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Agriculture + Rural Development Network Brief No 1 Targeting Women in Rural Advisory Services (RAS)

Publisher: HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation
Author: Jane Carter and Nara Weigel,
Type: Report
Date: December 2011
Keywords: Rural Women, Agriculture and Rural Development, networking, gender issues.
Location in CRTDA: The Machreq/Maghreb Gender Linking and Information Project (MACMAG GLIP) Library
Targeting women in rural advisory services (RAS) was chosen by members of SDC's Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) network as an important challenge that needs to be addressed. This short paper takes this challenge as a starting point and identifies ways forward - drawing from the inputs of ARD network members to an e-discussion held in September 2011. The paper highlights practical gender issues to consider when planning and implementing RAS. Five key questions examined are: Who needs to receive the message? What message and why? Where is the message given? When is the message given? How is the message communicated? It then assesses whether resources should be invested in promoting women extension workers. Reasons in favour include that in some contexts this is the only feasible way to talk directly with women farmers; in many societies women simply feel more comfortable interacting with other women; and that women extension workers can be very important role models. Nevertheless, reality shows that most extension workers are men. Some ways to address barriers to women becoming extension workers are examined. The paper also outlines other important aspects in the design and implementation of gender sensitive RAS programmes, such as working through existing social networks (e.g. existing women's groups, farmer's groups) and making conscious choices of partner agencies. The paper provides an overview of key issues to consider in reaching women through RAS, but also warns that women are not a homogeneous group. Like the men in any community, they may belong to different ethnic groups, religions, castes and have different geographic origins or economic circumstances. Consequently, there are many power dynamics and differences in capacity at play of which it is important to be aware, given that RAS can reinforce existing power relations, or seek to cut across them in favour of the disadvantaged. In conclusion, in a world of growing food insecurity and related potential for conflict, it is not enough to work with richer, innovative farmers. Supporting disadvantaged women (and men) to farm more productively is an important development objective.

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