Despite frequent gender-sensitivity training given to staff members of agricultural research and development (ARD) organisations, many of them still seem to regard agriculture – growing crops / trees and keeping livestock – as primarily the domain of men. Still today, most scientists in research stations, teachers at universities or agricultural colleges, and advisors in agricultural extension services are men – and they still work mainly with male farmers. Many still assume that men can speak for women in their household or community and will communicate messages back to them, although it has frequently been shown that this is not usually the case.
Rural development advisory work with women generally focuses on housekeeping, cooking, childcare, nutrition, food processing, fuel and water supply, savings and credit and other forms of women’s organisation, and is carried out mainly by female home economics or women’s affairs staff. These are important aspects of women’s lives but lose sight of the vital roles that women play in agriculture and natural resource management (NRM). If attention is not given to women’s concerns, innovations in agriculture and NRM may be promoted that bring even more work for women, or that deprive women of control over activities important for family welfare and for the women’s own self-esteem. Moreover, the creativity and potential of women to improve agriculture and NRM will be foregone. The socially determined roles of men and women and the relations between them differ from one cultural or socio-economic group to another. They differ not only according to gender but also according to age and to social and health status. These differences affect the relative influence of men and women in decision-making, their access to resources for innovation and development, and the nature and extent to which they benefit from this. Moreover, gender roles and relations change over time. Indeed, taking on a non-conformist gender role can be a socio-institutional innovation in itself, such as widowed women who start to plough the land or men weakened by HIV/AIDS who start home-based activities like basket-making. Prolinnova partners need to understand the traditional and changing gender roles and relations to be able to harness the potential of both men and women in promoting local innovation and farmer-led PID and to help them gain equal benefits from this. Consider, for example, the following differences between men and women that can be found in many countries:
In many areas, land tenure is vested in men. If women have rights to use land, they tend to have access to less land than do men, and may therefore be more interested in types of innovation that demand little land. Women usually have more limited access to credit and inputs than do men, and may therefore have a greater tendency to innovate and experiment with low-external-input technologies or in ways of organising themselves to gain better access to credit and inputs. Women’s time and mobility are constrained by their domestic and reproductive roles and often also for cultural reasons, and they usually lack appropriate technology for transporting water, fuel, fodder and agricultural products (most commonly women’s tasks). Women are therefore likely to be (interested in) innovating and experimenting with ways to save labour energy and time and in activities that can be done relatively close to their homes, e.g. in their backyards.
Women usually have less formal education than do men, and women in indigenous ethnic groups are less likely to speak the national language fluently. Therefore, different means of communication may need to be used than in the case of men, when women want to make proposals for participatory innovation grants or when they want to share information about their innovation and experimentation activities.