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Tackling gender blindness in East African dairy development

In Kenya, women play a key role in smallholder dairy production (© Neil Thomas/EADD)
In Kenya, women play a key role in smallholder dairy production
© Neil Thomas/EADD

For most women, access to livestock is by virtue of their relationships to men - husbands, fathers and sons. In Kenya, women play a key role in smallholder dairy production yet also face considerable constraints, including lack of ownership and control over the land and animals on which their dairying depends. Traditionally, men also control cash commodities so, as the dairy sector has become more commercialised, the sector has become more male dominated, limiting women's participation.

Selly Cherotich joined a dairy farmer youth group under Kabiyet dairy farmers' business association in 2008 because she desperately needed an occupation that would generate income for her family in the long term. With the help of the East African Dairy Development (EADD) project, she has not only increased her income, but also encourages her peers to join organised dairy businesses. However, after an EADD survey in 2008 revealed that only 14 per cent of dairy organisation members were women, project staff developed a gender strategy to ensure that the project incorporated gender issues more explicitly.

Achieving change

With the aim of doubling household income from dairy products among 179,000 families in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda, the EADD project had strong commitments to gender equity, but the practical details of how these might be achieved were lacking. Developing a gender strategy proved challenging, however: a lack of gender-disaggregated data made it difficult to determine the constraints women faced at different points along the dairy value chain and the majority of project staff had not had any formal gender training so were not sure how to integrate gender into their work.

Transforming attitudes to gender demanded a range of measures. To improve accountability for implementing a gender strategy, a regional gender and youth expert was appointed to work with gender teams in each country. Key gender indicators were also included in project planning and budgets. This formal recognition of gender targets - against which staff would be evaluated in their appraisals - reinforced the need to collect gender-disaggregated data.

One key issue to be addressed was the small number of women who had become shareholders in milk chilling plants (© Ann Mbiruru/EADD)
One key issue to be addressed was the small number of women who had become shareholders in milk chilling plants
© Ann Mbiruru/EADD

Following an initial assessment of knowledge, attitudes and practices among EADD staff, training was offered to nearly all staff at country and regional levels. This covered key concepts in gender and its importance in agricultural development, tools for gender analysis, and facilitation and leadership skills to increase women's participation in development activities. More advanced training was offered to members of the country gender working groups, to help them integrate gender into value chain development programmes.

Whilst not all staff took up the chance of training, those who did have acknowledged a change in their attitudes. "It makes a strong business case to address gender concerns right from the household level to the market," said one trainee. "I can now embrace gender mainstreaming because I understand its usefulness to me and my clients," said another. Many have now passed on their new awareness to project beneficiaries. Dairy producer organisations, farmer mobilisation leaders and extension workers have now been trained on the role of gender in improving livestock productivity and how to focus their activities on the needs of women.

One key issue to be addressed was the small number of women who had become shareholders in milk chilling plants, which were a central part of the dairy hub business model being promoted by the project. Training was therefore offered to farmer groups, particularly women, on the benefits of being a shareholder. Women were also encouraged to allocate part of their milk production to a group supply, income from which was used to buy shares for group members.

Leadership and control of assets

Low participation by women in producer group meetings, and the failure of women to take leadership positions, were other major concerns. In response, producer support organisations were assisted to develop new strategies, including: support for women-dominated dairy groups; focussed training for women on leadership, assertiveness and facilitation skills; and engaging men in discussions on the role of women at different levels in the dairy value chain.

Older women tend to dominate dairy production - attracting young women to the sector remains a challenge (© Ann Mbiruru/EADD)
Older women tend to dominate dairy production - attracting young women to the sector remains a challenge
© Ann Mbiruru/EADD

To boost understanding of how to improve women's access and control of assets such as land and livestock, EADD has also become involved in the Gender and Agricultural Assets Project, led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This understanding has now been used to inform the design of a second phase of the project, in which women and youth empowerment is a key part of the strategy. Meanwhile, gender-related impacts from the first phase have been assessed and broadly welcomed, not least the fact that by June 2012, 29 per cent of dairy organisation members were women, up from 14 per cent at the beginning of the project in 2008.

Project staff acknowledge that much more progress needs to be made, particularly in attracting young women to dairying. Promotion of dairying as a profitable venture, in order to attract young people to the sector, will be an important focus for the second phase. A wider lesson for livestock development programmes is the need to recognise that challenges and opportunities for improved livelihoods are not just technical, but are closely bound to the socio-cultural dynamics found in households and communities.

This article is supported by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

Date published: March 2013

 

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