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Capacities needed to integrate gender into RAS
Few developing countries have adequate numbers of extension agents; and men decidedly outnumber women agents. Since in some communities many women farmers are unable to attend meetings, or do not feel comfortable speaking with extension agents who are men, it is critical both to help men learn to reach women farmers in culturally acceptable ways, as well as to encourage hiring and retention of women extensionists.
In addition to training more women to be extension agents, there are a number of other suggestions for increasing the number of women participating in RAS activities:
Meetings: Women have multiple roles and may not be able to attend when meetings are normally scheduled, or be able to travel alone. Childcare provision should also be considered to encourage attendance. These considerations may increase the cost of extension programs.
Single sex or mixed sex groups: In many countries, women are frequently more comfortable speaking in the private sphere (at home) rather than the public sphere (in meetings). It may be necessary to build their confidence in single sex groups first before engaging them in mixed sex groups to ensure their participation later. This may require different kinds of training than extension providers normally offer.
Extension materials and visits:
Studies show that access to extension services is consistently lower among women than men: 19% for women versus 81% for men in Malawi, 1.13 versus 2.03 contacts in Uganda, 20% versus 27% in Ethiopia; and 8–19% of female-headed households versus 29% of male-headed households in Karnataka, India.
In many instances, fewer opportunities to go to school mean women are less literate and numerate than men. Using more pictures and interactive activities to relay extension information and engaging local women to train their neighbours are methods to address these shortcomings.
Evidence of impact and next steps
Although much attention has been given to the role of education in empowering women, agricultural programmes can also play an important role. In Bangladesh, fish pond programmes that were ‘gender blind’ ended up reaching wealthier men, whereas fish pond and vegetable garden programmes that targeted poor women ended up empowering these women.
(7) Hallman, K., Lewis, D. and Begum, S. 2007. Assessing the Impact of vegetable and fishpond technologies on poverty in rural Bangladesh. In: Adato, M. and Meinzen-Dick, R. (eds) Agricultural research, livelihoods, and poverty: studies of economic and social impacts in six countries. Washington, DC: IFPRI.
In the long term, the programmes that were targeted to women improved the nutritional status of women and children, as well as the equality of distribution of assets between men and women, more than untargeted programmes.
(8) Kumar, N. and Quisumbing, A. 2010. Access, adoption, and diffusion: understanding the long-term impacts of improved vegetable and fish technologies in Bangladesh. IFPRI Discussion Paper 995. Washington, DC: IFPRI.
In Uttar Pradesh, India, Paris and colleagues
(9) Paris T.R., Cueno, A.D. and Singh, V.N. 2008. Assessing the impact of participatory research in rice breeding on women farmers: a case study in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, India. Experimental Agriculture 44: 97–112.
demonstrated the advantages of empowering women by giving them increased decision-making authority in participatory selection of rice varieties. This strategy improved the development of varieties best suited to the environment and increased females’ confidence in their decisions and opinions. More work needs to be done on measuring the impact that increased attention to gender will provide to RAS.
To tackle the underlying norms and power structures that create and reproduce gender inequalities, an extension and advisory ‘facilitation system’ (as opposed to a service) is required. A facilitation system emphasises not only the creation of knowledge products for dissemination to end users but also creating knowledge with those users through the process itself.
(10) Farnworth, C. and Colverson, K.E. 2015. Building a gender transformative facilitated extension advisory system in sub-Saharan Africa. Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security, 1(1): 20–39.
To create such a system an effective conceptual framework is needed to understand and map the domains in which power is exercised, negotiated and expressed. Numerous frameworks are in the process of being developed and tested, including gender transformative approaches within the CGIAR
Various NGOs are also experimenting with frameworks that challenge gender norms and power structures, including Helen Keller International’s program on ‘Nurturing Connections.’
Such work has the potential for having a significant impact on food security in developing countries.