Enabling poor rural people
to overcome poverty



IFAD contribution to MDG 3 – Gender equality and women’s empowerment

Due to their care-giving and other domestic responsibilities, women and girls tend to suffer disproportionately from lack of essential services and infrastructure, such as healthcare, water and education.  It is essential for women’s needs to be taken into account when designing the provision of basic infrastructure and technology, because investments in social services do not automatically benefit women. 

  • DRC: Women's views on empowerment (2002) This IFAD evaluation of support to women’s projects in North Kivu, DRC, used participatory methods to allow women to define empowerment and measure the impact of the project.  The women’s definition of empowerment included appreciation from their husbands and self-esteem, ownership of assets and access to credit.  They considered that both training and support for income generation had helped them to achieve these goals.  The project contributed to an existing trend in women’s empowerment underway in the area sparked by changes in gender relations forced by the conflict.
  • Uganda: Dynamic patterns of gender division of labour in agriculture (2000) Based on a diagnostic study by FAO, this note explains that though the gender division of agricultural labour in Uganda is quite dynamic and subject to change.  It varies by region, crop and farming system, although some tasks or responsibilities are more fixed by gender than others. For example, although women are involved at all stages of producing cash crops, male labour and decision making tends to dominate, especially where market conditions are favourable, and especially nearer to the marketing stage.
  • Rural women's walking time (2000) Several studies show that many rural women in developing countries spend many hours every day walking, often carrying children and/ or tools or produce. This not only takes up a lot of time, but it is incredibly tiring and can have an impact on the women’s health and productivity.   This has implications for the design of infrastructure and services, and also of development initiatives which should be designed to ensure that they do not unintentionally increase women’s walking time, and that women can participate effectively. 
  • Two aspects of women's workloads (1999) Studies in West Africa show that poor farm women not only work longer hours than men but often perform physically demanding work.  For example, in Cameroon women worked on average twice as many hours as men, including more than twice as many hours on agricultural tasks.   In Gabon, women tended to provide around 95% of the farm work. However, in many cases the women are the last to get access to the necessary inputs and resources for their crops.
  • Nepal: Factors that increase women's workloads (1999) A 1999 IFAD study found that though all women in hill districts of Nepal had heavy workloads and are highly vulnerable, there were marked differences between different women, depending on their class or caste, and other factors including: geography and the level of available infrastructure; the level of migration of male family members; and alternatives promoted by development interventions.  
  • Asia: Overworked women pass on poverty to their children (1999) A 1999 IFAD rural poverty assessment underlines the important implications of rural women’s poverty for the next generation.  The assessment found that rural women face more frequent and severe poverty, and that female headed households are especially vulnerable to being stuck in a cycle of poverty and overwork.  What’s more, girl children from poor rural families are usually key elements of the family’s survival strategy, often depriving them of education and childhood.   It is important to take a multi-generational view of poverty to help families break the chain. 
  • Low mobility isolates female headed households (1999) An IFAD assessment of rural poverty in the Near East and North Africa notes that female headed households are subject to greater poverty for generic, as well as gender-specific reasons, including reduced mobility. Targeted information, motivation and education activities therefore become essential in benefiting such women and their dependents.
  • African women farmers' need suitable tools (1998) This IFAD/FAO/Government of Japan study looked at the agricultural implements used by women farmers in five African countries: Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Women are working increasingly longer and harder in agriculture, yet the tools available to women are too few, too inefficient and almost always designed to be used by men.
  • Morocco: Poorer women ignore gender norms in the interest of survival (1997) An IFAD paper on household food security in Eastern Morocco shows that women's roles in production and food security vary according to their age and status, and that in poorer households, social norms governing gender relations and roles can become less rigid as women play a greater role in ensuring survival.

Literacy classes build women’s self-confidence and self-esteem because they provide not only basic literacy and numeracy skills, but also enable women to access broader knowledge and information, and to form cohesive groups.  It is essential that training and education programmes cater for women’s special needs and time constraints.

  • Uganda: Functional literacy can empower poor rural women (2000) This study compared the experiences of two IFAD supported projects contains learning and insights about the link between functional literacy and empowerment.  The study suggests that functional literacy had enabled women to learn and gain self-confidence, and linking the training to credit helped enhance their control over income. The study also found that when husbands were themselves illiterate, they tended to discourage their wives from attending literacy classes, yet they were reluctant to seek training themselves in case of losing status in the community.
  • Pakistan: Theory v practice in demand-led vocational training among women (2001) This study of two IFAD supported projects targeting women in Pakistan queried the assumption that demand-led training activities will have greater relevance and impact.  The study found that the training choices of men and women tended to follow traditional gender roles and activities. The study concluded that women’s choices of vocational training in a highly conservative cultural setting are largely influenced by traditional roles and the ability to accommodate the activities with their existing reproductive activities and the confines of the home.
  • Mali: Making time for literacy training (2003) A 2003 evaluation of the IFAD supported Sahelian Areas Development Fund Programme generated some useful findings, including the need for careful planning of literacy activities to ensure sustainable benefits to rural women.  While the programme included a strong capacity building and literacy component, women’s multiple responsibilities and heavy workloads made it difficult for them to attend courses and retainment was low.  Furthermore, with few opportunities to use their new found skills, including a lack of information in local languages, any progress was soon reversed.
  • Rural women and girls still excluded from education and training (2001) IFAD’s 2001 Rural Poverty Report observes that despite the impact of girls’ education on income, poverty and health and nutrition, rural women are often marginalized from both formal and non-formal education opportunities.   Two constraints on women's participation that programmes can address are the duration and location of the training. But the social and cultural constraints are more difficult to change and such change will take a long time.