Addressing gender relationships and norms: what is PALS?


The Gender and Youth Empowerment in horticulture Markets (GYEM) project address women’s social and economic power in the horticulture value chains in Ethiopia, with the objective to improve the income of both men and women smallholder farmers. The project has been using tools from the PALS methodology to address gender norms and relationships at the household and community level (as part of our Balancing Benefits approach). But what is PALS ?

PALS stands for Participatory Action Learning for Sustainability. It is a community-led planning and empowerment methodology, developed by Linda Mayoux. It aims to give women and men more control over their lives, increase their incomes, while addressing power relations and gender inequalities. Within cooperatives, the PALS methodology may be used to improve relationships and gender participation, and realising more women in leadership positions. All PALS processes start with individual exercises of envisioning what a ‘happy life’ would look like. Participants then develop roadmaps and outline achievable targets for change to help them move towards their visions, based on their own analysis of their current situation, their strengths, opportunities, and weaknesses or challenges.

The PALS approach, tools and related adaptations have been used in practice by at least 100,000 women and men worldwide.

Encouraging drawing: being inclusive to all

In the PALS methodology participating people draw, they don’t write. One of the most important reasons for this is to be inclusive to those who cannot read or write. At the same time, a drawing allows for the clarification of thoughts and concepts, clear communication, the possibility of fitting more information in a small space and examining the relationship between different elements. By looking at a drawing, one can see immediately the overall picture, one can share more easily the plans and actions to be undertaken, and one can follow-up on those actions in a simple way.

What and how to change?

A key focus for change is identifying and breaking through gender-based barriers at individual, household and community level that prevent women and men from achieving their fullest potential. Because these challenges are systemic and can’t be addressed by one person alone, overcoming gender-based barriers requires the support of peers and community. To get this support, participants using PALS, identify people in their own family and support network with whom they can share their envisioned changes and plans with. By sharing their goals with their peers and by training them, participants become champions.

By using this peer learning and training, more people will be familiar with the PALS methodology. As a result, more people will make their own plans and change their life. Through this process, gender norms in the wider community are addressed, directly or indirectly, increasing the opportunity for change.  People begin to see that others are departing from traditional expectations and roles placed on men and women. That together, a happy family and community is possible when everybody contributes and benefits equally.

The PALS tools and how we used them

The PALS methodology is comprised of several tools that can be combined and mixed depending on context and needs. In the GYEM project, the PALS approach was used to elicit reflections from participating men and women on how they work together in the horticulture value chain. In the project the tools are applied in two phases:

Phase 1: Catalyst Phase

During the first workshop we focus on the vision that participants have for their own lives, their families and their communities, socially as well as economically.

With the help of PALS tools, participants develop a plan to reach their visions. They become responsible for the changes they want to achieve, and by sharing their plans with peers, they create their own support group. During the workshop, we also tackle relationship dynamics at home – specifically between husband and wife. We encourage people to reflect on the divisions in labour in their household (productive vs reproductive), their responsibilities and their access to benefits flowing from the work — personal, social and economic development. Based on individual reflections a household plan is drafted (from both the men’s side and women’s side) with concrete actions to create balance.

Phase 2: Livelihood strengthening

The second workshop takes place six months after the first. It serves as an occasion for participants to review their achievements. During this time, participants review their cash flows and calculate profits realised from their agricultural activities. Participants also reflect on the challenges they face in their personal lives and their businesses, as well as the causes and the steps needed to address these – individually or as a group (for example as a cooperative).

The next phase

To ensure sustainability and continued expansion of the approach, the PALS approach will now be used by Ethiopia’s Women’s Affairs offices in all participating woredas (districts) as a strategy to grow and support gender champions. Through the gender champions, about 1,000 people can be reached per woreda per year. Leveraging this critical mass of people, the government can then develop a more inclusive and gender-transformative agenda that can change the horticulture value chain into one that benefits women and men equally.