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Near East and North Africa Gender Programme    
  International Fund for Agricultural Development

An Outline of Challenges, Lessons Learned and Recommendations for the Future

Executive summary
1. Introduction
2. Dimensions of gender inequality in rural areas of the Near East and North Africa
3. IFAD's project experience
4. Enhancing equitable outreach: Areas for future work
5. Making it happen: resources for gender equity
Selected bibliography

Executive Summary

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:

  • investing systematically in research to understand rural markets in the light of changing links at the urban, regional and transnational level, with a focus on how these affect women and men differently due to their different involvement in certain sectors and forms of organization of production;
  • supporting the development of sound, gender- and rural-sensitive market institutions, with a view to strengthening ties between rural and urban markets and to supporting institutions in ways that do not penalize the poor in general and women in particular;
  • strengthening and diversifying partnerships at the government, local and international levels, with the goal of creating networks that can support equality-enhancing work from policy-making to the operational plan, and can also enable better utilization of existing resources;
  • transforming participatory projects into opportunities for governance and power-sharing, in recognition of the fact that asset inequalities between men and women are just one aspect of a set of socio-economic arrangements within rural communities that need to be addressed through empowerment and redistribution in order to achieve sustainable poverty eradication; and
  • empowering the poor, both men and women, to move beyond the micro and/or informal level to which the poverty-reduction perspective tends to be confined. In this respect, a holistic, asset-based approach to equality and development remains essential, but only in the context of a systematic effort to build sound markets and institutions.

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I. Introduction

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).

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II. Dimensions of gender inequality in rural areas of the Near East and North Africa

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.

Box 1 : How do we know that equitable access enhances poverty-reduction impact?

While commitment to equitable access is increasingly common in the discourse of governments and other institutions, this commitment is not always translated into concrete policy or adequate reallocation of resources. In part this failure may be related to insufficient efforts to disseminate the lessons of project experience on the part of those very organizations that advocate equality. In this respect, IFAD itself could invest more in studying and highlighting the way equitable access or the lack thereof can influence poverty reduction on at least three key levels.

Food security.According to IFAD's gender strategy, women's socio-economic advancement is crucial to reducing food insecurity. Women are more prone than men to spend on household food requirements, even when, as in many parts of the NENA region, men are their interface with the market. Among those without assets, projects have often found that giving women access to cash income of their own is an effective way to improve household food consumption (and also to enhance their role in household decision-making about both consumption and other matters). Moreover, since rural women are often prominently involved in activities such as small-animal husbandry and horticulture, they tend to be in a better position than men vis-à-vis access to food. This situation offers ideal entry points for food security interventions, provided that such access is strengthened through productivity-enhancing technology, credit, training and time-saving measures. Depending on local conditions, stable recognition of women's rights to assets that enable food access (such as land and water) may also enhance food security. Finally, women usually must be the primary target of interventions focusing on food preparation, conservation and hygiene, with direct impact on household nutrition patterns.

Productivity.Projects to improve productivity tend primarily or even exclusively to target men, except in cases where women also own land and work as independent farmers. However, project experience indicates that involving women in productivity-enhancing activities such as extension and training in technical packages is also important in ensuring impact, even when women work on their husbands' farms. A 2001 World Bank study suggests that extension services targeting both sexes can increase agricultural productivity and output by more than 20%. Where women participate in farming,failure to give them access to productivity-enhancing assets can limit impact, because it cannot be assumed that men farmers will have the time or capacity to share these assets, or that women's and men's activities and thus relevant technologies will be the same. As a consequence, women may continue to use customary farming methods, even if their husbands adopt new inputs and technology. In the case of livestock-related packages, women's central role in husbandry requires targeting them directly. Moreover, since their position in relation to other assets is likely to limit their ability to benefit from productivity gains, they also need help on a number of related fronts, such as improved access to veterinary services, training in livestock management and marketing, and improved access to credit. Providing appropriate assistance on these fronts enhances gains derived from the adoption of new technologies by both men and women.

Sustainability.Based on evaluation reports and a 2002 external review of the regional portfolio, NENA projects often face sustainability problems. While some of the causes are not entirely controllable (e.g. environmental factors), others seem to derive from insufficient responsiveness to the specific asset constraints of beneficiaries, notably women. In general, the most relevant factors for sustainability seem to be adequacy of financial linkages, market integration of project activities and community participation - in all of which women tend to be at a disadvantage. Regarding community participation, in particular, projects that build on participatory assessments and management have greater sustainability. Nonetheless, women are not always adequately involved in projects that do not have separate women's components. Conversely, projects that have sought women's input in assessing local livelihoods and patterns of resource use have found that they often have precious knowledge. They know, for example, where it makes most sense to build paths or set up water points, based on what areas are more accessible to them when fetching water, and where water is used for livestock, for washing, for drinking, etc. Moreover, women often need to be involved in maintaining project facilities (such as irrigation schemes), and thus it is essential to ensure that they have the time and training to do so. Finally, if project sustainability requires lasting changes in social roles and norms (as the external review team suggested), that can only happen if the entire community is involved in assessing whether existing roles are indeed 'inequitable' and how they may change. In this sense, equality in project participation is both a goal in itself and a means towards equality in other areasin which women's empowerment is also needed.

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.

Table 1: Selected Gender Statistics for a Number of NENA Countries


Gross National Income per Capita (USD) (2001)

Human Development Index Rank (2001)a

Gender-Related Development Index Rank (2000)b


1 650








1 530




1 750




4 010




1 190








1 040




2 070







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:

  • Some relative disadvantages for women. First, women are more likely than men to be negatively affected by semi-traditional rural institutions, which tend to resist changes in asset distribution that challenge patriarchal relations. Second, the large-scale phenomenon of male urbanization and international migration, which has been growing in countries such as Morocco, Syria and Tunisia, leads many rural women to become main resource managers and heads of households, while often lacking the necessary assets to do so effectively.6 Finally, women's reproductive roles often place them in a situation of greater vulnerability compared with men vis-à-vis the scarcity of health-care, legal and counselling services in rural areas. Although progress has been made, notably in countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia, fertility rates are still high in many areas, as are infant and childbirth mortality and morbidity rates.7 Domestic violence and practices harming women's health (e.g. genital mutilation) also pose a significant problem for many rural women, weakening their ability to overcome poverty and to participate effectively in the life of their communities.
  • Some relative advantages for women.Although less frequently studied, there are also some dimensions of the social economy of rural areas that put women at a relative advantage - through access to certain assets that may reduce their vulnerability vis-à-vis changing markets, weak institutions and poverty itself. For instance, women may have access to greater or more readily available social capital than men by virtue of their reproductive roles, which often entail responsibility for maintaining ties with different family branches. In particular, the calendar of women's reproductive lives (including weddings, births, funerals, etc.) provides a space in which ties are cultivated and the practice of solidarity among women is nurtured and inculcated into the younger generations. Although the structure of rural households has changed almost everywhere in the past few decades, resulting in a narrowing of size and sometimes fragmentation (especially due to migration towards urban areas), these solidarities are still a prominent feature of the region. Indeed, they may be one of the keys to women's resilience and ability to live in rural areas even after much of the male population has temporarily migrated. Another advantage for women is that even among the poor the burden of breadwinning remains primarily on men's shoulders, which entitles women (at least in theory) to be supported by male family members. Depending on local practices, this entitlement can be claimed beyond the circle of the nuclear family and at times even beyond that of the extended family. Although increasingly threatened by the effects of male migration, household fragmentation and poverty, women's entitlement to support is often an important safety net precisely in the face of such threats. In some cases, this notion has also formed the basis for public assistance programmes of which women (female-headed households in particular) are primary beneficiaries.

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.

Table 2: Adult Illiteracy in the Arab World in 1999
(selected countries in urban and rural areas)


Number of Illiterate Adults (million)


Adult Illiteracy Rate (%)



















































Arab region as a whole





East Asia and the Pacific





Latin America and the Caribbean





South Asia





Sub-Saharan Africa





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).

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III. IFAD's project experience

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.

Box 2 : Voices from the Field: Project Beneficiaries

A Premise: Why Listen to the Field?

Understanding what should and can be done to promote equitable asset distribution cannot be other than a participatory process, since notions of equity are intrinsically linked to people's own perspectives about what is fair and what is feasible. However, it is sometimes difficult to negotiate standards and objectives with a range of stakeholders, both within communities and beyond. Although participatory approaches are sometimes advocated as the solution to this problem, experience shows that it is very difficult to reach unanimity about whether and what inequalities exist in a given context, whether and how they matter in relation to poverty reduction, and what should/could be done about them. To strengthen the sensitivity of a gender strategy for the NENA region, it is important to listen to ‘voices from the field' with great respect for the different views they can contribute. However, the goal cannot and should not be to reach a homogeneous picture of reality (since this would suggest that there are no differences of perspective or conflicts of interests on the ground), nor to elaborate a strategy that agrees with each of these views. On the contrary, listening and mutual learning must guide strategic thinking as well as project interventions, but only as a counterpoint to IFAD's effort to elaborate a gender policy and regional strategies of its own, with which some field voices may be at odds.

On men's and women's needs

“Women work twice as much as we do here, everybody knows that. But they cannot help us much with income, because they have to spend so much time with children. I don't know what would be a solution. Maybe having less children, or building kindergartens.…” “What women need most is to learn to read and write. A wife who can do that can help you much more in your work, be a better mother, find work opportunities. She can get an income of her own, and she can understand you more. You can talk about things, be partners in everything.”

- Men from a village committee in Al-Hauf, Yemen

“To us, everything depends on the economic sphere. We need help with water and job opportunities first, then we will think about self-awareness and social issues, as you say. Poverty…poverty and lack of water are the problems here.”

- Member of a women's committee, Al-Ibri, Yemen

“We are happy with the respect we get in the community. Women and men all help each other. Our problem is poverty, lack of money, lack of jobs. The project was great because now we have a water cistern and we have more time. Our backs always hurt before. But we still need health-care centres and money for small projects. What would we do with it? We don't know yet, maybe sewing for our children, maybe set up home gardens. We need all kinds of things, because there is no market here.”

- Woman from a village near Zaghouan, Tunisia

On training and literacy programmes

“I am like a person who was blind and now can see things for the first time. I can do everything now. I can see the names of places on the bus and go to town, or walk into the right store to buy things. I can help my husband better. Now he knows that he can count on me to do things, he can leave a note for me asking me to run errands, and I will know what to do. All my family can come to me if they need something now.”

- Recent graduate of a project literacy class in the Syrian Badia

“We do not want more training. Training is good, but what can we do with it if there is no money to start our projects, or machines to work on?” “Anyway, we do not want to stay here. All the men have gone to work in Lebanon ; we are just waiting to move to town as soon as we can. There is not one girl who will stay here after she gets married. So we want to learn how to use computers and sewing machines, so we can get a job in the cities after we move.”

- Women trainees from a tricot class near Salamiyyah, in the Syrian Badia

“The problem with women's training is that it is always in the same things. Women can work for a wage here, but they always do the same jobs, either in health care or in teaching. Instead, you should give training for different kinds of jobs. Women should have a chance to do any job, almost. They should be trained to work in offices, or to make fishing nets for us.”

- Member of a men's village committee, Al-Hauf, Yemen

On women's enterprises and cooperatives

“We were not used to working here. For women to work it was a shame, even during the war. But now, with the economic crisis, we wanted to help in some way, and our husbands needed that, too. We set up a cooperative to make jams and pickles because we could not work in the fields: now it is only Syrians who are hired to do that, because they work for less. The problem is that they come here and eat no Lebanese food. They bring everything from Syria, and even in stores that is what you find: big jars of Syrian fruit jam. We cannot compete with that.” “We set up a cooperative because we knew that the Government has always supported them with grants and so forth. But now suddenly the state doesn't care for agriculture or cooperatives anymore. We need support not just as women but as cooperatives and as food-producers. If only the Government reopened the coop store here, or if it gave us a chance to advertise our products, there would be great demand for them. It is not a problem of market demand, it is a problem of getting the support we have a right to get.”

- Members of a mixed-gender cooperative in Al-Mansoura, Lebanon

“When I started with the dairy enterprise, my women friends pitied me because I worked. My husband was so proud, and other women felt sorry for me, even though they had no money themselves. Now that they see that I have a shop and I can pay for my children's school, they no longer look at me like that, but they are not trying to follow my example either. That's why I say: if you want to help poor households here, the first thing is to change the way women think.”

- Woman owner of a small dairy shop, Zahleh, Lebanon

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:

  • It is important toformalize the involvement of government institutions that will assume responsibility for supporting equality in relation to the project. Specifically, the experience of some community development organizations in Jordan and Morocco shows that sustainability of equality-enhancing initiatives can improve if projects create technical assistance committees that include representatives of the ministries of agriculture, health and education, and the agency in charge of infrastructure, as well as representatives of local government(e.g. the governor's office or its equivalent). Such initiatives are also important because they help local governments serve women's and men's needs more effectively.

  • Cultivating synergies with NGOs and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) may enhance impact, provided that respective areas of comparative advantage are identified.Local NGOs often have considerable experience in women's development and are able to adapt their methodologies to different socio-economic and environmental conditions, owing to a more flexible structure and operational profile than those of government and international agencies.14 For their part, international NGOs often have a comparative advantage in promoting regional and international networks for knowledge-sharing, technology transfer and access to markets. Some projects have also enjoyed cooperation from IGOs, primarily the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and UNDP. Cooperation with these and other IGOs could grow further to include agencies such as the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Bank and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), building on their comparative advantages in microenterprise development, gender training, gender-sensitive statistics and budgeting, and knowledge analysis and dissemination.
  • An appropriate choice of partners requires sensitivity to the advantages and pitfalls of different institutional models.In particular, experience shows that the gender-focal-point model is a rather weak one if not accompanied by extensive gender-training activities at all levels of an organization. Moreover, gender units often suffer from insufficient resources and relative isolation. For the sake of both project effectiveness and the building up of institutional capacity, projects cannot rely on the presence of gender units or focal points as guarantees of organizational gender sensitivity. Rather, projects can become an opportunity to recognize the actual role played by these entities while at the same time promoting their involvement in the mainstream activities and decision-making of their institutions - so as to highlight needs (such as gender training, budgeting or coordination) that remain to be addressed.
  • Effective equality work requires a wider focus in terms of government interlocutors.Rather than concentrating only on women's units in different ministries, it would be useful to strengthen the capacity of other offices to serve the needs of rural men and women. Agencies that deal with activities in which women are prominently represented (such as livestock production) or that hold relevant data (statistics or research departments) would be obvious targets in addition to extension departments, with which gender or women's units are often affiliated. However, a dynamic outlook on gender roles in the rural economy requires promoting gender sensitivity among all relevant departments, not merely those that work closer to ‘women's domains'.

Box 3 : Voices from the Field: Institutions and Project Staff

On the needs of rural men and women

 “What rural societies need most is better infrastructure, roads and water in particular. And then we need to invest in labour-saving techniques for women. So much of their time and energies are used to get water, or to do heavy agricultural work with primitive techniques! Labour-saving methodologies would make women free to participate more, and more easily, in the economy of their households, which is also in men's interest. Right now, technology research is not there, or it is there only for men's work, while women are left to do little-productive work that takes enormous time and effort.”

- Director of the Directorate General for Rural Women, Ministry of Agriculture, Yemen

“The Badia is a totally different world. In rural areas in this country you can do everything with women: you can set up small enterprises, find market outlets for their products…everything. Rural women control their income, know what they are doing, make decisions together with men, and sometimes men are even willing to take on some tasks around the house so that women can participate in projects. In the Badia you cannot think of that yet. You have to invest in literacy and health-care training, and make sure you concentrate budget resources on that. Maybe this will not give you increases in income or productivity, but it is the basis without which everything else is useless. You have to go to women and teach these basic skills, otherwise the most they can hope for is survival.”

- Staff member from the Badia Project, Syria

“Rural women need organization first of all. Women are not used to coming together in associations here, though in recent years local NGOs have done a lot of work of that kind. We are also trying to address that with our participatory approach. But for participation you need to bring people together to think about what they need and what they can do, and that is still difficult in this country. I think things have changed a bit now, but it is still difficult for women to come out and take part in meetings to discuss community issues. They are too used to men's controlling everything and they have no access to information. As for men, they need to be made aware that we are not trying to get women away from them, we are not trying to put any strange ideas into their heads. They need to understand what we are trying to do, and why it is important that they come to talk to us together.”

- Senior officers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Morocco

On gender relations and equality

“The main problem here is that we do not really know much about gender relations in rural areas, especially in relation to economic activities. Every time they make a study, it is always about what women do and what men do in a given place, but there is no sense of how things fit with each other, or how they change. Things have changed, for sure: thirty years ago I was the first girl in my village to go to school, and my mother risked being expelled from her tribe. Today, when I go back to visit, I find that all the girls go to school, and they have their say on what they do and who they marry. Still, if you asked me about gender relations in Morocco, I would have no hard data to go on to answer.”

- Senior staff member, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Morocco

“Rural people do not need changes in government policy; they need to learn to think for themselves and to be self-reliant and honest. And women need to stop relying on men to take the lead just for the sake of making things simpler. This is what happens when you have a culture of political patronage in rural areas: even women's cooperatives prefer to choose a man as their head, so he can tap into patronage networks more easily. Instead, it is women's groups that can more easily break out of that mindset and way of doing things, and start building a more transparent economy.”

- Senior officer from an international NGO, Lebanon

On institutions working on gender or women's issues

“Everything is a struggle, each day is about going to ask for money at someone's door. We do not have a separate budget and we are isolated. Even when you have a right and a responsibility to be involved in ministry activities, it is up to the personality of those in charge whether it happens or not.”

- Head of the Gender Unit in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jordan
(virtually identical words were said by her Tunisian counterpart)

“We have a strong working group here, and we are very well respected in the ministry. But till recently we didn't feel that IFAD took our work very seriously: why did it not come to consult us when decisions were made about women's activities in projects? Even now, we try to suggest to international donors the most urgent things to do and the right approach to take, but they do not listen to us. IFAD comes to us now, and we think projects are working better as a result.”

- Director of the Directorate General for Rural Women, Ministry of Agriculture, Yemen

“Of course we have focal points, but they cannot do much. Even in this ministry, despite the fact that all projects should be gender-mainstreamed, I only see a project on my table if it is going to be funded by an international donor. When international funding stops, no money is allocated to do gender training or enterprise development for women. If an international organization sponsors a programme, we do it until funds run out, then we leave things there half-done until there is more money coming in.”

- Senior staff member, Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanon

On gender vs. women's talk

“Why all this talk about women? In the Middle East, it makes no sense to focus on individuals, because the basic social unit really is the family. You should always talk of family if you want to make sense here. Especially in rural areas, there is no distinction: you help the household, you do not help women or men.”

- Senior staff member, Ministry of Agriculture, Jordan

“The problem with projects is that they assume that there are women's or men's activities. In fact, there are only activities as such, and projects should leave things open to beneficiaries of both genders. This is what gender mainstreaming means, not keeping women and men separate as if they were to do the same kinds of activities forever.”

- Senior staff member, Regional Centre on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development for the Near East ( CARDNE ), Jordan

“Now we are doing participatory projects and let communities decide how they want to handle the issue of representation. Maybe women are not sitting on committees, but so what? Representation is not always the way you imagine it in the western democratic model. There are many forms of power, and some are hidden. Women have that power here, even if you may not see or hear it. Communities should be able to decide what they want to do about that.”

- Staff member, Ministry of Agriculture, Tunisia

Promoting equality requires equitable participatory approaches:

  • Participatory assessment of needs, solutions and responsibilities turns the concept of ‘equality' into a less threatening, more concrete set of measures.Thus what may seem too vague or prescriptive a goal at the policy level can become a concrete set of needs and solutions. Though participatory needs assessments may yield results that do not match ideal referents for equality, even when women are well represented (e.g. women may not wish equal access to all assets because they fear losing their entitlement to male support), building upon them is important,since equality-enhancing measures must make sense to community members.
  • Women can be involved in participatory work in different ways, depending on project activities.In particular, women-only approaches are crucial to identification of high-impact areas for incoming-generating activities, because they enable women to bring out their problems, skills, activities they are interested in, and the extent to which they can invest extra time and labour in new activities. Using a combination of women-only and mixed assessments, however, is most effective instead for environmental interventions, since men and women possess complementary information concerning patterns of use of water, forests, grazing land, etc.
  • Effective methods for countering constraints on women's participation are approaching local leaders (formal and informal) at project outset, using/training local facilitators, using private homes for meetings instead of public facilities, adopting participatory methodologies already familiar to local communities (such as the shorouq method in Egypt14) and offering incentives such as food rations or small financial compensation to offset time and labour losses.
  • Equality is not ensured by adopting community development approaches per se, nor by 50% women's participation in project institutions.Rather, equality is better served by promoting the qualitative democratization of project institutions, which means that everybody's voice has a fair chance to be heard, whether directly or indirectly, and that relevant information is made available to all, rather than held by a group of decision-makers alone.

Equality work means investing in women's capacities:

  • Projects that aim to promote equality in the field should begin by doing it among their staff.In this respect, first it is important to ensure fair treatment of women and men staff members, or staff working with men and women. This means not only not discriminating against the latter or undervaluing their work, but also offering adequate compensation to offset their often heavier workload. Second, there should be a fair allocation of human resources to match the distribution of roles and productive activities, to the extent that the latter are differentiated between men and women. Whenever it is not absolutely necessary to hire women staff to work with women, mainstreaming of tasks should be encouraged, so as to ensure participation in all project activities and circulation of information. When women can only work with women agents, that staff capacity can be strengthened by training young village women with at least primary school qualifications or by relying on NGOs and women's associations.
  • Projects should concentrate not only on women's needs, but also on their assets.In particular, they should seek to increase educational achievement among younger women, especially vis-à-vis their male counterparts. In some countries, for instance The Sudan and Syria, graduates of the faculty of agriculture are mostly women. This situation grants new opportunities to provide equitable outreach to both women and men producers, but it also raises challenges in terms of adapting existing workplace arrangements, ethics and human resource policies to working women's needs. There is significant institutional capacity to reach out to women at the level of NGOs and local organizations, which means that, in some cases, it is even possible to work with women more easily or effectively than with men, if projects are willing to make room for these organizations. Finally, there are government policies, legislation and development strategies in several countries that have no men-focused counterparts. The existence of these texts provides a space in which development organizations can work, both to test the validity of current strategies and to translate them into concrete practice in the context of projects.

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:

  • Investing in human assets through affirmative action tends to be an effective way to increase the impact of poverty-reduction measures, even when the link between human and productive assets is not immediately evident. IFAD has been quite successful in improving women's access to health care (e.g. by facilitating mobility of women medical staff or providing midwife training), offering literacy programmes, and facilitating group formation.
  • Projects have begun to successfully implement a mix of literacy training (most effective when linked to issues of interest to women, such as health care), vocational training, women-staffed extension services, group formation, access to financial services and market training. Wherever possible, it is important to encourage government efforts to invest in equitable human development (e.g. gender-sensitive literacy programmes). Moreover, NGO efforts in this direction are rather widespread, and projects can build upon them or help them expand into project areas.

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:

  • Projects suggest that the most effective way to address women's financial needs is by providing a mix of services, including savings and insurance.This can be done through formal institutions, but in general informal or semi-formal settings have proved better suited to the needs of poor women. Two preferred methodologies have been the formation of women's (or mixed) groups and reliance on local NGOs to administer funds and the interface with banks (which are necessary partners when laws prohibit informal savings). Another successful methodology is that of village banks, or sanadiq. Ways to facilitate women's access have included enhancing functional literacy and advocating the waiving of collateral. Using group lending guarantees, in particular, has been a more effective substitute of collateral for poor women than other alternatives, such as guarantors with access to a steady income.
  • Good repayment rates are not enough to indicate success.Some problems have emerged vis-à-vis the poverty-reduction impact of microfinance initiatives in which no efforts have been made to monitor women's use of funds (at times used for consumption or diverted to men household members). This problem can be addressed to some extent by closely integrating financial and income-generating-activity project components, so that microfinance groups are encouraged to monitor the productivity of loans. However, this is more likely to be possible in the context of financial institutions directly established within projects, since microfinance institutions in some countries have to conform to legal regulations that prevent them from providing anything beyond financial services per se (in line with microfinance best practices).

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.

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IV. Enhancing equitable outreach: Areas for future work

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.

In sum, strengthening future projects on the equality front requires:

  • understanding the gender dynamics of rural markets in the light of changing links at the urban, regional and transnational level, and looking at how these links affect different sectors and forms of organization of production in gender-specific ways;
  • supporting the development of sound, gender- and rural-sensitive market institutions;
  • strengthening and diversifying partnerships at the government, local and international level;
  • transforming participatory projects into opportunities for governance and power-sharing; and
  • empowering women and their work beyond a poverty-reduction perspective.

(a) Understanding the Gender Dynamics of Today's Rural Markets

  • Changing distribution of gender roles and assets.The liberalization of agriculture affects market and wage opportunities differently in different sectors. For women, the effects are often negative, since they tend to be overrepresented in sectors that are losing out under liberalization (though these sectors vary depending on the context). Alternatively, when ‘traditional' women's sectors are those that benefit most from liberalization, women may be pushed into different ones. A second important issue is the effect that market integration and the retreat of the state from the economy may have on rights to assets such as land and water. In general, liberalization tends to put pressure on those who do not have secure access to land (among whom women feature prominently). Moreover, informal or customary access arrangements may not be able to withstand competition from private property, especially where market opportunities for cash-crop investments become available. In these cases, women's customary use rights may be maintained, but the quality of land and water they have access to may decline.
  • Identifying the limits of traditional, micro and informal modes of intervention.The problem of the sectoral impact of market changes and liberalization is compounded by the fact that governments and NGOs seem to concentrate women-targeted projects in vulnerable, labour-intensive, but also low-profit sectors, as well as in little-competitive forms of organization of production (informal labour, cooperatives). The possibility of alternative markets (e.g. fair trade), products, and types of intervention (e.g. ecotourism) may help reduce women's vulnerability to these changes. However, given women's key role in relation to food security, it is also important to strengthen local markets for foodstuffs, which are often under-monetized or dependent on larger circuits of mass production (and at times with unfair competitors due to illegal or subsidized imports, as between Syria and Lebanon ).

(b) Strengthening Rural Markets

  • Supporting gender-sensitive efforts to build market institutions.Wherever business associations or NGOs are undertaking initiatives to cultivate market networks, provide business services, establish quality-control mechanisms and facilities, and collect data that may enable market assessment and feasibility studies, it is essential to tap into these resources and support them either directly or in the context of projects. Wherever possible, projects should also take the opportunity to sensitize these institutions to the needs of rural areas and rural women, for instance by devising business-support mechanisms (village business incubators, mobile business-training units, marketing associations, etc.) that are easily accessed by women producers in the areas in which they live.
  • Taking a creative approach to institutional solutions and property rights.To counter the effects of liberalization on the problem of landlessness in the NENA region, some projects have taken a creative approach to property rights. In particular, efforts have been made to conceive of land and water not in terms of control but in terms of use and responsibility, seeking arrangements to accommodate the needs of those without assets, without violating the rights of asset holders. Resource-management projects have thus tried to decrease the centrality of private ownership and reorient communities towards activities based on use, such as husbandry and off-farm activities (the approach of the PRODESUD project in Tunisia ). In the case of mixed farmer/herder communities, traditional patterns of use of natural resources have been valorized in tandem with institutions for conflict management (e.g. in North and South Kordofan in The Sudan and in the Syrian Badia). Since women are generally landless and involved in livestock activities, this type of arrangement can greatly benefit them and deserves replication, especially as it contributes to stabilizing rural markets in ways that may be more equitable than in those dominated by private property. A second type of creative approach is that adopted in the New Lands in Egypt, where settlers have been encouraged to register land under the names of both the male head of household and his female partner. While the situation of the New Lands is exceptional, this type of solution may be replicated in areas where male migration is common, as in North Africa, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

(c) Strengthening and Diversifying Partnerships

  • Capitalizing on ongoing government initiatives.As mentioned above, several countries are showing growing sensitivity to the needs of rural women. With support from FAO and the Netherlands Cooperation Programme, five countries ( Egypt, Morocco, The Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen - see Box 4 ) have developed national strategies for the development of women in agriculture, and others have created focal points or gender units. Despite their weaknesses, these initiatives deserve consideration and greater involvement in IFAD's work. Via policy dialogue, promotion of experience-sharing at the regional level, and involvement of unit staff in projects and in IFAD staff visits, these units or focal points could be strengthened in the areas in which they are weakest: (i) appropriate/independent budget resources; (ii) gender training of staff outside the units; (iii) human resources; (iv) coordination with other units; and (v) input into projects.

Box 4 : Examples from Yemen and Tunisia

Rural Women's General Directorate in Yemen

Yemeni women are very involved in agriculture: most of them do unpaid work on family farms, process crops and tend livestock. However, their contribution to agricultural production has received little recognition. To counter this neglect, in the past several years Yemen has developed an institutional framework to meet the needs of rural women and enhance their productive capacities. A Rural Women's General Directorate (RWGD) was established in 1985 in what is now the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation. In 1998, the directorate was upgraded to a coordinating institution, with a mandate to fully integrate women into agricultural development. A gender policy was formulated in 1999 to identify areas for investment, which resulted in a focus on training, research, extension, credit, microenterprise, and marketing. Much of the funding in pursuit of these goals has come from the Netherlands Cooperation Programme, while the gender division of the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute (KIT Gender) has provided assistance in developing and implementing the RWGD. This has involved posting a senior technical adviser to the RWGD general director, and organizing training courses and workshops with staff from the directorate and from rural women's and development units throughout Yemen.KIT Gender and the RWGD have also been working with other departments in the ministry to integrate gender considerations in all its activities.

National Commission for the Promotion of Rural Women in Tunisia

Unlike in Yemen, the Ministry of Agriculture in Tunisia has only one gender focal point. Women's affairs are instead the responsibility of the National Commission for the Promotion of Rural Women, an agency that was created in the Ministry for Women and Family Affairs in 2001 to follow up on a national plan of action for women. The commission is responsible for proposing plans to attain national policy objectives and develop additional programmes to promote rural women. Moreover, it promotes coordination among ministries and organizations and monitors the activities of regional commissions for women's development. Its members include representatives of thirteen ministries and various governmental and non-governmental agencies. The commission meets twice a year, submits an annual report to the office of the President, and is assisted in its work by offices established in each governorate. Each regional office is presided over by the governor and includes regional officers-in-charge from different ministries working in women's affairs, as well as NGOs and women executives. Each office draws up a regional plan of action for rural women. In governorates in which IFAD is cofinancing a project, the coordinator of women's activities in the project staff is often the author of the plan of action, and funds for the plan often come from the project budget. While this enables IFAD to contribute significantly to the design of policies to empower rural women, it also raises concerns about the sustainability of programmes at the national and regional level.

  • Reviewing and possibly expanding IFAD's approach to working with NGOs.IFAD should consider the possibility of greater sharing of responsibility between project teams and local NGOs, rather than merely consolidating a relationship of service provision. At the headquarters level, sharing of experience among country teams would help identify best practices and facilitate the elaboration of a strategic vision for individual countries or possibly clusters in the NENA region. In particular, the possibility of scaling up NGO involvement in extension services may provide a means of confronting limited government resources and downsizing of extension staff, particularly since women seem to be overrepresented among those farmers unable to access private-sector extension services. However, greater NGO involvement on this level would require investing in building their agricultural expertise and extension capacity, and identifying sustainable financial arrangements for their services to men and women producers.
  • Strengthening ties with European NGOs.This is particularly important in the light of the fact that almost all NENA countries will soon become part of a Euro-Mediterranean free-exchange area. As a first step in this direction, the potential for partnerships with Italian NGOs working with women in the region should be explored - particularly in North Africa, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Syria - since their work is often complementary to IFAD's. Partnership at this level could include sharing of information and local NGO networks, pooling of financial and technical resources at the project level (especially in terms of business training and quality control), and sharing of market channels opened by some NGOs for non-traditional women's crafts.

(d) Moving from ‘Participatory Needs Assessment' to ‘Governance'

  • ‘Engendering' community development.Throughout the NENA region, participatory and community-based approaches to development are becoming rather common, both among NGOs and on the part of government agencies. Although this trend holds great potential for promoting more equitable access to resources, it cannot be regarded as sufficient per se. In other words, the question of equitable representation of men and women (as well as of poor and non-poor) must always be posed when speaking of ‘community' and decentralization. In particular, IFAD should sensitize its government interlocutors to the need to involve women in village committees, not only to discuss their needs as women but in community issues more broadly. Moreover, quotas for women's representation in committees (where mixed committees are possible) are a positive but insufficient measure, which needs to be accompanied by others that facilitate women's participation (such as scheduling meetings in places and at times suited to women's schedules).
  • Making resource-management institutions gender-sensitive.Current NGO and government-sponsored projects (including IFAD-cofinanced ones) frequently invest in setting up institutions for participatory resource management, such as associations for water use ( Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia ) and grass-roots rangeland management ( Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia ). Although they are often primary resource users, women overall remain underrepresented (at times altogether absent) in these associations. Equitable development requires that their role as resource users be recognized and that they have access to information and decision-making in the relevant associations.
  • Promoting alliances of stakeholders for gender-sensitive decentralization.In particular, the experience of some NGOs in Lebanon and of government-sponsored projects in Morocco suggests the efficacy of formalizing alliances of institutions and communities that can jointly support the process of decentralizing development in gender-sensitive ways. Institutions should include service providers that can intervene in areas in which women are especially at a disadvantage (ministries of health, education, labour). In addition, the experience of Lebanon shows that legal centres can play an important role, for instance by providing education on women's rights in the context of projects.
  • Planning for the financial sustainability of institutional capacity.Several projects have scaled up efforts to nurture civil society in project areas by creating women's centres and associations. However, these efforts are only rarely accompanied by planning for their financial self-sufficiency. To avoid wasting invested resources, community institutions such as women's centres should be systematically linked to an income-generating scheme, preferably in a domain of public utility (kindergarten, bakery, mill, nursery for seedlings, vegetable production, etc.).
  • Making projects more flexible.Participation is not going to lead to better performance or empowerment if projects are not designed and managed with the flexibility needed to respond to needs and initiatives as they emerge. From the perspective of equality, flexibility may be even more necessary, because women are often unaccustomed to participating in community discussions. Their input may well change significantly in the course of projects, as they acquire more confidence, information and room to let their voices be heard.
  • Identifying and supporting women's roles in conflict areas.Since many women in the NENA region live in conflict areas or areas of instability or displacement (notably Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, The Sudan and Syria), IFAD needs to sharpen its ability to understand changes in these women's roles in their communities. In particular, IFAD projects in these areas should concentrate on empowering women to preserve or reclaim rural and agricultural resources and maintain or rebuild necessary infrastructure, and on helping them face additional burdens in their reproductive and productive work. In post-conflict situations, reconstruction efforts should take into consideration women's changed roles and the need to prevent their being crowding out of more productive sectors as a result of ‘normalization'. Finally, provision of services in insecure areas should take into consideration the different needs of women, children and men in terms of health care, including psychological assistance.

(e) Investing in Women Beyond the Level of Poverty Reduction

  • Intensifying efforts to support women in both their reproductive and productive roles.In particular, more effort should be devoted to labour-saving techniques and time-saving measures, so as to free up developmental capacities that are presently wasted in low-productivity, energy- and time-consuming activities (not only among adult women but also among girls). Attention to reproductive work also means noting that the developmental capacities of women and men are shaped not only by markets and institutions, but also by the social and political context. If practices harming their physical and psychological health exist in certain contexts,16 projects should try to address them with both partners, even if it means going beyond the typical range of IFAD activities.
  • Valorizing women's products.In part, current projects are already working on this front. However, moving from a poverty-reduction to a development mode of operation requires identifying and supporting high-impact activities, setting and applying quality controls, providing or linking women producers with quality-control and marketing facilities, and addressing market issues in a broader perspective than that of ad hoc ways of selling products (see points (a) and (b) above). Seeking partnerships with the private sector (possibly a women-led one, in countries where this already exists) may greatly help in moving beyond the mindset of ‘women's projects' as belonging exclusively to the micro or informal realm. Such partnerships are also important in developing market access (via distribution, advertising, etc.) or even semi-independent markets for women's products, notably at the local level (where women's products often face problems caused by lack of or under-monetized markets, or ones in which mass-produced imports dominate).
  • Thinking beyond traditional ‘women's activities'.Different areas offer very different opportunities for diversifying women's activities and sources of income. However, it is often possible to identify possible alternatives to investment in traditional agriculture, livestock production or crafts. For instance, women can be trained to become para-veterinarians or cultivators of organic products, or to be responsible for natural resource conservation. Given that the region is close to Europe and rich in natural and cultural resources, ecotourism may also be an area for more women's involvement, as shown by the experience of some Italian NGOs in North Africa.

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V. Making it happen: resources for gender equity

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:

  • One possible front, and perhaps the most important one in the long run, is that of partnerships beyond IFAD. A first initiative may be to co-sponsor much needed research (the first recommendation) with organizations that are as involved as IFAD in the present and future development of rural areas in the NENA region. In particular, IFAD could seek a stable partnership with the European Union in the context of its Euro-Mediterranean policy, contributing its resources and expertise to sustainable, poor- and gender-sensitive integration of Third Mediterranean countries into the free-exchange Mediterranean space in 2010.17 A common European Union/IFAD framework of research could be built upon a convergence of principles that already exists in the work of these two organizations. Other partners such as the World Bank, other UN agencies and international NGOs could offer their contributions, both financial and political. Moreover, research capacity should be sought at the country and project level, where it often exists but is underutilized due to lack of resources or lack of interest on the part of international donors or policy-makers. If a common framework for analysis were built, this would lead not only to better communication and sharing of knowledge, but also to the creation of a platform from which policy dialogue could be undertaken more effectively (with clusters of NENA governments as well as with each individually). The European Union maintains programmes to promote and fund action-research projects at the sub-national level across the Mediterranean.Some of these are gender-focused or concentrate on issues of great relevance to rural markets, such as migrations and environmental conservation, and could be an important, sustainable source of financial, human and social capital.
  • Internally, IFAD needs to consider the mobilization of sufficient resources to scale up its work with men and women in the NENA region. Beyond the initial phase of knowledge-building, this requires strengthening the capacity of the Near East and North Africa Division as a whole, with a focus on the leading role of country progamme managers. Such capacity-building should acknowledge that gender-based asset inequalities are not an issue that requires an isolated realm of work and expertise, but rather one that needs to be addressed through project responsiveness to changing markets, institutions and social practices. Beyond the division, it may also be necessary to seek new financial and contractual arrangements to scale up NGO participation in planning and management of projects, as well as initiatives with other international organizations and local service providers.

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Selected Bibliography

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 (2001). Rural Poverty Report 2001: The Challenge of Ending Rural Poverty. 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 (n.d.). Tales of the 21 st Century: Lebanon and Syria. 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.

Arabic version


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.

2/ In recent years, however, the gender gap in the labour force has been reduced in some Gulf countries, due in part to the growing number of female school graduates.

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.

4/ Conversely, new markets have sometimes been found thanks to the valorization of some areas for tourism.

5/ However, the most recent Human Development Report (2003) ranks Egypt 68th and Yemen 70th on the GEM, out of a group of 70 countries. Jordan, Syria and Tunisia are no longer included in the list.

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.

10/ Again, this is a generalization that is valid in many, but not all areas.

11/ This is not always the case, however, since women may be very active in marketing, as in some parts of Egypt and The Sudan.

12/ It should be stressed that such resistance is far from being the rule everywhere. In fact, even in neighbouring communities, men can have very different attitudes towards this issue.

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.

16/ For women, such practices would include domestic violence, female genital mutilation, early marriage, etc.

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.