Resy Vermeltfoort via web
Today it is International Women’s Day. This year’s International Women’s Day theme urges all of us to #PressforProgress, a call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity. It encourages us all to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive. From the big global online campaign we would like to zoom in and share how rural communities are driving awareness and changing behaviours to change women's lives for the better.
Under the ‘Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises’ (EOWE) programme, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, SNV works with rural communities in Kenya and Vietnam to increase women’s participation in and benefits from economic activities in the agricultural sector. In this sector, women’s unequal access and agency is most profoundly manifested in women’s lack of control over the use of income, access to and decision-making power over credit and other inputs like seeds and technologies and division of labour within the household and associated burdens as women spend most of their time on reproductive tasks instead of being able to invest sufficient time on their farms or enterprises to make them sustain or develop.
These gendered divisions of roles and access to opportunities and benefits are underpinned by strong socio-cultural and religious norms that define power relations and position in society. Despite the fact that reflecting on these gender norms and changing the associated behaviours and roles is not an easy task, the communities are open to rethink their perceptions and behaviour and support each other to facilitate a transformation.
Gender-transformative household dialogues In 2017, a total of 152 households in Vietnam and 153 households in Kenya participated in gender-transformative household dialogues. During these dialogues, which are part of SNV’s Balancing Benefit approach, selected couples reflect and discuss on the key norms that prevent women from fully participating in and benefitting from economic activities. The dialogues encourage collaboration between men and women and focus on the needs of both the husband and the wife to come to a joint plan for transformation. In this way, both husband and wife are pressing for progress towards gender parity in their households.
The initial impact shows that through the dialogues the households are forging major changes towards gender equality. A Vietnamese rice farmer who participated in the household dialogues together with his wife shares that he used to only watch television or read the newspaper after work and he didn’t care about housework, which he called nameless work. He believed that earning money is the only job for men and that women should take care of all the housework. Since participating in the EOWE programme, his perceptions and behaviour in terms of division of labour have changed a lot. “Now, when I come home from work I support my wife”, he says. “When she cooks, I wash the clothes, clean the house or feed the poultry. Both my wife and I are very happy that now we can balance our work at home and in the field and share responsibilities together.”
Felisters Kitonyi Mutuiye from Kenya explains how norms in her community dictate that it’s the husband’s responsibility to have full control over any huge monetary transaction in the family, which forced her to secretly take loans which never gave her financial benefit as she was afraid that her husband would ask where the money came from. “Reflecting on perceptions and behaviour when it comes to access to and control over credit has really enlightened us”, explains Felisters. “Now, my husband and I have open discussions around credit and together we have been putting down ideas and we have decided to take a loan to buy plastic chairs to rent out in the community and to invest in a poultry project and it is really working. I have been sharing with my fellow women on how important it is for people to make decisions together as a couple.”
Under another project, the Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agricultural Value Chains (WEAVE) project, SNV is implementing facilitated dialogues among ethnic minority couples working in the cinnamon, banana or pig value chain in the Northern mountains of Vietnam. The couples are making great strides in driving awareness and changing behaviours for increased women’s empowerment. Dang Thi May, a cinnamon farmer from the ethnic minority group Dao participated in the dialogues together with her husband, Ly A Sieu, who is also a cinnamon farmer. “I am very happy with the results of the household dialogues”, says May enthusiastically. “Since my husband and I participated in the dialogue sessions, he encourages me to attend more social events to get more social knowledge. And while I am away he takes the responsibility for a lot of household tasks like cooking.”
Towards systemic change Working on gender equality implies working on relationships: intra-household, between households, between communities and between different actors in the agricultural sector. SNV is working together with and building the capacity of cooperatives and private and public sector actors to actively advocate for and engage with women’s economic issues in their own spheres of influence, from promoting women’s leadership in cooperatives to providing technical support to women famers and other female agribusiness entrepreneurs to move into higher value activities. Through SNV's Balancing Benefits approach, thousands of women have been empowered to take an active role in all their (family) business decisions and processes.
With all our programmes we aim to increase women’s share of the family's income, enhance women’s entry and success in businesses and influence business environments to enhance equity of opportunity.
So let’s all #PressforProgress in our own sphere of influence and work together to make gender equality a reality in our lifetime.