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Training gender champions in Nepal

Women face discrimination in land rights and access to productive resources (©FAO/John Isaac)
Women face discrimination in land rights and access to productive resources
©FAO/John Isaac

To female professionals in the world of agricultural development and natural resource management (NRM), it has always been clear that the gender dimensions of most development policies and actions remain shallow, and that gender concerns are often tacked on to projects as an afterthought. While many groups and dedicated experts have worked to deepen regard for gender, problems remain simply because women's voices are often as quiet at every tier of development organisations and farmers' associations as they are at village and household levels.

Kanchan Lama, the Coordinator of Nepal's branch of WOCAN (Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and NRM), has seen the results of this lack of 'voice' in her home country. "Discrimination in land rights and access to productive resources are the fundamental gender problems in Nepal," Kanchan explains, "worsened by domestic violence, discrimination in higher education, restrictions on mobility, and lack of opportunities."

Fifteen per cent of every Village Development Committee budget is allocated for women's advancement activities, but few women know of this provision." Most men in authority are, of course, in no hurry to spread the word", she says. "Rural women need development with special investments for self realisation and group organisation so that they can claim equal control over decisions currently made on their behalf by others."

Training, sharing, rethinking

The international organisation WOCAN has developed over the course of 15 years out of an early project in Nepal linking rural women and professional women in partnership. Out of this experience grew a comprehensive training approach geared towards the development of new gender champions, women and men, acting to mainstream gender analysis and planning within and beyond their respective organisations.

With past training in several African countries and the Philippines, in addition to Nepal, WOCAN now acts as a worldwide network connecting over 700 such agents of change - horizontally and vertically, from community-based workers to global policymakers - across the professions of agriculture and natural resource management. The training aims to redress gender inequalities in agriculture as a whole by changing the culture and leadership of development organisations, and to achieve this, in turn, by asking leaders to examine their own gender awareness.

Household and farming responsibilities may restrict women's ability to join development activities (©FAO/G. d'Onofrio)
Household and farming responsibilities may restrict women's ability to join development activities
©FAO/G. d'Onofrio

Through participatory adult learning methods, hinging on mutual sharing of personal and organisational experiences, trainers encourage deep reflection on self, organisation and society. WOCAN's Director, Dr. Jeannette Gurung, believes in leadership training that "discusses the deeply embedded role of masculinities in defining how 'leadership' is conceptualised and practised by both women and men."

For instance, a training session may start with participants receiving sheets of chart paper and being asked to depict the journey of their lives through drawing. Role-playing sessions encourage female participants to take on the roles of men gathering in a bar, while male participants act out their ideas of women. Mock races are also held between four participants competing to grab a 'development' package, with one blindfolded to symbolise denial of awareness; the second only allowed one leg to represent lack of mobility; the third with her hands tied as by household responsibilities; and the fourth, a male participant, allowed to run freely.

Ultimately the week-long course trains its 'champions' in how to influence policy change at organisational, national and international levels, and culminates in the development of a gender and organisational assessment plan for each partner organisation.

Leaders for Nepal

A recent workshop in Nepal was part of the International Fund for Agricultural Development-supported Rural Women Leadership Building program. Amid Nepal's complex political climate, the session in Kathmandu was made up of leaders from organised farmers' groups affiliated with all of the country's major political parties. Said participant Rekha Sharma, "I feel very happy to get an opportunity to share my stories with fellow participants here. We have a culture of hiding our experiences. We think it's shameful."

Group exercises encourage deep reflection on self, organisation and society (Mr. Krishna Maharjan)
Group exercises encourage deep reflection on self, organisation and society
Mr. Krishna Maharjan

When later discussing ideas of alternative masculinity and femininity, the group were able to come up with examples such as Ang Pasang Sherpa, a male climber who helped the Sherpa Women's Expedition scale Mount Everest in 2000, and female auto rickshaw drivers on the streets of Kathmandu. During the course of the workshop, male and female participants developed two separate national gender mainstreaming networks; all-male gender networks have been established in several countries and have proven effective in defining men's roles in promoting female empowerment. The participants have since kept in contact with the trainers and are receiving continuing support and mentoring on site with their own organisations.

As a further development, 'gender champions' are training new WOCAN partners and some are collaborating on a thematic paper on alternative leadership. Individually empowered and working collectively, they are striving towards what Kanchan describes as "the single most powerful shift in thinking that could benefit Nepal's farmers: recognition of women farmers as the major stakeholders in agricultural development."

Written by: T. Paul Cox

Date published: September 2010


Have your say

A wonderful job. Super hlpeufl information. (posted by: Darence)


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