Panel 24

Exploring gender relations and rural women's livelihoods in times of change: what's beyond the focus on “women's economic empowerment”?

Panel organisers: Cecilia Navarra, University of Turin and Roberta Pellizzoli, University of Ferrara, Italy

E-mail of panel organisers: cecilia.navarra@gmail.com

Since 2010 - and, more recently, with the 2030 SDGs - there has been, in development policy and practice, a renewed attention on the key role that women play in agriculture and in food security, and on how to address the structural inequalities that rural women face.
This broad understanding has produced strategies and interventions focusing mainly on women's economic empowerment, bringing on board the private sector with agricultural investments and generally neglecting social and political issues and women's rights. The WB Gender Strategy for 2016-2023 claims that “gender equality is a core development objective in its own rights, and it is also smart development policy and business practice”. Many scholars and development practitioners have highlighted that, while supporting women's economic activities contributes to overall economic growth, economic growth is not sufficient to promote gender equality and women's empowerment.

The panel digs in the locus where gender relations are shaped, first of all the household. New tools are needed to look at it especially where households coincide with economic activities like family farming, considered the stronghold of resistance (and of food security) against the new risks faced by smallholders, threatened by large land-consuming investments. In many African countries, the public debate is focused on including smallholders into markets. What do we know about these processes and their gendered effects? Most economic empowerment interventions focus on the support to women entrepreneurship and access to finance. How does this approach affect gender relations? How does this relate to social protection and to the need of diversified livelihood strategies to face shocks and income insecurity? What is it missing of the multiple strategies and rights' requests of rural women?

We welcome contributions from different disciplines and from different African contexts, including methodological contributions on how to measure women’s empowerment and how to produce indicators for rural contexts.

Approved abstracts Panel 24

1. Gender dynamics in cassava leaves value chains – The case of Tanzania

Authors: Karolin Andersson, Johanna Bergman-Lodin and Linley Chiwona-Karltun (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) karolin.andersson@sei-international.org

In view of the political-economic context of transforming agricultural value chains with potentially altered gender relations as a consequence, this paper explores the structure and gender dynamics in the value chain of cassava leaves in Mkuranga District, Tanzania. This was done to reveal factors that inhibit or facilitate value chain development, which can inform researchers and policy makers on efficient and gender sensitive strategies for support of the value chain actors. Data was collected through a household survey, semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and observations, and quantitatively and qualitatively analysed and described.

The cassava leaves value chain in Mkuranga District is in its formative stages and is characterized by a large number of loosely organized small-scale farmers with relatively weak spot market relationships to their mostly urban buyers in Dar es Salaam. Women farmers are mainly responsible for harvesting and selling the leaves to brokers and wholesalers at farm gate. Reasons given for this includes the persisting low value of the leaves and that cassava leaves are considered convenient for women to deal with. Women reported to be constrained by their reproductive responsibilities at home which prevented them from taking the leaves to market places themselves, and some women reported that their husbands did not allow them to go to the market. These are serious gender issues that need planned and concerted multi-sectoral intervention to be properly addressed.

The majority of the large wholesalers were men, which was explained by reasons such as that women retailers lacked the necessary capital to enable bulk trade, safety issues related to traveling to Dar es Salaam, and the need to be physically able to carry heavy loads. Some women retailers highlighted that they did not have the confidence and business skills to expand their businesses. Policy makers, NGOs and private and public actors need to increase the support of the cassava leaves value chain, for instance through increased research on the role of cassava leaves for rural and urban populations and development of appropriate technologies for mechanized processing. Future research on cassava is recommended to include the leaves and to consider their importance in enhancing diets in especially low-income households and as a source of income, particularly for women.

2. Rural women’s empowerment in West Africa

Author: Astrig Tasgian (University of Turin, Italy) astrig.tasgian@unito.it

Women are particularly vulnerable to poverty in rural areas, where gender inequalities in access to resources (education, health, land, credit and productive inputs) and thus in earned income and control over household resources are higher. Furthermore, rural women are more affected by discriminatory social norms and stereotypes.

The paper refers to the evidence from field surveys I conducted in West Africa (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) and analyses the role of women’s income-generating activities exercised individually or in groups in promoting women’s empowerment and poverty reduction.

Women represent 50% of the agricultural labour force especially in small-scale, subsistence farming and produce most of the food for family consumption. However, their role in production is underestimated; they are unpaid family labour, neglected by extension services and usually have no say on the utilization of family production.

With respect to women’s activities different from farming (livestock, horticulture, agro-processing, crafts), the paper points out the important role of female producer associations and groups, in case of illiterate, poor women. Psychological empowerment appears to be the main benefit for a woman from being involved in collective income generating activities. As far as the economic empowerment is concerned, it depends on the characteristics of the organization, its sector of activity, amount of capital, marketing capacity and on the way work is organized.

Some conclusions at policy level are presented to improve the productivity and livelihoods of rural women (greater access to land and productive inputs, greater voice in society and within the household). Women’s greater self-confidence and income can favour but do not guarantee changes in the power relations within the household. This is the most difficult area of change, which requires a cultural change and a redistribution of unpaid care and domestic work within the family.

3. Evolving gender relations in transforming cassava value chains and implications for intrahousehold nutrition and health. The case of Tanzania.

Author: Johanna Bergman Lodin (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden) johanna.bergman.lodin@slu.se

This paper introduces a new mixed methods research project, carried out in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program 4 on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). Informed by a human geography perspective and grounded in the local context and the subjective and embodied experiences of women and men, the project will explore and explain how the interaction of gender norms, agency and innovation in cassava production, processing and marketing shapes development outcomes related to intrahousehold nutrition and health in contexts characterized by widespread malnutrition. The project will focus on evolving gender relations in households, communities and cassava value chains in light of the rapid commercialization and increasing higher value added processing of the crop in Tanzania.

Assessing agricultural performance in terms of its nutritional and health outcomes revalues food crops as a means to wellbeing and health as well as a commodity and engine for growth. This is central in the Tanzanian context where malnutrition, especially among children under five, is endemic. It also invites a revaluation of particularly women’s multiple contributions in caring, feeding, farming and income generation.

The project responds to recent calls among feminist researchers, agriculturalists and nutritionists to document how commodity-and-site-specific value chain development impacts gender relations, women’s empowerment and intrahousehold nutrition and health, and vice versa. With little evidence of the effect of value chain improvements on women’s empowerment, or dimensions thereof, and on the nutrition and health status of individuals in households involved in value chain activities, especially women and children, this project will generate strategies and options for improving outcomes.

More specifically, the paper outlines the proposed project design, discusses its underlying rationale as well as provides a survey of the field and relevant theories.

4. Local associations and widows’ property rights in Marracuene, Mozambique

Author: Fernando Manjate (Uppsala University /Universidade Eduardo Mondlane) fernando.manjate@antro.uu.se

In my ongoing PhD-research, of which this paper forms part, I focus on how people in increasingly complex intercultural contexts, interpret, modify and sometimes even manipulate the rules to ensure individual and collective interest. Particularly, I am looking on how people deal with property rights pertaining to their own life situation when they still alive. After death, the research is geared forwards the values, mechanisms and institutions through which people resolve the emerging conflicts and how different actors secure what they consider their inheritance and succession rights.

Many studies of inheritance systems in African societies highlight that women and children are often excluded from inheritance due to gender discrimination in property ownership laws or customs and organizations of kinship relations and customary roles. The lightening of inheritance systems effects on women’s rights has led to an increasing involvement of local associations that defend the rights of widowed women. These women are considered to be victims of property grabbing, especially by relatives of the deceased husband. Due to their comparatively lesser bargaining power, widows are vulnerable to ill-treatment, both by wider society, and also by the two families to whom they have close ties: their natal families, and their in-laws. Daughters often appear to be regarded as temporary members of their natal families, and wives are treated as secondary members of their husband’s families.

Although the Mozambican legislation grants to widows the right to half of the marital property, property grabbing is practiced in many Mozambican families. Such a scenario requires rethinking about local notions of property. In this article, I will discuss some of the reasons behind widows´ marginalization and dispossession. I will attempt to analyze the role of local based association challenging widow’s discrimination in Marracuene – Mozambique.

The research reveals the close relation between widows’ exposure to property grabbing and patrilineal attempts to assure the safeguarding of familiar property. Traditionally assured through levirate, current widows’ property grabbing appears as pragmatic strategy to fulfill this old family’s purpose. Despite their importance of seeking to minimize gender inequalities and to change values and social assumptions attached to women marginalization and dispossession, the impact of these local associations is limited. Instead of focusing on the causes behind widows’ property grabbing local associations restrict their intervention to the women legal assistance.

Keywords: Inheritance, property rights, property grabbing, widows

5. Women’s negotiation within the household and strategies of access to land. Ethnographic cases from a Mossi village of Burkina Faso

Author: Martina Cavicchioli (Goethe Universität, Germany) martina.cavicchioli@stud.uni-frankfurt.de

The international debate on gender equality in access to natural resources often points at customary systems and patriarchy as obstacles to the improvement of women’s empowerment in contemporary Africa, especially in rural areas. Within this framework, women are mostly seen by governments and development agencies as victims of unequal socioeconomic systems that should rethink gender roles and categories of ownership. Giving access to land to women has been identified as way to alleviate poverty and insecurity. However, access to personal plots represents a complex domain in which farming labour intertwines with work activities, household duties, and gender relations. In what ways do household relations and conjugal ties affect women’s bargaining power of access to land? How do development projects and interventions evaluate these aspects?

In most areas of Burkina Faso, women are allowed to acquire a personal plot from their husband, although land inheritance is only granted to male members of the family. In regions where land is scarce and not rentable, there is a growing reticence among household heads to allocate plots to individuals for personal use. This leads many people, and especially women, to look for alternative ways to access land such as asking for fields to their family of origin or other community members, which exposes them to short-term land loans, frequent retirements, or tenure conflicts.

While much scholarship has elucidated women’s need for a personal plot, less attention has been paid to the impact of household dynamics on practices of land distribution and the creation of spaces of agency by women to this end. Drawing from recent fieldwork within polygamic families of a Mossi village of the Kouritenga province, this paper shows the importance of tending to female bargaining power within and outside the household as practices of micro-resistance to constraints in access to land.

6. Promoting women’s socio-economic empowerment: experiences from Mozambique

Authors: Cecilia Navarra (University of Turin, Italy) cecilia.navarra@gmail.com and Roberta Pellizzoli (University of Ferrara, Italy) rpellizzoli@gmail.com

In January 2015, the Italian Development Cooperation started to implement the project “Promotion of women’ socio-economic empowerment in Mozambique”, in partnership with several institutional actors, with a focus on women’s led SME in different sectors. The qualitative and quantitative researches carried out in rural and urban contexts highlight a variety of relevant issues for the discussion on the implications of the “women’s economic empowerment” mantra:

  • Women very often become entrepreneurs out of necessity due to life events (divorce, widowhood). This necessity often turns in an opportunity to make autonomous (even though not always well informed) decisions over their lives, family expenses, investments etc.;
  • Having had access to specific training or to programmes providing inputs or funds is a key factor for starting an enterprise (but where programmes are not specifically targeted at women, they tend to participate as unpaid labour force for their husband enterprise)
  • The characteristics of a sector and of SME have a strong impact on how women use their time and on their capacity to fulfil the requested reproductive roles, increasing demands for social protection
  • Access to (and interest in) formal financial products from commercial banks is almost inexistent; however women have access to a variety of opportunities – mainly ROSCAs, district development funds, church funds. Microcredit is less and less considered a viable option due to high interest rates.
  • There is a severe lack of coordination and knowledge sharing between the main actors involved

The paper focuses on the need to re-integrate within the revived mainstream view that economic empowerment of women is smart economics the analysis of gender relations – starting from the household, and a more thorough understanding of the role that different actors play in this domain.

7. Gender perspectives on Social Protection Policy and delivery in Cameroon

Author: Blaise Fofung Vudinga, (University of York.UK) bvf500@york.ac.uk

Over the past decades, social protection has become a prominent development strategy used in many poor countries to understand issues surrounding societal risks and vulnerabilities. Gender is a key part of social protection policy challenge hence many studies have mostly focused on how the design and implementation of social protection interventions can address gender-based constraints within households. Using a gender lens, this paper explores how well the roles, assumptions, and gender perspectives of female social protection bureaucrats, address how structural barriers and difficulties influence the nature of social protection policy and delivery.

Data for this paper, is drawn from both primary and secondary data. The primary data consists of 10 qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted with social protection elites in Cameroon as part of PhD research. The paper uses thematic analysis to capture the views and experiences of social protection policy and decision makers. The paper argues that for better conceptualisation and supply of social protection resources and services gender-related perspectives should be promulgated to the forefront.

The paper demonstrates that the roles and assumptions of gender- sensitive social protection bureaucrats serving as gatekeepers is crucial for the provision of diversified social protection livelihood strategies. The paper concludes by arguing that whilst addressing the constraints of women in households is good, for effective and efficient social protection policies and interventions, a gender perspective that underscores the assumptions of female social protection elites must be considered. Thus, strengthening the capacity of social protection policy and decision making in Cameroon.

8. Market Innovation in Malawi: Rippling gendered institutions? The case of Malawi’s Agricultural Commodity Exchange

Authors: Saskia Vossenberg and Georgina M. Gómez (International Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands) vossenberg@iss.nl

Market innovation is often highlighted as a key driver for the inclusion of small scale farmers into markets and has become an important policy goal in Sub-Saharan countries. This presentation explores the relationships between market innovations that seek to empower small holder farmers and gendered institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa and why and when change in livelihoods is triggered or not. Applying Elinor Ostrom’s approach (2005) to the empirical case of Malawi’s Commodity Exchange, provides deep insights into the shortcomings of gender blind market creation. However, applying the framework also makes visible ripple effects in gendered institutions, especially at the level of the household. This suggests that it is too simplistic to conclude that gender blind market innovation cannot not make a difference in female small holders’ lives. ‘Other transformations’ in everyday lives of women can occur and connect change induced by market engagement to gendered institutions. These findings suggests the importance of understanding changes in female small holder’s lives from a relational and institutionally embedded perspective. And discuss the limitations and contributions of how a gendered institutional lens may serve as a framework for exploring the interrelationships between market innovation and changes in gender relations and rural women's livelihoods.

9. Women’s cattle ownership in Botswana. Rebranding gender relations?

Author: Andrea Petitt, (Center for Gender Research, Uppsala University, Sweden) andrea.petitt@gender.uu.se

Cattle are often portrayed as a male affair in Botswana. However, venturing out to the Kalahari countryside to scratch the surface of this state of affairs, another picture emerges. There are in fact many women from different socioeconomic background who own, manage and work with cattle in different ways, and their farming is defined by both the connection to the EU beef market and interlinked local processes of power. Cattle are ever-present in Botswana and play a paramount role for the economy, politics and rural landscape of the country, as well as for many people’s cultural identity, kinship relations and everyday routines. I study women’s involvement in cattle production in Ghanzi District to think about how peoples’ relations to certain livestock species produce, reproduce and challenge established patterns of material and social relations. More specifically I investigate how access and claims to livestock is defined by intersections of gender, ethnicity, race and class within broader contexts associated with the commercialisation of livestock production. The objective of this thesis is to explore how different women are able to benefit from their cattle ownership for their social positions and material welfare in Botswana within the broader political, economic and socio-cultural contexts associated with the commercial beef industry. Through ethnographic fieldwork and an intersectional analysis of gendered property relations to grazing land and cattle, I show how women do benefit from both subsistence products and monetary income from cattle sales. An increased need for cash together with the possibility to sell cattle stimulated by Botswana’s beef trade with the EU have motivated women to gain control over cattle. There are women who, encouraged by gender equality messages from the Ministry of Gender Affairs, make use of the government’s loans and grants for entrepreneurship to start up their own cattle operations and make claims to the cattle market. In addition, there are women with control over their cattle who also benefit in terms of social status and those women who engage in cattle production in ways seen as new speak of more equal gender relations.  

Key words: gender, women, livestock, cattle, ownership, property, commercialisation, change, intersectionality

To the top