures and travel outside their village, freeing them from burden of house hold chores /farm chores even for few hours or few days and engage in “other work/ learning” can bring in gender transformative impact.  Mobility for the purpose of participation  in  training program  in another village or another district , travel to taluka place for  banking work of Self-help groups  and microfinance group , travelling to district headquarters  for meeting government officers to claim government schemes and programs for their village community , meeting agriculture department officials and seeking support for farm work as per government plans and policies , proposing  new schemes for the community which is  agriculture based on their experience  can be  very transformative and liberative .

This turns them into leaders automatically in their village. This renewed strength has ripple effect and many more women join this empowerment process. However men need to be trained on gender equality, need to take care of household chores for this transformative impact to be complete. Otherwise women will end up doing more work which becomes a double burden.  

Capacity Building  programs on various issues from importance of participating in local governance, to be aware of all government programs  and policies ,  Gender justice training for both men and women ,Organic farming and low cost agro production training  entrepreneurship , managing self-help group and finance  etc. helps  women in transformative impact  and supports the sustainable food security and nutrition .  

Entrepreneurship programs to be encouraged among women to diversify from agriculture as well as to add value to agriculture product and market it. To keep away from money lenders and escape the vicious cycle of getting stuck with the loan sharks self-help group, seed money support programs etc. should be encouraged. Women are excellent in managing value chain processes. Small Support will help many women to become independent    

Santosh Kumar Mishra

Population Education Resource Centre, Department of Lifelong Learning and Extension

I am attaching my contribution in MS Word file. I hope your office will find it resourceful.

Best regards,

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra (Ph. D.)

 I think the process of transforming gender roles and norms is not a new one, though the terminology has gained much mileage in the last 10 years. Many of us in the women's movement have been striving to find that critical edge (gender transforming) in addressing women's empowerment ..striving to understand and address it in a more holistic approach.  But some major questions still prevails in my mind as we endeavour to understand the transformational process. 

Women have managed to fend for themselves in the best ways they know, within their given constraints. They create spaces for themselves, that may not seem always progressive to an outsider. But they are spaces nevertheless built by the dreams, songs and blood of other women before them ... each generation taking a small daring step so that the next can have a few extra moments to breathe. Armed with our baggage of knowledge, we endeavour to "empower women" taking their needs and priorities into consideration. But I have found inadequate evidence of where we have tried to understand what constitutes empowerment from the women's perspective and what are the safe/empowering spaces that women currently have in their lives that we can maximise upon.  

While working with families, men and boys and policy engagement is extremely important, beaking social norms and taboos is extremely difficult. We may be able to achieve something within the project cycle that can be monitored and measured. But what then? Are our project duration long and intensive enough to bring about change that can be sustained by a community? With decrease in funding and shorter project cycles, target achievement is sought even before the project can actually commence. It is not possible to address underlying social norms and constraints in such an environment. Women and men, girls and boys have to be conscientised to demand better services, better opportunities, better laws and better futures before any policy can have an impact on the ground.

Gender education also is being seen as a possible intervention for transforming gender norms. However it cannot be a one off class but has to be sustained from junior to high school and at least cover the duration of an entire generation. Teachers have to be trained and sensitised to provide the required support in imparting this kind of education. All these things require time and most importantly a strong political will of all stakeholders. 



The context of livelihoods in rural areas has changed significantly during the last 20 years: so new needs and ambitions are emerging from rural women with a very high level of demand and requirement to overcome poverty and food insecurity, to strengthen their economic empowerment and to make their voices heard in peasant organizations and rural institutions at local and national levels.

My conviction is that Africa (the region I know best) is progressing slowly but surely on rural women's empowerment even if gender inequalities are a persistent reality. We all know that the underlying causes of these inequalities are deeply rooted in gender norms and behaviours, power relations and social institutions. The systems of social and cultural organizations still influence and very often the distribution of responsibilities in the public and domestic spheres.

Lesson learnt :

1. Qualitative changes in male-female relations, roles and positions in household and public arenas occur over a period of time, well beyond the normal timeframe of a project: these cannot be obtained by command and will have to be pursued over time.

2. Among the main levers of change, I think two are more crucial in striving for transformation impacts on rural women's wellbeing: education and workload reduction: Due to their low educational levels and heavy workloads (food cropping, domestic duties, the transportation and sale of agricultural products, food preparation, etc.), any strategy aimed at reducing the poverty and vulnerability of rural women and hence of their families must focus strongly both on alleviating their workload through new technologies and on enhancing their access to knowledge and skills.

3. More focus on rural young girls' education: The education of young rural girls can be a driving force and a strong accelerating factor of change. The situation of girls in West and Central Africa region is particularly challenging, especially in the rural areas where only 55% of the girls of school age are in school (compared to 88% for boys). Difficult access to education, early abandonment of school and a heavy workload within the home, are major reasons why adult women do not know how to read and write. A young woman’s prospects for a better life are further compromised by early marriage and frequent pregnancies.

Some good practices:

In order to reach the poorest and most vulnerable rural women for transformative impacts, promote the value chain approach and focus on crops/sectors in which poor households and women are already more present or could easily integrate

Re-position food crops (millet, maize, cowpea, rice, fonio, etc.) to market-oriented crops/cash crops

Document and share good practices and innovative models and approaches that have achieved conclusive results and sustainable impacts on the living conditions of rural women

Scale up these innovations /good practices and lessons learned (from less successful experiences) to reach a critical mass of rural populations, including women particularly

Implement this scaling up with a differentiated approach that takes into account the specificities of each context according to its social and cultural realities

Deliver the different support and services as a "package'' rather than separately.

Dear good people,

You will notice that my responses are not arranged in the order of the questions because some of them respond to more that one question.

1. Approaches that speak to the man's wisdom should be encouraged. Men and women should be exposed to approaches or methodologies that bring out self-reflecting on their actions which emotionally injure the other. The understanding gained can help the men and women make judgement for themselves. When people are reminded of their wrong doings they tend to be defensive citing culture, religious beliefs and other factors as backing for their actions.

2. Promote approaches that are easy to understand and interpret but they bring out evidence of gender imbalances and injustices without any provocation. Tools used in gender action learning system (GALS) are the best example known for peacefully giving visual evidence of gender imbalances.

3. All approaches that help men and women to see the value, love and respect of one another will win the battle. The approaches whose principle is guided by coercion and fear motivation only work in the short run but leave more serious gender gaps thereafter.

4. Best are the approaches that strengthen family ties. Targeting people as couples could be costly but the change achieved is ever self sustaining. Targeting one spouce per household is only good for satisfying quantitative indicators while compromising quality of the desired impact.

5. More behavioural research needs to be done in order to understand changes in people's behaviours as they respond to issues around them. With technology advancement, political instability, climate change, diseases and many other situations, humans change their behaviours and locations in order to survive the harsh situations sometimes in ways that increase societal gender gaps.

6. Most policies especially in least developed countries are carefully drafted sorely to attract donor funding. However, the actual policy implementation suffers serious underperformances, often times deliberately.

7. Rampant corruption tendencies especially in African countries mostly affect budgetlines that support gender interventions. Governments make realocations moving funds from gender budgetlines to fund the critical ones such as health and direct food support.

8. Men and boys have not adequately been involved in the drive to reduce gender gaps to the extent that the term 'gender' is grossly mistaken to mean women. The world needs men that can interpret existing gender gaps and effectively influence fellow men to change. Men who promote gender equality and advocate for fairness and impartiality need to understand that it is their passion and dedication to facilitate change will help them succeed otherwise society will regard them as weak minded.

I would think that communities need to provide opportunities -- such as platforms/foras -- that allow women to exchange their experiences and knowledge for them to help each other, grow, and thrive together.

Allow me to use the Mothers’ Club set up by the Togolese Red Cross as an example, with an analysis that I did in 2015.

According to the Human Development Report 2014 (UNDP, 2014), Togo’s Human Development Index value for 2013 is 0.473— which is in the low human development category—positioning the country at 166 out of 187 countries and territories.  To improve local living conditions, the Togolese Red Cross (TRC) since 2000 has set up the Mothers’ Clubs in different regions of the country to engage mothers in activities aiming to improve their well-beings. 

The two goals of this set-up serve not only as incentive but also as the expected outcome of public values shared by the TRC and mothers (and their family): one is for improved community health, and the other for better socio-economic development for women. 

As Togo has a Gender Inequality Index value of 0.579, ranking it 127 out of 149 countries in the 2013 index. (UNDP, 2014).  It is not enough for mothers only to share the value with the TRC: before joining the Club, many of them have to get the consent from their husbands.  Only when their husbands recognise the potential benefits of the shared value, women are able to join and become an active members to receive training.  Thus the authorising environment is composed of, in a general term, women and men in the communities.

The TRC’s volunteers living in local communities.  Through their own community’s Mothers’ Club, they provide training to its members.  The volunteers in this case represent the 1st level operational capacity as they provide awareness-raising on community health (including mother and infant health, prenatal and postnatal health care, family planning, HIV & AIDS prevention, malaria control and diarrhoeal illness control), and sanitation and hygiene education (i.e. waste management, well-mock etc.), as well as micro credit management.  Mothers when trained then become the 2nd level operational capacity as they are then capable to share their knowledge with their family and others in the same community who are not member of the Mothers’ Club.

Mothers then become a contributor to local development with the knowledge they shared and effort they invest in the community. When the communities experience the benefits, men are more likely to give approval to their wives to join the Club and as a result enlarge the authorising environment.  As a consequence, with more women joining the Club, the operational capacity can increase for better public value outcomes.  

I hope this is clear.  With best regards,