An Outline of Challenges, Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Future
Since the early 1990s, the Near East and North Africa (NENA) Division and IFAD as a whole have scaled up their commitment and refined their approach to gender-sensitive poverty eradication. As a result, recent projects seek a complementary perspective on rural men's and women's assets and activities, striving to overcome an earlier tendency to address each of these in isolation. Although the process is still far from complete, the men- or women-exclusive perspective that marked earlier generations of projects is being progressively abandoned. However, much remains to be done in reaching an understanding of how the distribution of assets and roles between men and women shapes the social economy of rural areas and contributes to either poverty or development. Most importantly, more needs to be done to understand how asset distribution and economic participation by rural men and women are being affected by institutional reforms and market transformations. While these are primarily knowledge gaps, they also reveal the need to rethink how IFAD relates to markets and institutions, both locally and on a broader scale.
To strengthen the impact of IFAD's present and future work, it is increasingly important to identify ways to affect institutional and economic processes in a direction that is fairer to the rural poor, both men and women. At the same time, existing gender gaps in access to key assets continue to call for initiatives to build women's capacities and reduce their specific vulnerability to poverty. The need to invest in gender-sensitive work while also continuing to address women's asset disadvantages is part of the rationale for the Programme of Action to Reach Rural Women in the NENA Region, which was created in 2001 for gender mainstreaming, technical assistance to projects, and knowledge-building and dissemination. This paper is both part of the process that led to the creation of the programme and one of its outputs under the heading of knowledge-building. Its objective is twofold: first, it aims to contribute to a consolidation of existing knowledge, both in the division and beyond it, on equality-based approaches to poverty eradication. On this level, it offers an assessment of the experience of the division, aiming to identify challenges, dimensions of inequality and lessons learned, but also stressing the possibility of learning from other organizations and initiatives. Second, the paper aims to stimulate reflection on future directions of equitable development work in the NENA region, so as to serve as the starting point for a new 'gender strategy' for the region.
After discussing a conceptual framework for equality and equitable development in the NENA region, the first part of the paper focuses on gender gaps in access to key assets such as education, land, market channels, financial services and decision-making input. While acknowledging that important initiatives have been taking place to reduce such gaps, especially in the field of education, the paper points to inequalities that continue to hinder poverty-eradication efforts and to impede equitable participation in rural development by both men and women.
The next section attempts to articulate the lessons learned, some of which have direct operational relevance, while others are more relevant at the strategic level. One category of lessons that is immediately relevant to project implementation concerns concrete ways to improve outreach to communities (both men and women) and thus strengthen both participation and sustainability. A finding that is of strategic significance is that partnerships with a broader range of interlocutors are needed for gender-sensitive work. In particular, the paper points to the need to deepen ties with established partners such as gender units in ministries of agriculture, while at the same time looking beyond them to mobilize a greater variety of institutional, human and financial resources in the service of poor men and women. Finally, two particularly important lessons concern collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), with a focus on areas in which they often have a comparative advantage in equality work, and the need for integrated packages (including training, finance and market support) to build women's economic capabilities.
The final, and perhaps most important, part of the paper represents an effort to strengthen the division's current approach to equitable development - suggesting not a reformulation of concepts and goals but rather an adjustment of priorities and resources to better match a changing regional environment. The driving notion in this section is that projects are still taking an exclusive approach to gender work, and not so much (or not only) by equating 'gender' with 'women' and thus poorly integrating women-targeted activities into project goals, budgets and institutions. Rather, the 'exclusiveness' of current projects lies in their concentration on the micro and local level, particularly as concerns activities targeting women. Although this is not true of all projects, the result is a frequent under-appreciation of a range of economic, institutional and demographic factors that shape the social economy of rural areas, both locally and regionally (or internationally). Conversely, phenomena such as migratory flows, market liberalization and related changes in consumption patterns have important effects on asset and role distribution between men and women, and cannot thus be ignored by poverty-eradication efforts that aim to be equitable.
Based on such considerations, what is proposed here is a broadening of the current gender approach of the division, which is asset- and needs-based, to make room for a perspective that is solidly grounded in attention to markets and institutions. In particular, ongoing phenomena such as market liberalization, regional and international integration, institutional reform and demographic instability (migration) should become the point of departure in understanding changing patterns of inequality. The goal is not to substitute responsiveness to markets for responsiveness to human needs and assets, but rather to identify entry points for fostering more gender-equitable rural markets and institutions within which those assets can be cultivated. In particular, the paper offers five main recommendations:
Development experience shows that gender inequalities are a major factor impeding progress towards the Millennium Development Goals of poverty reduction. This is particularly true in rural areas, where women are generally very involved in productive work but lack access to assets they need to play that role effectively. As a result of this imbalance, rural women are often more vulnerable to poverty than men, and their limited ability to secure assets independently makes them more likely to be negatively affected by ongoing changes in rural markets and institutions. Today, IFAD recognizes that equal access to resources is essential to enable both men and women to be effective partners in the fight against poverty. This goal was most recently stated in the Strategic Framework for IFAD 2002-2006, and reaffirmed in several policy documents for the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region, including the latest regional strategy and many country strategic opportunities papers.
Over the past few years, the NENA region has made important progress in reducing inequalitiesin asset distribution between men and women thanks to government initiatives and the growing vibrancy of civil society and women's associations. In particular, some countries have invested heavily in female education, and some have undertaken important reforms in civil status and family law. Overall, women's participation in the economy has improved, although with significant variations by locality and social group. Despite such progress, however, inequitable access to resources remains a problem for men and women throughout the region. In particular, and despite regional variation, women in general - but especially rural women - tend to remain underprivileged compared with men in accessing key assets such as land, financing, political power and education. This appears to be due to a combination of factors, the most prominent of which are rural poverty, the effects of liberalization, and social practices and laws built on the assumption that men are primarily or even exclusively responsible for household welfare.
IFAD and other institutions have made great efforts to empower rural women to play a more effective role in their households and communities and to promote a more equitable division of resources to the benefit of both genders. While more remains to be done - notably to understand the gender aspects of changing rural markets and ongoing institutional reforms - the experience gained allows us to identify positive lessons, challenges and entry points. This paper attempts to build on these lessons in order to stimulate thinking on the relationship between poverty reduction, development and equitable asset distribution in the NENA region. Notwithstanding some references to regional commonalities, the focus is on IFAD project experience, in recognition of the fact that each project context is marked by a different distribution of resources, roles and institutions. Eventually, the goal is to develop a basis for dialogue between IFAD and its regional partners to sharpen strategies to promote development through encouraging equitable access to resources for poor women and men. However, the paper offers recommendations to better orient IFAD's work towards this goal, highlighting the need to treat gender not as a stand-alone problem, but rather as a key aspect of the current reorganization of rural markets, institutions and local demographics (including migratory flows).
A. What Do We Mean by Gender Equality?
The IFAD Gender Plan of Action 2003-2006 defines 'equality' as women and men having equal opportunities to access goods and resources to which their community attaches social value.1 Accordingly, the Fund aims to enable rural women and men to benefit from opportunities on an equal footing in order to overcome poverty, rather than to promote uniformity of roles between them. In other words, equality means supporting the equal right of individuals and groups to access those resources that each needs to play an effective developmental role, while respecting present roles as well as the right to renegotiate them as each deems fair and sustainable, both in social and in economic terms. In this sense, equality is 'equity' rather than 'sameness', a distinction that is perceived as crucial when operating in the NENA region.
Although gender roles are not a cultural constant, but rather vary in response to economic, political and social factors, changes on each of these levels do not occur at the same speed or simultaneously. In particular, existing patterns of access may cease to make economic sense before institutions and socio-cultural norms are ready for change (such as the notion of male-headed households). When unequal access no longer appears sustainable in the face of economic and institutional change - as is the case in parts of the NENA region greatly affected by male migration or war-related displacement - IFAD and other international agencies can become catalysts for change. However, it is important to remember that asset distribution and the social norms upholding it (including men's and women's conventional roles) set the limits for what projects can accomplish. While these limits cannot become an alibi for failure to promote equality, a balance should be sought between organizational standards and the institutional and cultural capacities and sensitivity of each community.
In recent years, IFAD has undertaken a series of initiatives to improve the design, monitoring and evaluation of project impact on equality. These initiatives have been essential in ensuring that appropriate methodologies to promote equality are incorporated into projects prior to and beyond the implementation phase. On the other hand, this process has also paved the way for recognition of the fact that it is on the terrain of each project that efforts must be made to find formulas for equal access that make sense to local partners/beneficiaries. This does not mean that issues of equality in NENA projects cannot be addressed from a regional standpoint. On the contrary, confronting such issues only at the project level may hinder sharing of experience and important feedback to the policy level. A regional approach to equality work is thus important, particularly since rural areas in the Near East and North Africa tend to present significant, common features in terms of women's developmental constraints and opportunities.
B. Regional Overview
NENA countries present remarkable variation in terms of gross national income per capita, owing to great disparity in natural endowments and population size. Moreover, there are diverse institutional configurations (hereditary monarchies, one-party regimes, quasi-democratic governments), as well as development experiences (from state-led industrialization to rentier economies). Finally, NENA countries have been characterized by different relations between governments and semi-traditional elites(including clan and tribal leaders, religious figures, and so forth). This variety of experience has influenced gender norms and affected traditional networks of support, centred on the extended patriarchal family. In some countries (e.g. several oil-rich Gulf countries), political and economic factors have preserved at least the form of patriarchal solidarity networks, and women's social and economic participation has been limited.2 Elsewhere, state-led modernization has stimulated urbanization and the fragmentation of extended families, resulting in more pressure for economic participation by both men and women. 3 Variations in institutional and political experience have also translated into different legal codes concerning men's and women's status as citizens, resulting in different attitudes towards international laws and conventions concerning equality. Although some key conventions (e.g. the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women - CEDAW) have been signed by many NENA governments, they have often been adopted with reservations, or remain subordinate to domestic laws (e.g. personal status codes) that may de facto neutralize their provisions.
Source: World Development Indicators, database (World Bank).
a For HDI ranking, 1-53 corresponds to high human development, 54-137 to medium human development, and 138-173 to low human development. Of the 34 countries ranked in the low-human-development group in the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2003, 30 were in sub-Saharan Africa.Source: Human Development Report 2003 (UNDP).
b GDI is a composite index measuring average achievement in the three basic dimensions captured in the HDI, i.e. a long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living, adjusted to account for gender inequalities. Source: Human Development Report 2002 (UNDP).
Men's and women's participation in the labour force. According to statistics, men represent the bulk of the labour force in the NENA region; women's participation rates are on average lower than in any other region. A 2001 World Bank study of Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen found that in none of these countries did women account for more than 35% of the labour force, against a 1998 rate for middle-income countries of 39% of the labour force and 41% in low-income countries. Despite this relative statistical invisibility, however, recent studies show that women in the NENA region participate in the economy in important ways. Besides being entirely responsible for reproductive and caretaking tasks, rural women also perform up to 80% of the agricultural work in the region as a whole (although this can vary greatly by locality). In some cases, men and women work together on family farms, and there are no sharp distinctions in activities of the two. In other cases, men and women carry out separate tasks and possess different kinds of expertise. For instance, women are generally responsible for tending to certain kinds of livestock (mainly small animals), gathering fuel, fetching water, picking fruits, collecting plants and herbs, and processing food. Among the landless or those without livestock, both men and women may do on or off-farm wage-earning work, or be involved in seasonal migration ( Lebanon, Syria ), while more long-term migration to urban areas or abroad is generally a prerogative of men. Finally, many areas have maintained a tradition of women's crafts, such as weaving and carpet-making, although local markets for these crafts have been changing and sometimes disappearing over the past decades.4
Despite significant differences, there are wide similarities among countries in terms of human development and equality indicators (Table 1), as well as in terms of personal status laws that legally enshrine the role of men as breadwinners and primary economic agents(with a few exceptions, such as Tunisia). Although data on the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) after 1999 are not available for all NENA countries, the Human Development Report 2000 ranked Tunisia 60th, Syria 65th, Egypt 68th, and Jordan 69th out of 70 countries on this index, which measures women's economic and political opportunities.5 While a systematic rural/urban breakdown of these figures is not available, data on some relevant indicators (e.g. physical and social infrastructure) suggest that the rural population faces greater constraints on a number of levels, from access to services and economic assets to political participation. In part, women and men share such constraints, but there are also advantages and disadvantages that are specific to each gender group:
C. Obstacles to Equitable Participation by Women and Men in Rural Development
Social practices supporting unequal access to land.Agricultural interventions generally take land as an entry point, and entitlement to land assets is often a prerequisite for access to other assets such as agricultural inputs, technology and credit. While questions of land tenure have always been relevant to rural development, current changes in NENA land markets threaten to intensify problems of landlessness among the rural poor in general and women in particular. Against such a background, tenure arrangements based on women's and men's roles become a key issue, especially given the growing phenomenon of temporarily or permanently female-headed households. However, this issue is not one that can be analysed or addressed easily, partly because hard data are exceptionally rare, and also because anecdotal evidence suggests great variation across countries and even from village to village. In general, the right of women to own land is recognized by state laws as well as by Islamic law (shari'ah), which stipulates that women can purchase land and that they should inherit half the assets inherited by male relatives of the same degree in relation to a deceased person. However, such legal provisions are often contradicted by social practices based on an exclusive recognition of women's reproductive role, which assigns to men all productive responsibilities. As a result, in many areas male relatives hold women's land assets, and are supposed to share the yield with them at harvest time. In some cases, this amounts to a de facto relinquishing of land assets by women, although the actual implications of the process depend on a number of factors, including women's marital status and their knowledge of their rights. Since such knowledge is present in very different degrees in different communities - ranging from women's reluctance to recognize the existence of these rights to their willingness to go to court for them - it is difficult to predict how this practice may evolve. On the one hand, the notion that it serves to counter excessive fragmentation of land holdings may perpetuate it in areas where size of holdings and poverty seem directly related. The fact that in some countries ( Morocco, Yemen ) large numbers of rural women lack identity cards may also contribute to the problem by making it impossible to register property in their names.8 Whatever the case, today the reality is that even in a country such as Lebanon, where the law requires that men and women receive equal shares of inherited assets,9 in poor rural areas land is usually registered in the name of the sons. In countries such as The Sudan, on the other hand, where there is an established practice of assigning collective land to men and women farmers, the latter are often less likely to obtain good quality land, although exceptions exist (i.e. women getting the best quality land).
Women's limited access to financial assets.In the NENA region, rural finance has been the province of state-owned agricultural banks or credit providers, linked to agriculture ministries offering credit and extension services and subsidies. Women have been marginal clients of these institutions for a number of reasons, notably the lack of land as collateral. Moreover, membership in farmers' cooperatives (also requiring land ownership) has often been necessary to access credit. Finally, women's ability to access formal institutions has been hindered by illiteracy and mobility concerns, as well as by social norms discouraging interaction with male non-relatives. As a consequence, women have relied mostly on informal financial institutions such as the jam'iyyat, i.e. peer groups that collect small amounts of monthly savings to lend to members on a revolving basis. However, the amount of funds to which poor women have access through these mechanisms is generally too limited to have developmental impact. Overall, and despite some successful microfinance experiments conducted across the region in recent years, most rural women still lack access to adequate financial services.
High illiteracy rates, especially among women.Despite significant country variation, a large number of women in the NENA region are illiterate, especially in rural areas and among the poor. While causes vary, they typically include lack of local educational services and of safe roads to reach the nearer services, coupled with less mobility of girls compared with boys, due to socio-cultural factors. In some areas, early marriage patterns (as early as 12 or 13) result in high drop-out rates for girls. Although the problem is decreasing (sometimes dramatically) among the younger generations, illiteracy continues to greatly limit the capacities and opportunities of rural women. On an individual level, illiteracy hinders women's ability to acquire productive skills with which to meet market demand, undermines their self-confidence, and makes them vulnerable in the face of all those daily activities for which reading may make the difference between life and death (e.g. using a medication). However, there are also broader consequences that affect society as a whole. According to a World Bank simulation, if the Middle East and North Africa had had the same initial ratio of female-to-male school enrolment and closed the gap between the two at the same rate as East Asia from 1960 to 1992, per capita growth in gross national product in the region would have averaged 2.2 percent more than it did.
Source: Arab Human Development Report 2002 (UNDP).
Women's greater time and mobility constraints.Available statistics show that women's daily work schedules in developing countries tend to be significantly heavier than men's. Although systematic comparative data for the region are still lacking, surveys indicate that poor rural women in the NENA region have a schedule of 12-16 hours a day, between domestic work and fetching water, collecting fuel, tending to livestock and menial farming tasks. Such schedules pose obvious limits on women's ability to invest time in literacy or in training to seek income opportunities above the level of unskilled labour. As for mobility constraints, these do not affect all women equally or in all areas. In particular, very poor women traditionally have greater mobility and maintain greater social interaction out of economic necessity. Younger, educated women also enjoy greater mobility, particularly before marriage and if they have gone to school in urban areas. Generally, however, lack of or limited mobility seems to represent a significant obstacle for many rural women and for their ability to contribute effectively to the livelihoods of their households. It entails dependence on men for performing key activities such as marketing,10 accessing financial institutions, and even services such as veterinary care for women's own livestock.
Lack of women's representation in local institutions.In recent times, some states have begun to devolve authority to local institutions in a number of areas, including rural development, with mixed results for women. On the one hand, decentralization may create positive opportunities for women, since it may be easier for them to make their voices heard at the local level (although it is at the national level that they are likely to find their main allies). Women's organizations in Yemen, for instance, have chosen to concentrate on local councils to promote women's greater political representation. Delegation of authority from the state level to that of local government may provide relatively democratic spaces for resource management and decision-making, in which local communities may find a voice. On the other hand, however, whether decentralization relies on traditional or government-related rural institutions, women are generally underrepresented in both, as confirmed by findings in Morocco and The Sudan, as well as by the experience of village committees in Jordan and Tunisia.Moreover, decentralization often activates (or reactivates) local patronage networks, in which women have a limited role to play. Even more common, however, is the risk that decentralization will be seen as a sufficient substitute for real democratization of participation (including the poor, women and other marginalized groups).
Household decision-making patterns.Decision-making patterns in the household are always difficult to assess, partly because of the subjective nature of men's and women's perceptions and also because of possible reluctance to discuss this issue with researchers. Some ethnographic evidence suggests that in many areas rural women play a minor role in decision-making regarding productive activities - including sometimes the buying and selling of productive assets that women directly manage - however, the experience of other areas may be dramatically different. More research is needed to cast light on decision-making patterns, particularly in order to identify women's and men's respective needs for access to information. Such research is also needed to strengthen initiatives in productive assets managed or held by women, so as to ensure that technology, information and inputs are channelled optimally.
Limited capacity of institutions working with rural women. In the past few years, several countries have set up units or focal points in relevant agencies (ministries of agriculture, planning or social affairs) to encourage and monitor initiatives to equitably serve rural men and women. While this process is too recent to assess it adequately, at present these institutions suffer from a variety of problems, due partly to the limited effectiveness of certain models (particularly the focal-point model) and partly to broader organizational or socio-cultural issues. In a context in which many governments are attempting to 'disengage' from rural areas and the agricultural sector, these institutions also have to confront budget and staff difficulties shared by others. Whatever the causes, a visit made to relevant institutions in Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen suggests that common problems include, first, lack of adequate data on men's and women's asset situations and on the current state of rural markets. Second, there are problems of limited financial and human capacity, owing to poor budget allocations for gender or work related to women, as well as to dependency on international funding for these activities. Third, even well-staffed, capable women's ministerial units are for the most part poorly integrated into the decision-making structure of their institutions and lack coordination with similar units or with other agencies.
Laws and practices hindering women's economic participation. Although several NENA countries have affirmed the principle of gender equality in their constitutions and legal codes, the application of this principle may be hindered by contradicting laws or social practices. In particular, a recent World Bank study has shown that provisions for equality in labour laws may be overridden (in practice if not in principle) by personal code and family laws. For instance, even in countries with progressive labour laws, such as Jordan and Yemen, men may be entitled to prohibit their wives from working outside the home. Even when this is not legal practice, women generally need permission from men (relatives as well as community leaders) to participate in productive activities that are not customary local practice - including project activities and often also salaried work. Moreover, legal provisions for social security, pensions, medical insurance and other labour-related benefits tend to discriminate between men and women, due to the assumption that even working women are dependants of a male breadwinner. For rural women, the risk of discrimination in terms of work rights and conditions is often greater, because they tend to be involved in activities not covered by law, such as unpaid agricultural work or family enterprises. Partial exceptions in this respect are Algeria (where the law covers agricultural workers), Egypt (where it covers piece, seasonal and temporary work) and Tunisia (where all sectors are covered).
Traditionally, IFAD work with rural women in the NENA region has concentrated on economic empowerment, reduction of workload, social services and organization. In particular, projects have promoted economic empowerment through income-generating activities: first, primarily in traditional women's crafts (weaving, sewing, carpet-making) and, then, increasingly in farm-related sectors (food-processing, livestock production). More indirectly, projects have also invested in infrastructure interventions, such as construction of roads and water points, and have provided services needed by women, such as education (literacy, vocational training) and health care. A third, ‘traditional' focus of equality-enhancing interventions has been capacity-building of women's groups.
The recent generation of projects takes a more complex approach to gender work, building upon institutional changes and investing in participatory planning and management involving both men and women. Since the mid-1990s, projects have invested more in women's access to finance, both formal (by sensitizing banks to their needs) and informal (through village banks/sanadiq, savings groups, etc.). Women's market capacities are now built through comprehensive packages, including business training and the creation of marketing networks. Furthermore, wherever socio-economic roles call for interventions with mixed participation by women and men, these are increasingly preferred. Finally, projects have begun to invest significantly in building government and NGO capacity to serve rural women. Although this generation of projects is too young to have produced much impact-evaluation material, project documentation and field experience have already made it possible to draw some lessons and identify points requiring future work.
A. Assessing Project Experience: Problems Encountered
Problems encountered relate mostly to: the asset situation of women (which is a target but also a precondition for participation in project activities); and managing project implementation.
Asset-Related and Socio-Cultural Constraints
Linkages across asset inequalities and limited market access.Projects have found that investing in women's capacities requires simultaneous action on a number of fronts on which women are at a disadvantage. For instance, investment in vocational training or adoption of new technologies may be sufficient to generate significant impact when beneficiaries are men. But such approaches tend to have limited effects with women if their marketing skills are not developed.11 Moreover, even when market training is provided, impact may still be limited by the difficulty in linking up with markets, given the absence of adequate roads, mobility constraints and lack of familiarity.
Socio-cultural constraints. Social norms regarding women's exclusive responsibility for reproductive tasks, along with those regulating interaction between men and women, may hinder women's ability to participate in projects by imposing limits on their time, mobility and freedom of decision. Although some projects have successfully forestalled possible resistance on the part of men and local leaders to women's participation,12 thanks to patient application of sensitization strategies or use of financial incentives (such as small sums paid to women to attend literacy classes), this is not always possible or enough. Moreover, male resistance is not the only obstacle to equitable participation, since even activities that are exclusively designed for women do not always reflect their interests, priorities, and time and mobility limits. This may in turn be the result of a real or assumed difficulty in involving women at the planning stage and/or of resistance towards the greater investment of time and resources that is required for gender-sensitive participatory work.
Problems in Project Implementation
Limited capacity of women's units at the government level.Projects do not always find adequate backstopping capacity in women's units, and the relative isolation of these units has made it difficult to identify synergies that could reduce IFAD costs and increase impact. Projects have at times also experienced a gap between formal commitment to equality and the inertial weight of institutional set-ups and mentalities, notably a paradigm that is oriented towards productivity rather than towards asset-building and empowerment. This means that institutions are often unaccustomed to dealing with poor women's needs regarding productive assets, and are reluctant to address the need for asset redistribution unless it has immediate productivity-related effects.
Relative lack of qualified female staff.13 To improve women's participation, projects have made efforts to recruit women facilitators, trainers and extension agents. However, progress has been uneven because there are relatively few, highly trained, women rural specialists, and those that exist may be reluctant to move to often inhospitable and inaccessible project locations (a problem notably for Yemen and Egypt's New Lands), particularly given that the financial incentives rarely offset the personal and social costs. In many countries the number of extension agents is sufficient for working with men and women (who may or may not require women agents only), but the agents also suffer from problems of mobility and lack of incentives, especially in terms of unequal career opportunities. Downsizing of public extension staff due to current budget austerity measures aggravates the problem, despite initiatives to train local women for informal extension and facilitating roles.
Lack of adequate data on gender roles in rural markets.Much knowledge of gender roles in the rural economy of project areas is either anecdotal (due to the scarcity of statistical data on this issue) or generated in the context of ad hoc studies that concentrate only on the local level. Moreover, studies on gender roles often degenerate into analyses of women's and men's activities as mutually separate issues, rather than looking at the way in which they interact with each other and evolve over time. In summary, there is little sense of the socio-economic structure of project areas from a gender perspective, and virtually no sense of how they are affected by regional and international factors such as market deregulation, migratory flows and market integration. As a result, projects miss the kind of knowledge that is a precondition for identifying entry points for interventions, which take into consideration present and future developmental opportunities and the way they may be differently accessible to men and women. One of the symptoms of this knowledge gap is the recurrence of marketing problems in women's income-generating initiatives and enterprises.
Fragility of market institutions. While most projects rest on the assumption that poverty reduction requires building the market capacities of the poor, in the NENA region they must confront the fact that market institutions are weak as well. For instance, business-support institutions are often at an early stage of their life, and only rarely do their operations include women or rural areas. This is particularly true of business associations, marketing networks and agencies regulating quality control and providing avenues for valorization of products. Moreover, to the extent that market institutions are evolving, they are often captured by the private sector, which in turn tends to operate on quasi-monopolistic terms and leave little market space for small farmers or cooperatives. The rather abrupt way in which the move to a market economy is taking place in some countries adds to the problem, as it leaves much of the rural sector (notably small farmers, particularly women, and cooperatives) unprepared to deal with imperfect markets.
Targeting for women or targeting for the poor. A main targeting problem is reconciling the need for broad-based interventions (e.g. in environmental resource management) with that of reducing inequalities. In part, the fact that women are not a homogeneous group (nor are the poor) makes it at times preferable to invest the bulk of project resources in interventions that will supposedly benefit the whole community (e.g. building roads), in the hope that women and those without assets will benefit at least indirectly. A second problem is that certain typical, women-targeted initiatives such as income-generating activities and microfinance often attract non-poor women, because the poor lack the necessary assets (capital, entrepreneurship, market literacy) to participate and are more risk-averse than the less poor.
B. Lessons Learned
Equality work requires the sharing of responsibility.Addressing differences in men's and women's asset access and constraints inevitably adds complexity to projects. However, this complexity can be managed by nurturing multiple partnerships. In particular:
Promoting equality requires equitable participatory approaches:
Equality work means investing in women's capacities:
Women's groups require formal linkages and financial autonomy. The creation of women's groups isoften a preferred methodology of intervention to promote equitable development. Indeed, groups are important laboratories for building self-confidence, learning and competition, as well as sites in which social solidarities are tested and possibly re-created. However, working with groups in a perspective of sustainability requires sensitivity to the institutional setting as well as to financial self-sufficiency. While some countries are increasingly supportive of civil society, grass-roots associations are still viewed with a measure of suspicion, which makes it particularly important to review questions of legal status carefully. Women's groups also tend to have special needs for linkages with formal associations and government agencies, because their initial assets and capacities are generally less. Finally, projects that invest in building women's associations should plan ways, from the start, to make them financially autonomous after the project cycle.
Equitable intervention requires investment in gender gaps in human assets:
Interventions should target the activities of highest impact.Income-diversification strategies are most effective if resources are devoted to activities that have high-impact characteristics. These include the presence of market demand, the existence of adequate skills or at least interest in acquiring new ones, the possibility of significantly increasing productivity, and the ability to control income derived from certain products (for instance, in some areas women may control income derived from the sale of small animals but not from that of cows, even though they may be responsible for tending both). Although high-impact activities vary by locality, for landless women they are often (but not invariably) small livestock production, collection of medicinal plants and food processing.
Women need flexible financial packages:
Female-headed households require more than temporary, ad hoc measures.The number of female-headed households in the region is increasingly high (5-20% according to IFAD's 2002 rural poverty assessment), and figures are likely to be higher in areas affected by conflict. However, available figures do not consider households that are de facto headed by women because of men's migration. The lack of homogeneity of female-headed households requires strategies based on an understanding of their specific context, and the avoidance of ad hoc measures that implicitly confirm the view of this phenomenon as an aberration. In the case of female heads being due to male migration, appropriate strategies should aim not only at strengthening women's coping mechanisms, but also at protecting local markets from dissolution and natural resources from neglect. Besides facilitating secure access to land for women relatives of migrant workers, projects should also target them with‘affirmative action' in extension, training and finance. At the same time, women's assets and skills in non-farm activities should be identified and preserved. Some projects have addressed this double need by promoting training and employment of local young people on migrants' farms, thus also helping reduce unemployment and youth migration.
Strengthening the capacity of projects to promote equitable access to assets requires expanding IFAD's perspective to the socio-economic context that shapes the opportunities and constraints of the rural poor in gender-specific ways. This means, first, paying more attention to rural markets and to their changing urban, regional and transnational links. In particular, those labour and commodity markets that are most directly relevant to the poor should be analysed and should become a starting point for designing interventions. Second, attention to markets means looking at how changes in the linkages between local and regional (or international) markets affect men's and women's capacities and opportunities differently - for instance by encouraging or making more vulnerable certain sectors or forms of organization of production in which women or men are more represented. Third, expanding IFAD's perspective vis-à-vis markets does not mean forgetting the poor as full human and social beings. On the contrary, understanding and building fairer markets is an aspect of a holistic approach to poverty reduction that requires seeking partnerships beyond IFAD's consolidated realm. In particular, this holistic, market-sensitive approach suggests that equality (notably gender equality) does not automatically result from effectively soliciting participation. Rather, it requires building mechanisms that empower both men and women to assess their own needs, their capacities, and the economy of gender organization in their own communities. In other words, participation should be seen not merely as a way to improve project performance but also as an issue of governance. Finally, investing in equality requires moving from poverty reduction to a development mindset, not only in sectors to which men have privileged access (e.g. the private sector), but also in those in which women are more present. Although this goal largely exceeds IFAD's capacities, projects can work in this direction by moving beyond the micro and informal level, valorizing the quality of the work of the poor in general and of women in particular, and cultivating their ability not only to respond to markets but to actively cultivate them.
(a) Understanding the Gender Dynamics of Today's Rural Markets
(b) Strengthening Rural Markets
(c) Strengthening and Diversifying Partnerships
(d) Moving from ‘Participatory Needs Assessment' to ‘Governance'
(e) Investing in Women Beyond the Level of Poverty Reduction
The recommendations made above require a reallocation of priorities and significant new investments within the IFAD budget and those of partner organizations. This in turn requires commitment to a broader, perhaps more radical, view of the question of asset (re)distribution among the rural poor and in each NENA society more generally. Given its political nature - since changes in asset distribution entail redistribution of power - such a commitment cannot come from IFAD primarily or exclusively. Nor, indeed, can the needed human and financial resources come from the Fund alone, not only because they would exceed its capacities, but also because that would contradict the whole thrust of this strategy, which is to emphasize partnerships and the building of sustainable, fair market institutions. This problem calls for solutions on at least two possible levels:
Preparation of this document has relied heavily on IFAD project-related material (appraisal reports, working papers, progress status reports, and interim and final evaluations). In addition, I have greatly benefited from interviews with IFAD staff, government representatives, international organizations, NGOs and project beneficiaries. These interviews have taken place both at IFAD headquarters and during a field visit to six NENA countries ( Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen ) in the period September-November 2003. The following is a selected list of further documents that have served as references for the paper.
AA.VV. (2002). Femmes Rurales et Développement, Numéro Spécial de Le Terroir, Revue du Ministère de l'Agriculture, du Développement Rural et des Eaux et Forêts. Rabat, Morocco.
Ahmad Abdelaziz (2003). Al-Taqrir al-Niha'i lil-Ziyarat al-Maydaniyyah li-Furu‘ Ittihad Nisa' al-Yaman (Final Report of Field Visits to the Branches of the Yemeni Women's Union). Sana'a, Yemen.
Association Marocaine d'Appui à la Promotion de la Petite Entreprise ( AMAPPE) et Oxfam/Quebec (2002). Étude d'Identification d'Activités Économiques Potentielles pour les Femmes au Maroc. Rabat, Morocco.
AREA (2002). Summary Report of Gender Assessment in al-Mahara. Alghaydah, Yemen.
Bushra Jabr (1998). Arab Women Speak Out. Baltimore, MD, USA.
Center for Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR) (2001). Arab Women's Development Report 2001. Tunis, Tunisia.
Direction de la Statistique, UNDP, UNIFEM (2003). Activités économiques, vulnérabilité à la pauvreté et inégalités entre hommes et femmes. Rabat, Morocco.
ESCWA (1999). Feasibility and Operationalization of Microcredit Finance Facilities Targeting Poor Women in Urban and Rural Areas in Selected Arab Countries: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Considerations. New York, NY, USA.
ESCWA (2000). Annotated Bibliography on the Arab Family. New York, NY, USA.
ESCWA (2001). Al-Mar'ah wa l-Rajul fi l-Zira‘ah wa Tasni‘ al-Muntajat al-Zira‘iyyah fi Lubnan (Woman and Man in Agriculture and in Agro-Industry in Lebanon ). New York, NY, USA.
ESCWA (2001). Al-Shiraka fi l-Usrah al-‘Arabiyyah (Partnership in the Arab Household). New York, NY, USA.
ESCWA (2001). Female-Headed Households in Selected Conflict-Stricken ESCWA Areas: An Exploratory Survey for Formulating Poverty-Alleviation Policies. New York, NY, USA.
ESCWA, Country Profiles
Hijab, Nadia (2001). Laws, Regulations, and Practices Impeding Women's Economic Participation in the MENA Region, report submitted to the World Bank. Washington, DC, USA.
IFAD (1998). Rural Women in IFAD's Projects: The Key to Poverty Alleviation. Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2000). IFAD's Gender Strengthening Programme in Eastern and Southern Africa.Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2002). IFAD Strategy for Rural Poverty Reduction in the Near East and North Africa.Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2002). Strategic Framework for IFAD 2002-2006. Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2003). Assessment of Rural Poverty: Near East and North Africa.Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2003). IFAD's Strategy for an Equitable Development for Women and Men in the Near East and North Africa Region. Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2003). Mainstreaming a Gender Perspective in IFAD's Operations: Gender Plan of Action. Rome, Italy.
IFAD (2003). Women as Agents of Change. Rome, Italy.
IFAD, External Affairs Department (2003). Report on Selected IFAD/Supplementary-Funded Programmes for Gender Mainstreaming. Rome, Italy.
IFAD, Latin America and the Caribbean Division (2000). IFAD's Approach to Gender Mainstreaming: The Experience of the Latin America and the Caribbean Division. Rome, Italy.
Jordan Poverty-Alleviation Program (2002). Poverty Alleviation for a Stronger Jordan : A Comprehensive National Strategy. Amman, Jordan.
Jordanian National Commission for Women and the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (2003). Gender for Change as a Winning Option: Door Openers to Equality in Jordan.Amman, Jordan.
Jordanian National Commission for Women (2002). Jordanian Women: Mapping the Journey on the Road to Equality. Amman, Jordan.
Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Water and Forestry Resources (2001). Action Programme for Socio-Economic Promotion of Rural Women. Rabat, Morocco.
Ministry of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Ocean Fishery Resources, Royaume du Maroc (1999). Musharakat al-Mar'ah al-Qarawiyyah fi l-'Anshitah wa l-Mashari‘ al-Intajiyyah al-Tanmawiyyah (Rural Women's Participation in Productive and Development Projects and Activities). Rabat, Morocco.
Ministry of Agriculture, Jordan and FAO (2003). Situation Analysis of Women in Agriculture and Plan of Action for Gender Mainstreaming 2004-2010. Amman, Jordan.
Naciri, Rabéa and Isis Nusair (2003). The Integration of Women's Rights into the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Women's Rights in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia.Copenhagen, Denmark.
Republic of Yemen, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Rural Women's Development General Directorate (1999). Gender Policy on Agriculture and Food Security. Sana'a, Yemen.
Republic of Yemen, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Rural Development Project in al-Maharah (2002). Report of Gender Assessment in al-Mahara. Alghaydah, Yemen.
Republic of Yemen, National Women's Committee (1999). National Report on the Implementation Level of the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Sana'a, Yemen.
Republic of Yemen, National Women's Committee (2000). Report on the Status of Women in Yemen Five Years after Beijing 1995. Sana'a, Yemen.
Republic of Yemen, Supreme Council for Women's Affairs, Women's National Committee (2002). National Gender Strategy/Women 2003-2005. Sana'a, Yemen.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). Evaluating the Status of Palestinian Women in Light of the Beijing Platform of Action. Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). Annual Report 2001-2002. Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). National Gender-Sensitive Programming Guidelines for Small and Micro Enterprises in Jordan.Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). National Gender-Sensitive Programming Guidelines for Small and Micro Enterprises in Syria.Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). National Gender-Sensitive Programming Guidelines for Small and Micro Enterprises in Lebanon.Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2002). Paving the Road Towards Empowerment: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, the UAE and Yemen.Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2003). Evaluating the Status of Jordanian Women in Light of the Beijing Platform for Action. Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2003). Evaluating the Status of Syrian Women in Light of the Beijing Platform for Action. Amman, Jordan.
UNIFEM, Arab States Regional Office (2003). Evaluating the Status of Lebanese Women in Light of the Beijing Platform for Action. Amman, Jordan.
UNOPS (2002). Al-Mahara Rural Development Project, Supervision Mission Report. Rome, Italy.
1/ In particular, IFAD's strategic framework identifies three types of assets as crucial to poverty reduction: production assets and technology, financial and market assets, and human and social assets.
3/ This distinction is not a sharp one. From the 1970s to the 1990s, labour and remittance flows between oil- and labour-rich NENA countries resulted in the former influencing some of the latter (e.g. Egypt ) on a socio-cultural level.
6/ Unlike the phenomenon of temporary migration to oil-producing countries in the 1970s-1990s (and even today, although in reduced form), today's migrations tend to sustain only subsistence-level remittance economies. Moreover, insofar as they are typically rural migrations, they entail abandonment of agricultural and forestry assets, in whose development migrants may or may not invest.
7/ Based on the Human Development Report 2003, infant mortality rates per 1 000 live births average 49 for Arab states, 32 for Asia and the Pacific, 28 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 69 for South Asia, 107 for sub-Saharan Africa, and 9 for high-human-development countries. Maternal mortality rates per 100 000 live births ranged from 41 in Jordan and 70 in Tunisia to 230 in Morocco, 350 in Yemen, and 550 in The Sudan (against single-digit ratios in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD]). Though no urban/rural breakdown of these figures is available, anecdotal evidence suggests higher rates in rural areas.
8/ It is not clear to what extent this is a problem, since women in some countries have livestock registered in their names, while elsewhere land and livestock are held by men and women without recourse to formal registration.
9/ At least in theory, the situation of Lebanon should be complicated by the existence of different religious communities with different practices concerning inheritance. However, field evidence suggests that de facto relinquishing of land assets by women is common across religious groups.
13/ Despite the need for high-level women technical staff, there is still a dearth of educational facilities investing in women's technical education in areas relevant to rural development. Moreover, even where rural studies and agriculture departments include women faculty or have significant numbers of women students, curricula are rarely appropriate.
14/ NGOs often have valuable resources and expertise to offer in relation to equality and development. However, few regional governments work with them consistently, partly due to problems of inadequate or burdensome legal procedures for contracting government services to external parties. Moreover, there are sometimes problems of trust, especially since NGOs often have rather marked political or religious colouring. Although IFAD has recently declared a growing commitment to working with NGOs as service providers and important interlocutors for projects, the relationship is not always ideal, as NGOs would often like to be regarded as fuller partners in project planning and management.
15/ The Shorouq Programme is a participatory rural development initiative begun by the Government of Egypt in 1994. Under the programme, women and men gather at the village level to identify needs, elaborate plans and identify resources that each villager, man and woman (except the poorest), can commit. After feasibility studies are conducted by the appropriate agencies, projects receive matching funds from the programme.
17/ Djibouti, The Sudan and Yemen would remain outside this space. However, the knowledge and policy guidelines coming out of the proposed action research would form a model that could be replicated elsewhere, not to mention that the European Union itself is interested (and has invested significantly) in the economic and political stabilization of these countries, especially The Sudan and Yemen.