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Anka’s story: Working smarter – and fairer – in Montenegro

For all its rugged, mountainous beauty, Montenegro can be a very hard place to live – especially for women. Over the years, the country’s highly patriarchal society and educational systems have resulted in firmly entrenched gender inequality. These disparities color all aspects of Montenegrin life, from the job market to societal standing, but they all stem from one place: the unequal distribution of family and household responsibilities.

Women in rural areas have a particularly full workload. Their households are typically large, and their daily activities include farming tasks in addition to housework. Fortunately, in recent years, government institutions and non-governmental organizations – along with the women themselves – have begun to work towards making a change.

In this context, projects like the IFAD-supported Rural Clustering and Transformation Project (RCTP) are more important than ever. This project puts a special emphasis on rural women’s empowerment by using a gender-transformative approach: a methodology that aims to empower these women economically, reduce their workloads and encourage their inclusion in household and public decision-making.

These approaches work. Just ask Anka Popović.

Anka lives in Šavnik municipality, in a rural area of Montenegro. Agriculture is her family’s sole source of income. When her husband was alive, she mostly did housework, as well as some of the easier field work. But after his death, all of the agricultural responsibilities fell to her. In addition to housework, she now feeds the cow and poultry, cleans the barn, milks the cow, and makes cheese. She often goes into the woods to pick blueberries, too, which she uses to make juices and jams. To sell all her products, she has to carry them by hand to the main road, 30 minutes away from her home.

Her sons helped out where they could, chopping wood and cutting the grass on the extensive meadows that surround their house. But their other jobs as day labourers sometimes kept them away from the house for long periods, meaning Anka had to step in. Cutting the grass, in particular, was a big problem. The family's old second-hand mower helped somewhat to reduce the work, but it was still a physically demanding task.

Anka pauses for a photo in her fields. © Rural Clustering and Transformation Project

Clearly, reducing Anka’s workload was a priority. The Gender Action Learning System (GALS), a methodology used by RCTP and many other IFAD projects to help participants think through their personal and family dynamics, helped Anka and her family do just that.

Anka and her sons began by attending a series of GALS workshops hosted by RCTP. In these workshops, she had the chance to reflect on what she wanted to achieve and the life goals she wanted to set for herself, and also learned methods for starting a dialogue about what she wanted to change. For their part, her sons were genuinely surprised to see how much hard physical work she had had to take on – especially when it came to cutting the grass.

Fortunately, not only did RCTP assist with establishing a dialogue in the household, it also helped her family acquire a grass-collecting machine. The new grass-collecting machine allows them to work much more efficiently, reducing Anka’s workload and giving her more free time. It has other benefits, too: they now have surplus grass to sell, and they can cut it all in one day, reducing the potential for spoilage.

Having learned through the workshops that business planning and working together can increase both productivity and income, Anka's household members decided to redistribute the work. Her sons decided to fully take over the grass cutting and wood chopping, as well as help with cleaning the barn and harvesting vegetables. They also began helping with product sales, scheduling appointments with customers so that they can meet Anka on the road at just the right time.

Through other workshops hosted by RCTP, Anka has had the opportunity to learn how to express her opinions and strengthen her voice – and even participate in decision-making processes. For example, although she has always been involved in agriculture, she did not have a registered agricultural holding with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Thanks to the skills she gained, she finally decided to register her household – and herself as the head of it. She has also improved her agricultural skills thanks to trainings conducted by the RCTP team in collaboration with experts.

Anka now has big plans for 2020: she wants to expand and increase her production. She has already taken the initiative and applied for support to purchase another cow. Now that her workload has been reduced due to upgraded machinery and workload distribution, she finally has the time to care for it. Her sons, too, are able to work for the family and plan their time for themselves, stress-free. They plan to follow in Anka’s footsteps.

The rigid gender norms in Montenegro are starting to shift. Although progress is happening more slowly in the rural areas than in the cities, households all over the country are discovering ways to balance traditional processes and customs with new, more equitable patterns of work distribution – and it’s all thanks to the hard work of people like Anka and her family.

Learn more about IFAD's work in Montenegro