Participants in a women’s focus group in Bulinga, Northern Ghana. Credit: Jonathan Abodiba

South-south learning challenges gender norms to advance food systems transformation and resilience

A 2018 workshop led by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) and attended by RFS stakeholders in Ghana facilitated meaningful dialogue surrounding gender roles, forestry and food systems transformation. RFS reflects on the importance of engaging in south-south learning exchanges and how far we’ve come in advancing gender equality in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women play a significant role in food systems, yet they are commonly left out of decision-making and access to resources, limiting their ability to enhance resilience in their communities.

Gender is a social construct that affects how individuals participate in all activities, both on and off the farm. This is different from biological sex which dictates the varying physical characteristics between women and men, though it is often used to justify gender norms and customs. The reality is that gender norms differ between cultures and change over time, meaning that they can be transformed to achieve greater equity between the sexes.

The Resilient Food Systems (RFS) programme is committed to enhancing gender equality as a component of food systems resiliency in the 12 sub-Saharan African countries in which it operates. By adopting a gender-responsive approach to project implementation, RFS is working to make sure that food systems transformation benefits, includes and fulfils the potential of everyone in rural communities.

Women in developing countries are disproportionally affected by climate change and reliant on natural resources; as environments change, so do the activities they traditionally rely on. This is why RFS country projects have implemented a variety of activities that enhance women’s involvement and provide them with alternative livelihood options like keeping dairy cows in Ethiopia, goats in Malawi, oysters in Senegal and indigenous chickens in eSwatini.

But changing minds and hearts isn’t as straightforward as just creating opportunities; there needs to be a cultural shift to drive home how much women have to offer.

Women also need sensitisation; they need convincing of their abilities. Once the sensitisation and trainings are complete and they know they can do it, they take part in demo plots groups and now some have purchased or rented their own farmlands and are running the activities themselves. - Rhoda Dia, RFS Nigeria Country Project Manager, during the 2021 RFS Annual Workshop

Challenging gender norms was at the heart of a 2018 workshop on Social and Gender Dynamics and their Importance for Improving Resilience and Livelihoods, held in south-central Burkina Faso and northern Ghana in partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). RFS stakeholders participated in some of the Ghanaian workshops in the early days of the programme’s implementation to learn from this exchange of knowledge and experiences and consider the application of gender transformative approaches in the programmatic framework.

A key activity in the workshops included a visual task whereby community members allocated photos depicting on and off-farm activities into groups representing tasks that were traditionally ‘male’, ‘mainly male’, ‘mainly female’ or ‘exclusively female’.

Participants in Gwenia, Ghana discuss where to place photos illustrating household duties based on gender norms in the community. Credit: World Agroforestry
Participants in Gwenia, Ghana discuss where to place photos illustrating household duties based on gender norms in the community. Credit: World Agroforestry

The visual imbalance in women’s and men’s tasks was especially eye-opening for the male participants who outnumbered the female participants (15/11).

Another key task included a role-play exercise where women and men switched roles in decision-making, even donning each other’s clothes. This helped the men in the community to see, through her eyes, the frustrating situation of women who have little or no say over decisions on the farm.

In a blog featured by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Gloria Kukurije Adeyiga, a doctoral candidate researching gender-transformative approaches and their effect on scaling up agroforestry with Regreening Africa, made the following reflection on the effects of the role-plays:

Role-plays were particularly enlightening, with women feeling finally heard while men’s attitudes were largely reflective, admitting women don’t get enough recognition for their contribution to the household’s wellbeing. - Gloria Kukurije Adeyiga, PhD (c.) Bangor University

This project was designed partially to address the needs of Ghanaian women whose traditional roles as harvesters of shea nuts are increasingly being encroached upon by men with greater access to tenure rights, and who are interested in the growing global market for shea butter, and by agricultural expansion and land degradation which are threatening forest resources. In spite of this specific context, the experiences shared and insight gleaned during these workshops have proven highly relevant to the contexts of RFS country projects and their operations.

Decision-making power and discussions over land tenure are common obstacles to women’s participation in RFS country projects. Such as is the case in eSwatini, for example, where constant gender sensitisation and engaging with Chiefdoms has been an ongoing process to challenge traditional gender norms.

[In eSwatini], until recently, to get a loan from a bank, a husband’s signature was required for a woman. - Lynn Kota, National Project Director, RFS eSwatini

RFS Nigeria has also seen success in reversing traditional gender roles and responsibilities through its targeted beekeeping project. Traditionally considered a man’s task, beekeeping was never seen as an option for women or youth, but through the project, they have gained income, independence and confidence. By earning their own independent income, women are moving towards higher status and decision-making power in the community.

Gender-responsiveness means going beyond a ‘do-no-harm’ approach and instead adopting a gender lens in all stages of project implementation. Engaging in dialogue like that facilitated in the ICRAF workshop in Ghana or those carried out in RFS project communities is imperative to advancing gender equality and equity.

South-south learning is a critical tool in food systems transformation for resilience. Let’s keep the conversation going.

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