Changing lives by transforming gender norms

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Changing lives by transforming gender norms

© IFAD / Alfredo D'Amato / Panos

Women are major contributors to the rural communities where IFAD works but they continue to face barriers that inhibit their – and their families’ – livelihoods. Compared with men, women have less access to resources and services – including land, finance, training, inputs and equipment. In addition to their agricultural work, they are overburdened with domestic chores and caring tasks.

Gender inequality also reduces women’s autonomy and their ability to make decisions about their lives. As a consequence, women’s full potential as agents of positive change is too often unrealized.

Gender transformation means changing this reality and realizing the full potential of women. It means going beyond the symptoms of gender inequality to tackle the underlying causes of inequalities – norms, attitudes, behaviours – to generate positive and sustainable change.

Gender transformation is a cornerstone of IFAD’s work. It is indispensable for eradicating rural poverty and hunger. But how can we promote it and what example do we have to demonstrate what it can achieve?

First, we need to bring men and women together to discuss their household strategies. For example, in the Philippines, the FishCoral project, conducted consultations with women and men on their challenges and aspirations and how to align them. It also brought women and men together in what we called aqua-based business schools, where the modules created awareness among participants of the benefits of women’s empowerment – for the women themselves but for their households as a whole.

The result has been significant positive changes to local gender norms. In many cases, male household members are now taking on a much larger share of household responsibilities to allow women to dedicate themselves to income-earning activities. The share of women involved in economic activities has doubled since the project began – from 20 per cent to 40 per cent. Women have also become more active in participating in community meetings.

Second, the workload, responsibilities, and expectations for women need to be reduced. Rural women are often tasked with more than they can realistically do, leaving them with little energy or time for economic activities. As we have seen from the Upper Tana Catchment Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP) Project in Kenya, one effective solution to reducing these workloads is by offering sustainable alternatives to accessing fuel, high-quality soil, and water -- such as the use of solar technology, biogas stoves, or planting trees. The results has been women’s time spent sourcing wood fuel declined by more than 50 per cent, while over 70 per cent of households now have access to water within one kilometre of their homes.

Another solution to reducing women’s workloads is by establishing more balanced relationship dynamic between wives and husbands, especially relating to the distribution of household tasks and farm work. In Nicaragua, the Nicaraguan Dry Corridor Rural Family Sustainable Development Project focused on working with families to equalize distribution domestic responsibilities -- and it proved to be so successful that couples actually reported many benefits to more balanced marriages.

A third key aspect of gender transformation is giving women a stronger voice and influence over the decisions that affect their lives. This mean bringing women to the same table as men, as demonstrated by the Agropastoral Value Chains Project in the Governorate of Médenine in Tunisia. This project has focused on motivating women to participate in community decision-making processes, especially through building their capacities and enabling them to gain access to decision-making power in grassroots organizations on an equal footing with men. The project actively promoted organizations representing women’s voices in the local political and economic spheres -- two agricultural development groups and a mutual agricultural services company were set up and run by women for this purpose. So far, up to half of the participating women have reported achieving financial autonomy, with men in the community having welcomed this empowerment of women, as they observe the benefits in terms of overall household welfare.

In addition, the establishment of networks and forums are necessary to connect women’s groups to governance and decision-making processes—as seen in Nigeria through the Value Chain Development Project. Through these networks and forums, women are able to not only be part of the conversation, but men are also able to explore the benefits of involving women in the decision-making process.

These IFAD-supported projects show that, with the right investments, gender transformation can change lives in rural communities. As we come together to reflect on what needs to be done this International Rural Women’s Day, it is clear that more investments focused on gender transformation in rural communities are needed.

Although much progress has been made, there is still much work to be done.