By Gloria Iribagiza
In a bid to bridge the gender gap between men and women in the agricultural sector, several initiatives were implemented by the Government of Rwanda in partnership with institutions that focused on empowering women farmers. Several research findings indicated that as much as women were actively involved in mundane agricultural tasks, their presence was trickled down or was absent when it came to decision making, leadership and the management positions across the sector.
Consequently, a pilot research programme dubbed the, ‘Gender Value Chain Coaching’ was introduced by AgriHub Rwanda within a farmer’s forum known as the, Potato Producers Cooperative Federation of Rwanda (FECOPPORWA) to address this gap. This was by bringing men and women to analyse together the prevailing gender gaps and subsequently coming up with strategic and practical solutions on how to shift the attitude of both men and women on gender roles and responsibilities at household and cooperative levels among which inclusion of women in the decision making processes and top leadership of their cooperatives.
Through the initiative, men and women in five districts known as potato hubs and popular for potato farming were mobilized through cooperatives and introduced to a cutthroat awareness campaign that changed mindsets and transformed lives.
Speaking to The Service Mag, Mr. Camille Nsengiyumva, the former Chairperson of FECOPPORWA during the implementation of the project said that the Gender Coaching Trajectory had a massive impact on the farmers’ lives. He gave insight on the findings and results of the trajectory whose implementation he spearheaded during his tenure as Chairman of the federation.
According to Nsengiyumva, FECOPPORWA shaped the direction in which Irish potato farmers in the five districts of Nyabihu, Rubavu, Musanze, Burera and Gicumbi managed their cooperatives.
Nsengiyumva who is also the first Vice Chairman of the Farmers Chamber at Rwanda’s Private Sector Federation (PSF) and a committed member of FECOPPORWA, said the organisation was established in 2009 as a Government programme to empower cooperatives in the country.
The federation comprises of five unions in the above mentioned districts known for producing Irish potatoes. These unions have 32 primary cooperatives which consist of 3,565 individual members, of which 1,287 are women and 2,278 are men.
Shift in farmers’ mentalities
“In the Northern Province of Rwanda, we realised that many people’s understanding is still heavily based on cultural values that characterised Rwanda’s patriarchal society,” said Nsengiyumva.
With facilitation by Agri Hub Rwanda, a gender analysis was conducted in FECOPPORWA where men and women actively participated in identifying and analysing prevailing gender gaps in the potato value chain mainly in the Northern Province.
According to Nsengiyumva, it was generally evident in the research project that the actors in the potato value chain still depended on old traditional ways of thinking.
“Men had the monopoly as decision makers especially in management of family assets and in the division and distribution of family duties,” Nsengiyumva said. Adding that, “… we found that men were stuck to jobs that generated income while the women were left burdened with several household chores and farming tasks that wore them out and left them without any financial benefits.”
Basing on these findings, several issues were tabled for discussion with the sole purpose of changing the mind-sets of the actors who included seed multipliers, producers, input dealers, transporters and traders.
“We wanted to deal with what was holding them back,” Nsengiyumva stated.
With Technical assistance from AgriHub Rwanda, discussion points were arranged and a dialogue opened between men and women to discuss their role in the development of their families through the production and marketing of Irish potatoes. What helped was the use of approaches like ‘positive masculinity’, where focus was placed on changing the attitude of male farmers towards the consequent acceptance and inclusion of women in the decision making processes within their respective agriculture cooperatives. In fact this approach is based on using men as agents of positive change at a household and community levels.
According to Nsengiyumva, it was recommended that, “women farmers needed to know and fight for their rights and that men had to play a vital role in this process.”Addressing the challenges
There were three outstanding challenges during the implementation of the gender coaching trajectory programme: the lack of an improved variety of seeds, manure and fertilizers are expensive and the consistent unstructured distribution system for all agri inputs.
Irrespective of the above, Nsengiyumva says reducing the gap in the gender value chain will call for more emphasis on discussions or debates among farmers through village meetings and community radio outreaches countrywide in addition to involving the mainstream media who are in position to disseminate, educate and inform the public on the impact of agriculture on development.
“Effective programmes that promote equality and complementality between men and women based on equal opportunities and merit are what farmers need. Women should be involved and represented in all categories of the value chain which are; farming, harvesting and the sale of their products, as well as the leadership of the cooperatives.
“Women should go beyond being casual labourers and treasurers in their cooperatives but should participate in decision making processes at the leadership level within cooperatives,” Nsengiyumva said.
At the peak of the project, FECOPPORWA noticed a major change among the women members; their self-confidence was boosted as most of them are no longer stuck in the gardens, but have taken charge of trading and marketing their produce while others have become leaders in their cooperatives, which have always been led by men. The most important outcome of the gender trajectory was women getting elected for leadership positions in cooperatives.
In conclusion, Nsengiyumva said, “Those who closely observe say that cooperatives led by women perform better.”
Karekezi, Farmer in Rubavu District
Karakezi is married with three children. He is a small-scale farmer who cultivates Irish potatoes, maize and beans on a rotational cycle on his half acre farm.
During a breakout session on positive masculinity organized by FECOPPORWA, he shared how he and his friends arrived at a decision—merely out of frustration—to create an association that ‘empowered men.’
“It was in October 2010, that I and three other friends decided to create a cultural association called ‘Association Des Maris Domines Par Leurs Femmes (AMADOF)”, Karekezi said. The association’s name literally translates to, ‘Association of Husbands dominated by Women’. Thankfully it was not approved when they sought to officially register it.
“We lived in conflict with our partners for a while and we felt that we were disrespected because they had jobs and spoke out their minds—this was the cause of our disputes. As a matter of fact, my wife had a good job and contributed a key amount of money to the family. This helped to contribute to the financial status of our family but at some point it made me feel less valued on the social level.
“She repeatedly worked late hours and it bothered me so much. This caused a conflict that set us apart. However, as I ‘m not used to violence, I confided in a friend who said it wasn’t good to use force against your wife in order to feel justified,” Karekezi narrated.
Karekezi and his wife were invited to participate in the gender trajectory meetings, where they engaged in long debates and discussions regarding conflict resolution in the family.
The couple now vibrantly share their testimony with the community in a bid to address conflicts resulting from gender role differences. They learnt why the inclusion of women in decision making alongside their husbands was important.
“Practically, the debates allowed us to have constructive dialogue, which has enabled us to get along with each another. Today, I have given up any practice or behaviour that may negatively affect the happiness of the home. I have since dropped my association with the organization I formed with my friends. When my wife returns early from work, we help each other to prepare the family meal. When we have a dispute, we are now able to respond in a constructive way,” Karekezi says.
Consequently, Ndagijimana is convinced that, contrary to what he previously believed before the course, women are as strong and as capable of running a cooperative—or even better than men.
Zebulun Ndagijimana, Farmer in Musanze District
Zebulun Ndagijimana is a potato farmer in Musanze District and is a member of a local cooperative (KABOKAN) that works closely with the Cooperative Union of Potato Producers in Musanze (UCOOPAMU).
Ndagijimana, who has repeatedly been elected as the cooperative’s president, said that when he joined the Gender coaching trajectory project, he knew that it was only men who were capable of leading and directing any entity or organisation.
Ndagijimana says he did not understand that, “a woman could be elected to a position of responsibility in view of their ‘physical and intellectual abilities’.” His mind-set was that women could only be elected to take up roles as secretaries—at best—in a cooperative.
During one of the sessions organised by FECOPPORWA under the theme, ‘Path type in the value chain’ Ndagijimana was involved in a debate on positive masculinity. That is when he came to understand the distinctions between gender and sex.
Today his attitude and behaviour has changed for the better and he says he is more, ‘gender sensitive’. Since the project was rolled out, he has always campaigned for a change in the attitudes of men, especially those who are conservative in their mind-sets— he says they are many in his region.
At the conclusion of the programme, he was elected a member of the potato value chain in Musanze District, which is headed by Mrs. Marie Chantal Mukeshimana and he says, he appreciates and has learnt a lot from her style of management. TSM