Rural women need own space and platforms like women only committees to exercise leadership
By Florence Nakazi
As Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the 2018 International Day of Rural Women under the theme 'Sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls', there is need to press for gender equality of the representation in political and economic spheres.
Agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood for rural women. It is estimated that about 82 percent of rural women in Uganda are engaged in agriculture production, but they are under-represented among management of farmer groups as well as cooperatives that control organized agricultural production.
Usually men dominate top management positions in cooperatives/farmers groups and control most of the key decisions that affect women. It is not uncommon to find when farmer groups meetings are held, women are busy preparing meals for participants, rather than participating in making decisions that affect them.
It should be noted that the National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) has in the past applied the farmer groups’ ideology to deliver agricultural services like planting materials, extension, agricultural trainings to farmers in Uganda. It is commendable that through NAADS efforts, both men and women farmers have embraced farmer groups (FGs), to the extent that women account for about half of farmer group membership.
However, women overwhelmingly still have limited access to decision making within these groups, leaving them with limited influence over key agricultural decisions. Indeed, only about 32 percent of available farmers groups have women chairpersons. On the other hand, there has been some progress in rural women taking the lead in other aspects of farmer group management—especially relating to record keeping and serving as treasurers.
Nonetheless, women’s access to key decision-making posts like chairperson, vice chairperson remains limited. The persistent low numbers of rural women in top management positions in farmer groups is a national concern given the quest by the current National Development Plan to transform agriculture using farmer groups.
This raises questions about how women will influence access to agricultural development opportunities as Uganda aspires to achieve its medium term development goals.
Further, Uganda’s gender policy advocates for equal rights for men and women in terms of leadership. This has been achieved only in having women member of parliament for every district to represent rural women needs at a national level but does not make provisions for rural women's participation in leadership at farmers level.
Why is participation and leadership of rural women participation in farmers’ groups important?
Politically, farmer groups strengthen the political power of women by increasing the likelihood that their needs and opinions are heard by policymakers and the public. Economically, these groups strengthen women’s skills, improve access to inputs, and process and market agricultural products more effectively to generate higher incomes.
In addition, rural women easily access the information needed to produce, add value, market commodities and develop effective linkages with input agencies such as financial service providers, as well as output markets.
Furthermore, farmer groups improve women’s bargaining power which puts them in better positions to negotiate with other more powerful market players to ultimately increase the profits that accrue to farmers rather than intermediaries and buyers.
What should be done to improve representation of women in political and economic spheres?
i) There is a strong need for action to increase women participation in farmer groups’ leadership through the provision of quotas. This will help to increase women voice in decision making at a rural level.
ii) Conduct capacity building and training programs that put women farmers at the center. Various types of capacity building in: confidence building; leadership skills; ability to negotiate and discuss with authorities; and policy issues that affect them as farmers.
iii) Rural women need own space and platforms like women only committees to exercise leadership. These can be used as platforms for women to gain confidence and to negotiate for women rights at the grass root level.
Thus, attaining gender equity in representation in farmer groups’ leadership remains of great importance and is expected to lead to equal representation in the political and economic spheres, ensure that rural women’s voice is heard, and to enable rural women to influence the decisions and institutions that affect their lives.
Writer is a research analyst at Economic Policy Research Centre