Changing Women's Lives in the Rural World - a joint session at the EDD

Changing Women's Lives in the Rural World - a joint session at the EDD

A dynamic line-up of speakers were to be found on the panel  Changing Women's Lives in the Rural World that was hosted by DEVCO’s C1 at the European Development Days this year. Opened by Anne Meskanen, Finland’s Ambassador-at-Large for Gender Equality, the panel represented a rich array of voices from around the world, linking research, social activism, programming and training for change.

Each speaker invited the audience to think beyond conventional gender mainstreaming and consider approaches for triggering social change. The panel’s Moderator, Stefan Schmitz, Deputy Director-General of Germany’s One World – No Hunger ­Initiative, set the tone from the beginning when he stressed the need to move beyond addressing the symptoms of gender inequality and think about transformative ways to guarantee equal rights for all.

What did we learn?

Hazel Malapit, Senior Research Coordinator at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) set the context by describing the essence of gender transformative approaches (GTA) in the rural sector, which must move beyond providing rural women with access to resources, and concentrate on strengthening their ability to control these resources. She reminded us of the importance of knowing the situation where we work, using tools such as the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) that go beyond tracking numbers of women reached, to assessing changes in their power and control.

Putting GTA into practice, we heard from Marguerite Belobo Mbia, Country Program Coordinator at SNV in Cameroon, who described how training and sensitisation initiatives bring women and men together into a process of dynamic self-reflection. When men are encouraged to think critically and appraise their own behaviour and attitudes towards women, this is the critical point at which transformation happens.

Speaking from her experiences working on Finnish-funded projects in Nepal, Pamela White described the changes that take place when women find their voices, through small groups, to influence municipal government planning.

Shoaib Sultan Khan, Chairman of Pakistan’s well-known Rural Support Network (RSP), explained how a community development model that helps women organise, provides them with capital, and offers them the skills to unleash their potential can have universal application.

We heard from Ms Nadia, a beneficiary of an EU-funded RSP initiative in Sindh Province, where rural women are amongst some of the world’s most disempowered. Nadia confessed to being at first sceptical of what the project had to offer, but then realised once we got organised we could talk to men, go to the government, use our savings, and practice child spacing.

From the world of activism, we heard from social activist Philip Erick Otieno Owitti, Executive Director of Men for Gender Equality Now (MEGEN) in Kenya, who spoke boldly about the need to engage men because men sustain and legitimise the structures that discriminate against women. By engaging men and women together, he told us, you can bring about change at the highest levels, lobbying for legislative reforms in, for example, sexual offences and property inheritance.

One way to strengthen women’s power is through training, and Shachar Reem, from the Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Centre in Israel, described six key stages of a training programme to inspire women as leaders and entrepreneurs.

The panel’s collective message was a call for deep-rooted social change. In her closing remarks, EU DEVCO’s Deputy Director-General Marjeta Jager reinforced this message, admitting that whilst there is no blueprint approach to GTA, we need holistic and innovative solutions in all areas: from agriculture to education to health. According to Marjeta Jager this was one of the most important panels of the EDD.

A report by our partner IFPRI on a joint EU, Germany, Finland and Netherlands panel at the 2018 EDDs to discuss gender tranformative approaches in rural areas.