Enhancing the Livelihoods of ‘Hidden Women’ in Global Smallholder Value Chains

Women participate extensively in the household farming, but because contracts are often made with their male counterparts, and their efforts are invisible, they do not have equal access to information, training, credit, and revenues, often to the detriment of the farm, household income, and their own empowerment. Meanwhile, cooperatives and their leadership structures may reflect the same social norms that favour men’s representation and voice over women’s.

Extension services tend to be biased toward men, in part due to the belief that men are decision-makers, in part because of a (often) false assumption that men will share knowledge with other members of the household, and in part simply because the male ‘head of household’ may write his name and phone number on the farmer registration form or contract.

One of the first things to address is getting women to the table. Potential solutions include joint registration or contracting of male and female household leads; mobilizing and supporting women’s groups, establishing participating quotas for women in cooperative decision-making organs, and establishing women’s committees within cooperatives.

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A finance mechanism that supports women to overcome cash liquidity issues during production.
Access to productive resources. For e.g. how we support them to access land and to document it
Invest in building their capacity and resources them
Better financing scheme for women.
Coaching and mentoring of women.
Build their resilience to external shocks
Challenge and shift social norms that negatively affect women.
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Ilaria, it’s great to see that Unilever are taking a holistic approach and including household dialogues. This culture change has such an important economic impact.

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To help women become “unhidden”, Heifer believes in increasing women’s membership and leadership in farmer producer organizations allows them to access needed digital tools, trainings, and financing and credit - that without collateral in the form of land deeds, they would not normally be able to obtain. This supports women to build their own businesses across smallholder farmer value chains, increasing their decision making, incomes, and economic empowerment in agriculture, helping to close the gender equality gap.

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In the cocoa value chain, women play vital roles from the nursery of cocoa seedling through planting to the collection from the drying mat to the purchasing clerk, yet they are barely recognized in vital decision making that affect their livelihood. This rather unfortunate it makes this woman hidden as farmers who are knowledgeable, informed and powerful. It also prevents them from exhibiting their intelligence and ability to influence decisions to effect positive changes in their lives. There numerous challenges faced by the smallholder farmer in accessing sustainable livelihoods, but that of the women and worse.
Land is a major resource in smallholder farming, farming lands is normally owned and leased to heads of families which is usually the men. A female farmer therefore needs her male counterpart to front for her in the acquisition of land which involves a whole lot of tedious and unfriendly situations. The women who want land have to hide behind their men to acquire land at a financial cost, because of this, most women are forced to be sharecroppers instead of owing their own land. The farms are therefore seen as belonging to the land owners which are mostly men, making the women unknown.
Women need farm input in their farming in order to be successful farmers. The acquisition of these inputs comes with monetary cost. It is assumed that, farm inputs either acquired by the family or donated to the family or the community belong to the men and so the women are prohibited from using them. Coupled with the above is lack of access to funds to purchase her own. There is no budget for her in the family income to purchase farm input of her own, and access to both local money lenders and the formal financial institutions are very rare. Where she struggles to acquire farm inputs, social norms and gender stereotype prohibits her from optimizing the use of the farm inputs to better her livelihood. The women are in charge of all the unpaid work in the family such as cooking, child bearing, caring for the children and tidying up the house. In a rare situation where a woman gathers courage and energy to do manly work such as pruning, she is given all sort of names such as “man-woman” ‘witch’ which in turn discourages her and making her ability and talent vailed.
Another challenge is training and capacity building. Most farming training and capacity building workshops are geared towards men making the female farmers incapacitated.

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Agreed @juliegreene - Rural women are busy! They carry multiple loads, literally and figuratively, so often cannot always participate in programs offered to improve livelihoods. The social and cultural norms the hold them in their traditional roles prevent them from participating in new and different ways. I think we desperately need more cultural narratives and models of women’s economic leadership to support them to find more space in their day to rest, learn, lead. Examples of cultural stories, TV shows, radio programs, advertisements that present models of women in leadership positions are critical to shifting the norms in any society.

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Totally agree with this, Leticia.

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A1: The fact that women (and their work) are “hidden” has to do with the fact that cocoa community structures are deeply patriarchal and traditional gender norms are passed on between generations. They are perpetuated by the established social fabric, where (perceived) leaders are often “elite” men.
Adolescence and early adulthood are determining life stages with critical crossroads and potential pathways that influence girls’ futures and the agency they will have as women. Ambition in girls and young women is inspired by role models and outside information that demonstrate alternative pathways. Midwives, nurses and teachers are currently the (only) visible female leaders.

The deeply entrenched norms and practices are in my view the biggest challenge and at the same time the biggest levers of change.

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I agree with this Anu,lack of capacity to adapt to climate change is a major challenge.Men and women have varying abilities to adapt to climate shocks because of gender differences which include cultural and economic roles. Additionally culturally women are tasked with climatically sensitive tasks such as securing food, water and energy which ensure household wellbeing and any change with the climate puts extra strain to women.

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We can’t keep looking at ways to make low-income women slightly less poor and call this progress. If we really want to see transformative impact, we need a radical overhaul of the market. Responsible purchasing practices should include paying fair prices back to farmers which adequately cover the cost of production, including the unpaid labour from women which is vital for producing our daily goods. By designing farming services which are tailored to women, we can show that they are recognised as farmers, which will help to question existing power dynamics.

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@Leticiayankey are you seeing any good models from traditional leadership in Ghana - House of Chiefs perhaps - to shift these difficult dynamics? Ghana has such a powerful leadership model in the Ashanti tradition, but often doesn’t trickle into the rural areas as much it seems.

The lack of female role models in Farm Services is indeed a critical issue.

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Great point about VSLAs and access to finance. We have found this to be really effective. For example, participants in the climate and economic resilience programme reported that having control of their own income has been transformational for them and has given them a sense of dignity. In a survey that evaluated the approach, 74% of women said that after participating in a VSLA, they became very involved in household financial decision making, while 89% reported a positive change in their emotional wellbeing.

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Levers of change:
There should be land reform rules to favor women to be able to access and own land.
Flexible modalities should be instituted by the government and the financial institutions for women to have access to funds.
Credit facilities should be made available for women to have access to input and labor. Donors should separate donations to men and women.
Capacity of women need to be looked at and built to be empowered, they are also knowledgeable and smart.
Training content and time should be geared to favor women.
There should be reforms towards negative social norms within those in the farming sector.

Men usually have more power in the family, house and community than women, especially when it comes to ownership or sharing of the family property/farm. Since women are involved in most of the farming activities as well as the farming value chain, women should be given more power in sharing and acquiring of the things that better their livelihoods.

Yes, absolutely Inge. And often, when we design projects we are still trying to encourage women to change their behaviour to fit in with existing patriarchal market systems, but maybe it’s the system itself that needs to change? This starts with acknowledging and valuing the work which women do. And then designing a system which adequately resources and remunerates this work.

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Hello, my name is Hannah Clark. I work for Farmers Voice Radio. We work with partner organisation to raise the voices of farmers (and much of our work focuses on women farmers) through participatory radio programming. We bring women together to discuss the issues that matter to them, ask the questions they want answers to and connect them to the knowledge they need to make their farming a success. Women farmers want to have their voices heard and their solutions/ ideas/ concerns brought in to the open!

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Current strategies to increase income appear to pay insufficient attention to the intra-household dynamics that surround the ‘income management’ within families. Addressing the household as a unit assumes financial transparency, a pooling of income and joint decision-making between household members. ​
However, norms often dictate the roles that husbands and wives have within their relationship, resulting in unbalanced decision-making. Financial trust may therefore be lacking, especially amongst young couples who do not know each other well. Men are often seen as the ‘head of the household’ and the main breadwinner, giving them more agency, while their (often) younger wives are financially dependent on them. ​

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I agree with you Inge and the problem is that changing social norms is very complex and not necessarily easy to justify as part of the business case.

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Traditional authorities have a huge stake in Land as 80% od land in Ghana is in the hands of traditional sector. Its only about 20% that is government controlled. Sometimes, these traditional authority don’t even know the hard they are causing their communities by going to bad land deals. Their capacity need to be built if we want them to effectively support the sector.

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Agree this is absolutely critical! And developing phased, long term financial coaching (VSLa, etc) and investment products that are available to women at the right amounts and times for both improving their key crops and/or starting or building businesses owned and led by women.