|Jemimah Njuki at the AgriGender 2011 workshop.|
As Njuki explains, the benefits of getting it right extend beyond women. Studies show that women in developing countries who earn money reinvest 90% back into their families: men, on the other hand, feed back only 30-40%. (In Kenya, for example, men spent 20% of their income on second families.) Studies also show that if women are given the same resources as men — such as land, labour, and capital — they can increase yields on their farms by 20-30%, potentially raising a country’s agricultural output by 2.5–4% and reducing the number of hungry people worldwide by 100–150 million.Overcoming hurdlesBut these gains cannot occur if project designers don’t fully understand the role of women on the family farm and in agricultural markets. In her Tanzanian study, Njuki identified three hurdles that prevented women from participating in poultry markets. They tended to lack a communication asset (in this case, a mobile phone); access to transportation; and membership in a marketing association.What researchers didn’t understand in Mercy’s case, for example, was that women often lose control once a crop enters formal financial and market systems, which are primarily controlled by men. Njuki discovered a similar problem in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. A dairy development project in those countries tried to put more money into the pockets of women by boosting milk production. But most women were not benefiting because payments were made through banks accounts, which few women had.Understanding the challenge led to solutions. Project managers worked with finance organizations and NGOs to establish “village banks” that women could access easily in their communities. Having a cell phone was also a major advantage.“In Kenya, most women have mobile phones and are used to using these to receive money from relatives in the West,” says Njuki. “So both the village bank and mobile banking give women more options to access the income they’re getting from milk.”Njuki’s research is also helping to boost women’s involvement in agricultural associations and co-operatives, which are often the point organizations for development programs. Many of these groups require that 30% of their management be women. But voting rules that allow just one vote per household precluded most women from joining, because often their husbands were already members.“Now we’re encouraging joint membership in co-operatives,” says Njuki. “Registering women as members may look like a small change but it has resulted in many more women participating and acting in leadership roles in co-operatives.”Targeting men and womenBut don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, she cautions, by implementing solutions that only target women.
“When you look at gender and development, men have to be part of the solution,” she insists. “We get buy-in from men when they see the benefit of women’s empowerment to them, the household, and the community. When people realize the broader benefits, then gender equality becomes an issue that everyone wants to address.”Debbie Lawes is an Ottawa-based writer.