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Promoting women’s participation and leadership in producers’ organizations

Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Hello everyone,

My name is Zoé Bienvenu, and I work on capacity development for rural institutions, in particular Producers’ Organizations and Cooperatives in the Economic and Social Development Department of FAO. Among other things, I have been developing training material to support producers’ organization in the process of strengthening their management and managerial capacities in a way that takes greater account of equity and gender equality.

As you know, women represent an essential workforce in the farming systems in developing countries. However, they face a number of obstacles that significantly prevent them, and the whole community, from seizing economic opportunities. Producers’ organizations (POs) and cooperatives, can enable them to overcome many of these barriers by providing them a wide range of social and economic services. Yet, within POs themselves, women members of POs and cooperatives do not always benefit to the same extent as men, nor are they able to participate equally in decision-making processes.

Challenges faced by women within POs range from low access to knowledge and trainings to exclusion from information and communication as well as decision-making processes and leadership roles. Besides, women’s labor burden tends to be greater than that of men, as it often includes unpaid household responsibilities related to preparing food and collecting fuel and water. Yet, the perpetuation and reproduction of societal norms and patterns which hamper self-confidence and empowerment of women, prevent them from speaking out their concerns and challenging the status quo.

The objectives of this discussion are:
- To share experiences of POs dealing with women's inclusion, participation and leadership issues
- To share successful experiences of women's participation and leadership in POs and cooperatives
- To understand better issues faced by women producers in POs and cooperatives
- To identify ways of strengthening women's participation and leadership within POs

Through this discussion, we will identify challenges and solutions for increased women's participation and leadership in POs. Through the sharing of experiences, we hope to stimulate learning among participants on this platform, and encourage adoption of more gender-sensitive policies and activities within POs and cooperatives. A brief summarizing major issues discussed will be prepared and shared on the exchange group.

This discussion will start on Monday 23th June and last until 27th July, 2014. During the next five weeks, we invite you to contribute by sharing your experiences and ideas related to women producers within POs and cooperatives.

Discussion outline :

1.       Topic 1: Women's access to POs (week 1)

- To understand the challenges faced by women in joining POs.
- To understand the benefits of women's inclusion in POs.
- To share successful experiences of inclusive POs.
- To discuss ways of facilitating women's enrollment in POs.

2.       Topic 2: Women's participation in POs (week 2 and 3)

- To understand the challenges faced by women in accessing POs services.
- To understand the specific needs of women's producers in order for POs to develop relevant services.
- To share successful experiences of women's participation in POs.
- To identify strategies to facilitate women producers’ participation in POs activities and access to adequate services. 

3.       Topic 3: Women's participation in decision-making processes and leadership positions (week 4 and 5)

- To understand obstacles faced by women in participating to decision-making processes and accessing leadership positions in POs and cooperatives.
- To share successful experiences of women's participation in policy-making processes and leadership positions in POs and cooperatives.
- To identify successful strategies that enable women's participation in policy-making processes and leadership positions in cooperatives.

I am looking forward to a lively discussion.

 Zoé Bienvenu



TECA colleagues,

Thinking around issues of gender equality

Great subject - there is never sufficient space, time and interest in which to debate gender equality, and the subject in its many different guises will continue to crop up in the development industries probably forever. And, there are few more challenging regions in which to debate issues of this kind than North Africa and the Middle East. My contribution then - in readiness for 16 June 2014 - is one which draws attention to good practices from this region and focuses upon socio-economic sectors in which women in the community are able to participate (dominate even) because they hold most of the cards - natural resources, human health and family care. If income can be generated within a model that embraces these three sectors, then half the battle for equality and shared participation can be won.

The key issue is one of making money - providing work, deriving an income and boosting cash flow within the community. You do this when exploiting markets that exist for goods, services and information; you do this within profitable enterprises - and for this you need entrepreneurs. With their mathematical dexterity, fair play, attention to detail, creditworthiness and, importantly, an ability to work hard, women frequently have a head start over their menfolk. Most are also sufficiently clever to carry their menfolk with them, which neatly steps around issues of dominance.

Helping women to make the most of themselves

It is not sufficient to argue in favour of shared participation in producer organizations and cooperatives (PO&Cs). Nothwithstanding the value of community dialogue, mutual responsibilities and/or democracy that PO&C may help introduce into the community - nothing works better than an enterprise that brings money into the community. Dialogue, debate and shared hierarchies are all very well but if there is no work, income or cash flow then this is time, people and resources that are not being used efficiently.

Introducing the FAO/RNE case studies

This is where the three FAO/RNE national case studies have value - covering Egypt, Morocco and the Sudan and focused upon 'Management of natural resources including medicinal & aromatic plants to benefit rural women in the near east region'. The summary of the Egypt case study includes the paragraph:

The empowerment of the Egyptian rural woman has to be founded on the social and cultural levels so they are educated to understand their economic, social and legal rights. In general, there is a gap between men and women in most economic fields. However, in the expanding sector of medicinal and aromatic plants production where there is so much new technology in terms of cultivation (e.g. irrigation, bio/organic methods, etc.) the possibility exists for women to possibly catch up - at least at local level. Rural women are already involved in most stages of the production process and are recognized as key knowledge-holders when it comes to the application of medicinal and aromatic plants as healing herbs. It is also already a widely accepted notion that indigenous knowledge concerning the application of healing herbs is traditionally transferred from mother to daughter – giving women a leading role in this aspect. This leading role plus the extensive involvement that women enjoy in the production process should be capitalized on in order to expand her role in the production of medicinal and aromatic plants in the community in which she lives.

Explore the remainder of the Egypt case study by downloading the file attached. Should there be sufficient interest, similar files for Morocco and the Sudan can be provided. The Moroccan case study is also available in French and Arabic.

Good debating everyone.

Peter Steele Agricultural Engineer Rome 26 May 2014

Hello everyone - and particularly the webpage master - the contribution from Peter Steele is fine, but the attached file exploring the Egyptian case study which people are encouraged to explore further ... is ... not ... attached. It was sent to TECA courtesy of the convenor of this discussion, but it's not there. Please take action . Ciao. Peter Steele Rome 16June14

Attached is the Egyptian case study "Management of natural resources including medicinal and aromatic plants to benefit rural women in the Near East Region".

TECA allows you to attach files in pdf format, with a maximum size of 5MB.  To upload the file, just click on "Browse" in the box "Attached files" below to locate the file you want to attach and click on "upload".    If it doesn't work or you don't have a "pdf converter", you can send the file to teca@fao.org and we will upload the file on your behalf.



Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for your lightening contribution and the Egypt case-study which emphasizes on entrepreneurship as a key driver for women empowerment. It hope it will trigger reflections on how to boost women’s sense of entrepreunership as well as how POs can contribute to strengthening women’s participation and enlarge their share in the value-chains. 

We are specifically in the process of developing gender-sensitive tools for the analysis of women needs within POs. We have been testing them in Niger and are in the process of finalizing them. We will be happy to share them with those interested once ready.

Once again, thank you for your collaboration.


Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Dear all,

Thank you to those who have joined the Discussion and to those who already contributed.

Today I would like to start the discussion on Women's access to POs. As previously mentioned, producers’ organizations can be a powerful tool for women’s economic and social empowerment. This however, implies the right for women to become members of POs under the same conditions as men.  

I am currently working in Niger, where access to POs mostly depends upon the agreement of women’s husbands, which constitutes an important obstacle to their enrollment.

I would like to learn from your experiences on women’s access to POs:

  • To your knowledge and from your experience, what are the main challenges faced by women in accessing POs? As a woman for instance, what challenges do you or have you ever faced in trying to become member of a producer’s organization?
  • What do you think are for POs the benefits of facilitating women’s membership? Do you have any successful related experience to share?
  • How should POs proceed in order to facilitate women's enrollment in POs? Do you have any successful related experience to share?


Thank you for the invitation to join this discussion group. I will spend some time this week to read the past postings before providing too much of my own input.  My area of specialization is postharvest technology/extension and so my experiences are mostly with groups that produce and market directly, or with groups that form to process foods to add value.  In both cases women are quite active as members and generally welcome.  

Lisa Kitinoja

The Postharvest Education Foundation


Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Dear Lisa,

Thank you for your post!

It would be interesting to know more about your experience! In which country do you work?

What is the percentage of women in the groups you are working with?

Also, what do you think motivated them to join the groups and get involved in their activities?


Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Hi all!

I will draw upon the case of Niger to present some of the obstacles that might hinder womens'access to POs. The data presented below are based on the results of a country-wide survey we conducted among members of 9 of the main national POs (in press). 

Women's difficult access to POs is a reality

61% of the surveyed female members and 62% of the surveyed male members acknowledges the existence of obstacles hindering women's access to POs.


Main obstacles to women's access to POs in Niger (in order of importance):

- the opposition of the husband. In Niger, 81% of the women declared that the husband' s agreement is the first condition to meet in order to be able to enroll to a PO;

- the lack of time due to productive and reproductive workloads within the households- the lack of information and awareness on the benefits of joining POs;

- illiteracy;

- the lack of financial resources; the lack of mobility; and the responsibility of raising kids.


What can be done to encourage and facilitate women'senrolment in POs?

- raising women's awareness on the benefits of joining POs

- improving women's  litteracy and level of education

- support womens income generating activities to improving women's position within the household.

- encouraging POs to put in place enrollment incentives for women producers and to offer women members services that respond to their specific needs

- working on gender relations within households, using household methodologies. Such methodologies work to bundle the disparate livelihood strategies pursued by women and men (her plot, his plot, etc.) into one coherent strategy. A good example is the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) developed by IFAD,  a community-led methodology which comprises comprises a series of tools that enable household members to negotiate their needs and interests and find innovative, gender-equitable solutions in livelihoods planning and value chain development. For more information: http://www.ifad.org/gender/documents/household_concept.pdf 


What about you?

Are you aware of any other obstacle that may hinder women's access to POs?

How have you dealt or would you deal with it? ​


Zoe Bienvenu's picture

Dear All,

We would like to hear about your experience!

In which country/ies do you work?

What are your experiences in getting women involved in producers' groups / organizations/ cooperatives? 


The women participation in producers' groups or organisations are very important for my INGO Self Help Africa because accross all the project we implement in the field in Africa, the participation of the women are a condition of success of the project and is in line with our Social Inclusion Policy. The women are the key workforce in Africa and a producers' groups dispites the sociological and cultural barriers will miss his objectif without the women. And also, the women are the main people who are in charge of feeding the families and involving in along the agricultural operatioins in the households. Taking account this condideration, Self Help Africa advice and support the participation of the women in the producers'groups in all the 72 producers groups we are working with in foiur countries in West Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo).

- We focuss our work in the capaciuty building of the impleminting partners in Social Inclusion which include Gender by training and exchange learning where the 10 partners we are working with share their knowledges and learn from each overs. This capacity building aims to change the behaviors of the partners agents and to show them why it's important to not looking at the involment of women as a idea from the North but a requirement to reach food security and fight againts poverty;

- Self Help Africa support the taking account of the Social Inclusion Policy by checking all the project cycle (from projet idea to monitroing and evaluation) the level of the involvement of the women and how to correct this aspects.

In the producers groups or cooperatives Self Help Africa advice and encourage the involvement of at least 30% of the women in the groups and in the groups boards member. Some good recults have been achieved but the issues for this minimal objectyve are the low level of scolarship and litteracy of the women, the ability to talk in a meetings may be with the cultural barrier, the poverty of the women which reduce their influence in the village, their lack of information and resources, the non agrrement of their husband to let them participate in a meeting outside of the village, etc.. All these issues are the reasons of the work of SHA and its partners to address in the project implementation as cross cutting activities. We take account of the countries policies or strategies in Gender and Social Inclusion in the process and see how to inlude our policy.

For Self Help Africa our experiences showed that the involvement of the women in the producers groups must start by the stage of the producers organisational development and the gender meantreaming of the potential beneficaries by doing an assessment of the potential barriers and our the mitigate them with all the producers. It's clear that our role is not to force this involvement bu to show the importance to do this by analyzing with the producers their socity structuration and the role of the women in the households and in the agricultural production from the land preparation to the harvest and post harvest and the use of the products of the farm.