Women’s Agency and Voice: What is our role?


Jemimah Njuki

And by “our role”, I mean those of us working in agriculture research and development programming.

I have just gone through the new World Bank Report on “Voice and Agency: Empowering women and girls for shared prosperity”. Although a 200 page document, I would encourage you to read it as it deals with some areas of women and girls empowerment that is often ignored outside of women’s rights organizations.

The report focuses on four main domains of women’s agency: freedom from violence, control over sexual and reproductive health, ownership and control of land and housing, and voice and collective action. Within the agriculture sector, the domain that has been of most interest is the third domain-ownership and control of land. Indeed, in many sectoral programs, the other domains are often almost ignored as areas not relevant to agriculture or areas that should be dealt with by women’s rights organizations.

A lot of our work in agriculture focused on women is aimed at improving women’s economic opportunities. This although a necessary pre-condition is not sufficient to achieve women’s empowerment or gender equality. As the report rightfully says “…..even where endowments and economic opportunities are better, social norms about gender roles are limiting. This problem is evident, for example, in gender roles surrounding child care and housework…”And yet there is a positive spin to this. Women with better economic opportunities are less likely to experience violence and girls from poor households are more likely to drop out of school and marry early. Not taking into account gender concerns as we do our work can however have negative consequences for women and girls, increasing likelihood of domestic violence or increasing women and girls workloads.

One of the recommendations the report makes is to engage men and boys for gender equality. Given the nature of agriculture and the focus on farm families, men, women, boys and girls included, those in agriculture have great opportunities to engage men and boys as champions of change for gender equality. Effectively engaging men, boys, communities, and traditional authorities to change norms around violence, marriage, reproduction, household gender roles, and the roles of women and men in public life can lead to the promotion of women’s agency.

The engagement of men and boys can be integrated into agricultural programming. The CARE Pathways to Empowerment Program that I was involved in as Team Leader integrates community dialogue on women’s workload, the importance of women being involved in household decision making, the harms of gender based violence, harmful cultural practices into the Farmer Field School (FFS) Approach. While in a normal FFS program, all of the topics would be around agriculture, in the adapted farmer field school, a number of the topics deal with these issues. As the FFS groups are mixed groups, it allows for discussion by men and women on the importance of gender equality. This is combined with approaches that target men and boys separately, that target traditional leaders and that target whole communities through community theatre.

For agriculture programs aiming for multiple outcomes of economic opportunities (increasing productivity, food security and incomes) and gender equality, a combination of these approaches is inevitable and partnerships need to expand to include organizations with skills and expertise in addressing these gender norms.

Research on different combinations of different approaches and how they apply in different social and institutional setups will build an evidence base on what works, where and under what context.

Read the full report here

Those Gender Paragraphs!


Jemimah Njuki

How do you ensure gender is meaningfully integrated into agriculture research and development projects and is not simply an add on to already well-defined and developed programs? Having been in agriculture research working on gender for the last 14 years, one of the most common and ineffective strategies I have seen have been to include a section in the proposal application on a gender strategy for the project. In most cases, this is supposed to be a paragraph or two, and in the case of gender generous donors, a page.

One of the most common phrases you would hear in the corridors of the research organizations where I have worked was “She does not do gender paragraphs!”

And why? Because paragraphs outside of the main project document are not funded! They are not allocated resources, human or financial. And in many cases, as soon as the implementation of the “project activities” starts, these paragraphs get forgotten.

I once was asked to do this, on the phone nonetheless, for a proposal that was due in a few days and for which the donor had asked for a section on the projects’ gender strategy. A short conversation later, after which the scientist had heard my version of “I don’t do gender paragraphs”, there was a plan to meet the whole team to discuss the key issues being addressed by the team and what the gender dimensions of these issues were.

So what are the six things that should be integrated into the proposal to meaningfully address gender?

  1. An analysis and documentation of the key research problem as it relates to gender; what are the gender dimensions of the problem? How does the problem affect men, women, girls and boys and how? What are the anticipated future impacts on these groups if the problem remains unsolved? What are these groups already doing about it? The answers to these questions need to be clearly articulated in the research problem and justification.
  2. Gender should be integrated in the objectives to address the problem and in some cases could be a stand-alone objective depending on how the problem affects different groups of men, women, boys and girls and the relations between and among them. Even in the event that gender is a stand-alone objective, other objectives of the proposal should reflect this gender dimension. Following these objectives should be clear gender focused research questions. For example, assuming a project on technology development, there should be clear research questions on how the technologies will affect men, women, boys and girls and they will affect gender relations.
  3. A gender analysis should be integrated as part of the research methodology. Gender analysis must include both qualitative and quantitative approaches to understand the what and the how.
  4. Following the gender analysis, there should be a clear articulation of the interventions or key activities and processes to address key gender issues identified in 1 and 3. Two kinds of interventions should be considered (a) interventions that are gender aware and accommodate current gender relations. These are a useful starting point especially for technical projects (2) interventions that transform gender relations. While accommodative interventions only address the symptoms of gender inequalities such as access to resources, information etc, transformative approaches address the root causes of gender inequality including cultural norms. These often require the involvement of men and women to transform gender relations.
  5. A monitoring and evaluation system that tracks data on men and women, on changes in gender relations and on men and women’s perspectives of changes and processes. This will require disaggregation of data on adoption, income, assets and other variables. Researchers should not that comparing types of households such as male and female headed households can mask important information on men and women residing in male headed households.
  6. Resources: The human and financial capacity to do the gender work must be included, otherwise gender becomes an add-on that is done if there are additional resources, or is dropped if there are not enough resources. Partnerships that can bring in needed expertise especially on transformative approaches is key.

So next time you are tempted to add a gender paragraph to your proposal or project document, think about these six things and how much more likely your project is to succeed if you meaningfully and comprehensively address gender.

The complexities of smallholder farming


Jemimah Njuki

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be an African smallholder farmer? The decisions you would have to make, and the complexities you would have to deal with on a day-to-day basis!

I really did not think a lot about this until I played the game ‘The African Farmer”. This online game simulates the complex decisions and uncertainties faced by small-scale farmers living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

On Labour Day with a couple of hours free time, I decide to try out the game. The game comes with a user guide that on first reading makes it sound very confusing and complicated but do not let that deter you! Once you start playing, it is a lot of fun, but I can promise you that you will make many goofs. I did!

The players are responsible for managing a household and small farm in an African village. Players must feed their household and manage the plots of land to which they have access. They can trade food, crops, inputs, land and other goods and services at the market or with other players. Players must manage labour to ensure that domestic and farming tasks are carried out and must decide whether to send children to school. They can send adults to town to look for work.

On the farm, players must choose which crops to plant, when to plant them and decide on weeding and the use of fertilizers. They must be prepared for adverse weather and be ready to respond to crop diseases and pests. Household members need balanced diets if they are to remain healthy – individuals given poor diets are more likely to become ill and may die. Chance Events (e.g. a transport breakdown interrupting market supplies) may occur at any time in the game cycle, which may disrupt plans and confound strategies. The game incorporates various elements on which players must take a position, giving a range of goals that must be balanced:

  • Agricultural – successfully manage and develop the farm.
  • Health and education – provide household members with balanced diets and ensure children are educated.
  • Social – increase social standing by diligently carrying out duties and helping neighbours.
  • Financial – increase the net worth of your household by farming or trading.

I start by selecting the household—it is a household of 2 adults (myself and husband Eric), 2 children (Pamela and Irene) and a baby (Joshua). First thing, I have to do, is go to the market, and buy the family stock of assets. This is where it starts getting tricky. You can buy hired labour, inputs, food stocks, vouchers for school fees etc but you do not have unlimited buying capacity. So I buy some hybrid maize, bean seed, manure, NPK, some hired labour and some food stocks.

Next, you allocate tasks to the household members, and once you allocate these tasks, the members become unavailable for other tasks. You can decide whether children go to school or not, whether one adult goes to work or stays on the farm. So I allocate Pamela and Irene to go to school. In addition, they can do one of the mandatory tasks, which include cooking, fetching water or firewood.

The season is split into 4, early rains, main rains, early harvest and late harvest. If I plant everything early, I will be short of labour. Decisions! Decisions! I decide to plant the maize in the early rains; I will plant the beans in the main rains. I allocate the labour for the fields, and by the time I have allocated all the labour, only Eric is available to do the cooking! Might as well! He will be cooking the whole year.

In the main rains, I plant the beans in my second field; fertilize the maize planted in the early rains and spray. I do the cooking this time and the girls are allocated the fetching water and firewood-typical! By early harvest when the maize is ready to be harvested, I have no available labour to weed the beans! Eric is spraying, I am harvesting and cooking, and the girls are fetching water and firewood.

And there are risks too. I forgot to buy a granary! If I do not have one, I will lose 25% of the harvest from post-harvest losses. I remember just in good time and click the market to buy. Unfortunately, I do not have sufficient funds to buy one .I get a message that my harvest would reduce significantly, but what to do! Labour is short during the harvest time, so I have the girls on domestic chores and Eric is cooking, again! I check the yields from the first harvest, I am doing well. I got 8.8 bags of Maize.

At the end of the late harvest, family changes-you can have more children. I sigh with relief, I did not give birth! However, there is disaster looming. I have to allocate food and for some reason, I allocate the level X diet. There are four levels with level X being the lowest. This diet is not sufficient and people on this diet can die from malnutrition. I click a button to try to change the diet. It is the advance button and I am promptly informed;

Eric Nyanya has died from malnutrition

Doreen Nyanya (that’s me) has died from malnutrition

Pamela Nyanya has died from malnutrition

Irene Nyanya has died from malnutrition

Joshua Nyanya has died from malnutrition

It’s not funny!

I however still do get the performance of the farm on the farm statistics. Despite the labour shortage, I have not done so badly.

Although my first attempt at playing the game has not gone so well, it makes me appreciate the many decisions that farmers have to make, most often without the information that they need. The constraints in access to resources and the struggle to allocate scarce resources to keep their farms and their families going. Any catastrophes of weather or pest attack can leave them in a vulnerable position.

While some of the aspects of the game have no reality in them, it still does make you appreciate the complexity of smallholder farming. I would recommend this game for everyone working to support smallholder agriculture. It will make you change your views and appreciate smallholder farmers.

The game was created by a team from the University of Sussex and Future Agricultures and can be played here . Read the user guide before you start!