In April I spent three weeks in Malawi on a Farmer-to-Farmer assignment on creating a gender action plan for Land o’Lakes International Development’s MSIKA inclusive fruit and vegetable value chains project. This was my ninth Farmer-to-Farmer assignment and my first with Land o’Lake ID.
Gender dynamics affect every segment of the fruit and vegetable value chains in Malawi because a lot of work is considered either men’s work or women’s work. Even certain crops are considered men’s crops or women’s crops. Women play an important role on the farm in all aspects of production, but often decisions about labor, what and where to sell and what inputs to use are made by men. Women are more likely to join farmers’ organizations to process or sell products or access credit, but often do not take leadership positions. One of the goals of the program is empower women to make more decisions on the farm and take positions of leadership in farmers’ organizations.
My job was to look at how the project was promoting inclusion of women in the value chains, design some tools and training materials to use to make the value chains more gender equitable, and train the staff on gender mainstreaming. I had my work cut out for me. Empowering women is a delicate issue, since most people—women included—are worried that “too much” women’s empowerment could cause problems at home.
I spent the first few days talking with staff to understand their work and how they see gender issues interacting with the project goals. The staff had great insight into the gender dyanamics at the agribusiness as well as the household level, but besides collecting data on male and female participation and encouraging women to get involved, they didn’t have a lot of tools to address gender equity. The mix of matrilineal and patrilineal tribes and the concentration of Christians and Muslims in different areas meant that field staff from different regions had a complex job in negotiating gender issues.
The second week began with a workshop for the field staff. After learning about the basics of making programs more gender sensitive, we worked together to create a few modules that the field staff could use to start conversations about gender dynamics in farmers’ organizations and could use for goal setting and leadership training. I had come with a lot of ideas on how to start this process. Some of my ideas, like a graphing household assets in five different dimensions to change the way we think about vulnerability, were enthusiastically embraced. Others, like my idea that a role play would be more thought-provoking if men played women and women played men, were not. After much persuading I did get one group to try it (I even got the agronomist in a skirt!) but the idea was quickly scrapped and never spoken of again. (That’s OK, I’ve got it on video!).
After two days of training, it was show time! The field staff tried out their new toolkit on members of a potato cooperative and it was a big success. I finished up the assignment by visiting an all-women’s tomato processing cooperative to understand some of their challenges, training the office staff on gender mainstreaming and training the leaders of a fruit and vegetable cooperative on promoting gender equity in their coop.