Challenges to Achieving Gender Equality

Enabling women to participate equally in organisations and benefit from income generating investments and activities is a very complex process. The realities of gender inequality complicate efforts to transform them. In many areas cultures of patriarchal domination mean that active and effective participation of women and men in projects is difficult to achieve. The lack of formal education can be a real obstacle for women, and to a lesser extent men, to participate and especially take up effective leadership and management roles in their organisations. What’s more most women have heavy domestic responsibilities and workloads, and many have little or no control over productive assets. For example:

Control over productive assets:

In Latin America, IFAD project managers noted how difficult it is to reach women in communities where they don’t own or control land. Gender equity strategies shared in El Salvador included work to develop programmes to alleviate domestic workloads, and support women’s legal rights. One recommended strategy is to make alliances with specialist institutions working on literacy, social care, health, water or rights issues.

Hidden inequities in the household:

Gender roles and relationships can be hidden inside the family unit, unless care is taken to expose and analyse them. For example, in El Salvador a team visited an organisation working with demonstration families and management committees for micro-basins. While the benefits of the new techniques and technologies were clear at family level, the team were concerned that a focus on the family (and on combined results) might inadvertently disadvantage the interests of women. In Tajikistan, the study tour group saw an extreme example of this household inequality:
we noted that women in mountainous areas do not have many opportunities for income generation... and the responsibility for household income is entirely on their shoulders since most men have either emigrated or died.
By strengthening the quality and profitability of women’s traditional contributions to the value chain, i.e. the processing of yarn, the projects visited could have an impact on women’s, and their households’, incomes.

Another example of this is found clearly in the research from Rwanda, which shows that women in male headed households have less access to services and participation in cooperatives because the land and crops are in the name of their husbands. They also have less control over the way their income, and their household's income, is spent. Whereas female heads of household, although poorer and with less land and crops, have more decision making power and access to membership and services.

The domestic workload:

In all cases the multiple roles and responsibilities of women in the household and community have been identified as an inhibiting factor for their full and effective participation in productive and organisational activities. This is evident from the research into women's participation in the tea and coffee sectors in Rwanda, which show that their domestic duties not only increase their working day, but also reduce their earning potential. The most successful attempts to increase the participation of women, or gender equity in projects, has been where attention has been paid to reducing or alleviating the domestic work burden of women.

The participatory research on the gender dimensions of climate change and food security in Asian countries found that, apart from working longer hours, women farmers assume a broader range of roles as they perform both productive and reproductive functions. They are involved in the production, gathering, storage and preparation of food and primarily in charge of managing household resources to meet the nutritional needs of the family. Men’s activities generally revolve around functions that are directly related to agricultural production.

A women farmer leader in Cambodia remarked that when their harvest is poor, women, unlike men, find it hard to sleep because they are thinking of where and how to get food for their family.Because they feel responsible for ensuring household food security many women take on additional economic activities. In Indonesia and Cambodia, most women farmers reported that apart from their work in the homes and in the fields, they try to gain additional income by selling snacks, fish and vegetables in the market. In Timor Leste, many women farmers spend their free time weaving clothes to sell.

Access to credit and services:

Women face barriers to access finance including lack of collateral, and of education, knowledge and skills to deal with long, complicated application procedures and repayment schedules. As described above, the Rwanda research shows how this applies doubly to women in male headed households who can often access services and benefits only through their husbands. Another problem is that although women are often recipients of remittances, they lack the support and advice to invest and channel them for better long term advantage. In Armenia, the “Women Income Generation through goat Breeding in Lori Marz” was a project which brought 15 women-headed households together as an association to apply for financing together from the Telefood project. This could be a model for increasing women’s access to credit.

Rural Armenian women do not enjoy equal access to financial services. For example, the IFAD financed Rural Finance Facility aims to improve access to credit of rural entrepreneurs, yet only 8% of their customers are women. Rural women are more likely to benefit indirectly, as employees of local enterprises or family businesses rather than independent entrepreneurs.

Getting gender into organizations and institutions

The participants of the gender and rural finance workshop in Zambia came from goverrnment, public and voluntary sector organisations across Africa. They were inspired by the experiences and tools shared, and felt that gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment are critical for poverty reduction and development. But their key learning points show that there is still a lot of work to be done to push gender mainstreaming in their organisations and with their colleagues.

They felt that awareness of the need for gender analysis in rural finance programming needs to be built at every level.
  • It is important to stress that women’s empowerment programmes or elements do not necessarily require extra funds from external sources and do not threaten the sustainability of programmes.
  • We need to be clear that gender mainstreaming is aimed at producing equality, not domination. It is not a recent phenomenon, nor a western imposition.
  • Gender mainstreaming and women’s empowerment cannot happen by only working with women. Men need to be brought in as allies from the start, to change the existing system.

Management buy-in is crucial to enable such programmes to be implemented effectively. And given that many organizations have capacity issues, tools need to be very simple both for the organizations as well as clients they serve. Continuous capacity building to organizations is critical.