Youth for change
Children and youth more are much more knowledgeable, creative and gender-transformative than we expect, when we give them the space to engage in agriculture, research and society. Therefore, our task is to enable their active participation in decision-making structures and ask them to reflect on gender norms and roles in society critically. This can start by depicting women and men’s roles and depiction in agriculture and water management in textbooks and curricula at school and university level equally – this has immense outreach. In participatory gender trainings with flat communication hierarchies, youth can discuss implementation approaches in their communities and present their ideas to local decision-making authorities and researchers. These need to build structures for youth ideas for change.
Appreciating the contextual barriers to women’s empowerment
While women play important roles in the reproductive and productive spheres of rural life in Cambodia, decision making around production remains a male domain, restricting opportunities for women to become agents of development. Men and women agree that women’s educational attainment is a key determinant of women’s influence over decisions around production. Both genders also prioritize education for boys and girls as a means out of poverty. While education can therefore be a potent entry point to promote agency among women, the following inter-community and intra-community differences in access to education make clear the importance of planning interventions based on a sound understanding of contextual disparities.
In the farming village of Santai in Sien Reap Province, primary and secondary schools are accessible through low-cost transport. School attendance is high among both genders. In the fishing commune (cluster of villages) of Phat Sanday (Kampong Thom province), however, only primary schools are located in each of the five villages. Transport by boat to the secondary school near the commune’s administrative hub is expensive for poorer families concentrated in the villages furthest from the school. Transport by land is not an option. Most girls (and boys) in these villages thus only complete primary school, and the girls are at risk of repeating their mothers’ life histories. Secondary school remains the privilege of the more affluent, often residing closer to the administrative hub. Here livelihood opportunities such as shops selling clothes, household goods and fisheries equipment are far greater given proximity to the mainland; greater purchasing power of local residents and access to information, communications and the highly influential commune council – the seat of commune administration and conduit for flows of financial aid and training. A boat donated by the government for subsidized transport to children from the farther villages was appropriated by a council member, and a request to the council to build a hostel next to the secondary school to avoid daily transport costs was not listed as a development priority. Women’s agency therefore lies embedded within a broader architecture of poverty including spatial location, financial capability, access to markets and services, and the ability to hold local power structures accountable.
Gendered decision-making and livelihood adoption in resettled communities
The Mekong region is experiencing massive investment with respect to hydropower development and a persistent challenge is to ensure that hydropower-related resettled communities are provided with improved livelihood opportunities. Despite the implementation of multifaceted livelihood packages based on consultations with affected communities, adoption by households often remains a problem. Our research in Lao PDR showed that part of the issue may lie in these strategies being designed without taking into account for a multiplicity of factors that contribute to overall wellbeing of men and women, as well as of different ethnic groups. For example, hydropower companies tend to focus on the material aspects of wellbeing when designing livelihoods.
But relational and subjective aspects of wellbeing often intertwine with material aspects, and understanding the subjective differences in attitudes, feelings and aspirations of men and women that impinge on decision and its costs and benefits is crucial. For example, women’s control over decisions on riverbank gardening decreased due to newly enforced land use patterns, with resultant material costs for both women and men. The control of women over decisions on weaving on the other hand increased with material benefits for both women and men, and relational and subjective benefits for women. Such analyses provide a better understanding of why some household members accept and others reject livelihood options offered by hydropower companies, and what changes need to be made.
A mother’s guide to being a scientist
Being a woman scientist does not mean you have to sacrifice your family life or your career if you have children.
Being out in the field with my child greatly helped to engage conversations with women from the village. My identity as a mother makes it easier to connect with all the other women I meet.
I am not just ‘a foreigner’, I am also ‘a mother’ – like them.
My research in this village was about women’s empowerment. Conducting research on women’s empowerment is not just about generating new knowledge. It is also about our own attitudes, behavior and actions as researchers. I hope that a researcher travelling to villages with her baby is inspiring for others – whoever they are, men, women, scientists or farmers.
However, I recognize that it is also a privilege – not every woman scientist can afford a caretaker on site or the travel costs of the person who will come along with you to take care of your child.
In this regard, research organizations also have a role to play in promoting “women in science” – we need more affirmative policies to support women to be scientists and mothers in the field.
Gender-responsive interventions needs cautious approach
‘Women’s name were included in the list as the project demanded a gender-responsive intervention’ shared by a field officer in West Bengal, India. These women had limited or no role in the project activities, while it was the adult male household member who were actively involved. The women members therefore failed to implement the agricultural trainings provided under the project, due to lack of access to decision making in the household, time and financial constraints or difficulty to remember and acquire the right information. Many such development interventions have failed to address these key issues-gendered division of labour and decision making in the household, tenant-landowner power relations, level of participation of women in the communities and the project.
Development interventions to empower women in agriculture through trainings also needs to be complimented with other interventions such as agro-machineries to ease labour shortage and workload, collective farming to share inputs and outputs, community management of water infrastructures, and assessing pre and post-trainings impacts etc. Also crucial is inclusion of broader social equity dimension such as how the land and water management constraints varies between men and women across different farmer categories (landless and tenant farmers, marginal, large farmers), age, position in household, class, level of education etc.
Women as water managers
As an intern in the South Africa office of IWMI, I am working on issues of social inclusiveness and gender responsiveness in transboundary groundwater governance. Since transboundary arrangements can influence gendered livelihoods and wellbeing on the local level, a gendered approach to reading law and policy on all levels is important. The failure to address gender in transboundary groundwater governance can jeopardize water security and livelihood options for small communities in the border regions, enhancing risks to social cohesions, livelihoods and wellbeing. However, such an approach requires bold persistence, as despite its importance, gender considerations are often sidelined, and are almost invisible in transboundary arrangements.
Women are already important water managers, and it is therefore important to inspire and engage more women and girls to become leaders in decision-making that affects water equity.
To accelerate the achievement of gender equality in water and land management, IWMI must continue emphasizing the importance of inclusive and representative decision making at all levels, from local to transboundary, in striving for a gender-equal world.
Finding success as a woman in science
It is important to inspire and engage more women and girls in science, because they understand the root causes of social issues. It comes very naturally to women to engage more on the field and dive deeper into the issues around gender and social inequalities.IWMI’s women researchers have proven this by touching upon many such research topics, policy dialogues that address the concerns around how women face challenges in their day-to-day lives, lack of access to water, lack of support in agriculture practices and all of these leading to impacts on the feminization of agriculture, migration and social inequality. Together, we aim at bridging this gap between science, technology and development. Research needs to be driven by an approach that brings about change and creates impact in the lives of rural-urban communities.
Youthful imbalance: the burden of labour
Across the Eastern Gangetic Plains, boys and girls under the ages of 18, and as young as 5 to 7 years is found to be actively engaged in agriculture. The burden faced by the rural households due to poverty, increasing male-out migration, lack of access to adult labours and technologies etc. are driving factors.
These have major implications on the child’s education, health and well-being. Young girls often face the issue of work burden similar to the adult women, doing household chores combined with agriculture work, leaving them with less time for school. Gender roles, age, and traditional cultural norms defines the type of work done by girl and boy child and on who gets the education. These role and involvement of children as agricultural labourers (paid or unpaid) is often ignored and under-analysed in gender equity studies. Addressing the adult labour shortage through mechanization, collective farming with sharing of labours, input cost etc. will not just enhance agricultural productivity and livelihood, but further reduce the dependency on children as agricultural labour.
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