Is the ideal woman resilient to climate change?

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Learning about the role of women and men through South-South exchange.

Who is the ideal woman? Does the ideal man actually exist? These questions pursued the participants of the recent South-South exchange between projects supported by the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). The exchange, organised jointly by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), brought together participants from eight francophone ASAP projects in Africa (from Benin, Cape Verde, Chad, Djibouti, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania and Niger).

The exchange had a dedicated gender day, facilitated by CARE International, to debate and learn about gender-related aspects. The gender day put the participants at the centre of the action, alternating between practical sessions, exercises and reflections. Emily Janoch, Deputy Director for Knowledge Management and Learning at CARE, who facilitated the gender day said:

Our studies show that women’s inclusion is not only crucial to equality, but is also a key component of local economy: in Bangladesh, when a study by CARE showed that women were paid half of what men were for the exact same job, their husbands were the first to fight for wage equality!

Through this type of perspective change, resulting from a complete analysis of men and women’s roles in their community, it is possible to evolve towards a more egalitarian society, to the benefit of all.

The same was illustrated in the first exercise performed by the participants: when women and men separately sought to establish the typical daily agenda of a man or a woman in rural areas, some elements consistently come out in a very obvious manner, regardless of the diversity of the contexts the participants’ projects operate in. Everywhere, the rural woman wakes up earlier. Her day is burdened with countless tasks; preparing meals, providing care to children, working in the fields, fetching water or firewood, or feeding poultry and cattle. The rural man also has a busy day, but all acknowledge that he has moments of recreation or rest, and time for socializing. Studies demonstrate that on average, the day of a woman is longer by 5 hours than that of a man: time is yet another resource women have access less to than men.

During a second exercise, accompanied by a reflection on values and norms adopted in a given community, participants tried to describe the ideal man or the idea woman. The diversity of contexts comes together in the model men and women of the rural areas where the projects operate: the ideal rural woman is discreet, available and respectful. The ideal man, for his part, is strong, listened to and respected. He is responsible for his family. These models show the limits to changes sought by development projects. How could a woman from whom society expects discretion find the strength to speak up in public meetings? How could a man, on whose shoulder lay the responsibility for the family, manage to save face in a context where climate change leads to external shocks, making production ever more uncertain? How can one change when new behaviours go against the common values, and risk sanctions and judgment from the group? These values, projected in the model of the ideal man or woman, act as a normative straightjacket that can make individual change impossible. “With this exercise, we have understood that it is time to redefine the models of ideal men and women, and to accompany this change of perspective. The ideal woman and the ideal man should actually be identical: autonomous actors of their community’s and household’s development, and recognized as such.

CARE offers a clear methodology for real impact on gender related aspects: change cannot happen without an in depth diagnosis of the dynamics inherent to each specific context, each specific community. In line with this approach, the project teams that joined in the exchange tried to identify key recommendations for their own projects. Many have insisted on the importance of having a continuous reflection on gender related aspects, this dynamic being too often confined to IFAD’s annual supervision missions. As the CCAFS coordinator in Mali, Robert Zougmoré noted: “We all have a role to play in gender mainstreaming, and technicians and managers alike must act as leaders in this: it is also there that work on gender should begin”. With this day of reflexion, participants acknowledge that a door has been opened, and that they feel better equipped to mainstream gender in their project. As some put it: “the road is long, we have to walk”.