NewsMore resilient and transformative ways for women’s empowerment

RWEE FAO article March 2022

RWEE - Held on the sidelines of CSW66, representatives from the UN Rome-based Agencies and UN Women strongly recommitted to implementing interventions to carry out holistic and integrated interventions for rural women.

Empowering women with a systematic consideration of climate issues has set the tone for the newly launched phase of the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE), a United Nations multi-country partnership that aims to secure rural women’s livelihoods, rights and resilience to advance sustainable development.

“This new phase builds extensively on the learnings generated from the first phase of the programme, and has been strengthened with a climate resilience lens across interventions,” announced Elizabeth Burges-Sims, Deputy Director of Gender at the World Food Programme (WFP), formally launching the second phase of the JP RWEE at a virtual event on 23 March 2022.

Over the next five years, the Joint Programme will continue to count on the “unique partnership”, as defined by Ms. Burges-Sims, between the three UN Rome-based Agencies (RBAs) – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP) – and UN Women, supported by Norway and Sweden.

During the event, held on the sidelines of the 66th Session on the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), representatives from the implementing agencies and resource partners renewed their firm commitment to carry out holistic and integrated interventions for rural women, including the most marginalized, encompassing social, economic and political domains of empowerment.

“The lessons and good practices from the first phase – such as incorporating a resilience lens across the programme, ensuring strategies to engage both men and boys, applying gender transformative approaches with local governments as well as rural households, and establishing uniform monitoring and evaluation systems from the beginning and across the whole programme – were incorporated in the design of the second phase we are launching today,” stressed Ndaya Beltchika, IFAD’s Lead Technical Specialist for Gender Targeting and Social inclusion.

From 2022, activities will take place initially across Nepal, Niger, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania and Tunisia thanks to approximately USD 25 million generously committed by Norway and Sweden, both of whom have continuously supported the JP RWEE from its beginning in 2014. The programme has a view to scaling up activities to additional countries in the near future.

The first phase of the programme was implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda from 2014 to 2021 and reached nearly 80,000 rural people – about 80 percent of whom were women. The participants achieved, on average, an 82 percent increase in agricultural production, generated over USD 3.6 million from on-farm and off-farm sales and almost USD 2 million through savings and loan schemes. Programme results also showed greater economic autonomy for rural women, more gender equitable household relations and increased numbers of women in leadership positions.

Changing the way of thinking

When social norms hinder women from enjoying the same opportunities as men, both women and their communities, including men, will be losing much bigger opportunities at the end of the day. They will lose in terms of household income, community progress, food and nutrition security, social prosperity and welfare.

In its holistic approach, the JP RWEE has worked to tackle deep-rooted causes of gender inequalities, inducing communities to critically reflect on their social norms and pursue more equitable and inclusive behaviours.

Before joining the programme in 2018, 49-year-old Nasira Khaturn from Nepal was forced to stay home doing household chores. Her father-in-law and her husband would not allow her to leave freely. “I felt like I was imprisoned,” recalls Nasira. “If I went outside without permission, my husband would beat me.”

Thanks to a gender transformative training offered by the JP RWEE, her situation started to improve as well as her household’s dynamics, economic condition and family’s well-being.

“When I came back from the training, I shared with my relatives the plan and pathways to improve our family’s situation. How we can work together to earn money, how we can plan together for our family’s future. It improved my relationship with my family members, helping break barriers down and increasing mutual understanding,” explained Nasira, who also learned more about nutrition and climate-smart farming techniques.

After the training, her productivity increased and she started to earn her own income. Feeling empowered and having gained leadership skills, Nasira has become a community leader who facilitates changes in her neighbourhood. “We are now sharing what we learned with others in the community.”

Women and climate risks

Incorporating a climate lens throughout the JP RWEE’s new interventions demonstrates its recognition of how gender and climate issues intertwine in various ways, and how a holistic approach integrating both can result in accelerating empowerment and sustainable development. As mentioned during the event, climate change can affect women and men differently, and ignoring these gender-based differences can curb development progresses.

“Research shows that increased temperatures and climate-related disasters slow progress towards the improvement of women’s economic and social rights. However, the sort of good news is that participatory processes can help to temper those effects,” pointed out Lauren Phillips, Deputy Director at FAO’s Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division. “Having women participating in processes can help to improve economic and social rights despite the challenges that climate change presents.”

One of the new countries of operation for the Joint Programme is Tanzania, where subsistence agriculture is source of livelihood for about 80 percent of women and where 95 percent of agricultural activities depend on rainfall. “Rural livelihoods are increasingly threatened by unpredictable weather patterns, including temperature increases, increased frequency of droughts and rainfall variability. We are seeing these weather patterns impacting on women’s livelihoods through reduced crop yields, which in turn impacts household food consumption,” said Hodan Addou, UN Women Country Representative in Tanzania.

In the Pacific Islands, a set of low-lying small countries particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the JP RWEE will replicate good practices from its previous experiences in other regions while learning and adapting to the local context and its specific fragilities.

Although women can be disproportionally at risk to climate change in the Pacific Islands and beyond, they should not be labelled as powerless, to avoid generalizing and inadvertently disempowering them. “Women are not just vulnerable, we are not just victims. We have skills and abilities that are really valuable for an effective response,” highlighted Karen Mapusua, Director for the Land Resources Division at The Pacific Community. “While rural women’s existing challenges may have been exacerbated, and will continue to be exacerbated by climate change, women are also leading the way and using their knowledge and existing skills to adapt and mitigate to the increasingly changing context.”

What is expected from Phase 2

“Given the proven structure of the programme, we see a large potential of not only drawing on learnings, approaches and tools, but also considering making it a standardized programme offered by UN country agencies at all levels”, said Lotta Sylwander, Lead Policy Specialist Gender at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). In her view, the programme could be replicated across countries whose governments show stronger ownership and willingness to strengthen women’s economic empowerment along with climate adaptation.

Astrid T. Tveteraas, Head of Section for Climate, Energy and Environment at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), considers the JP RWEE as “a great vehicle to improve rural women’s livelihoods,” as corroborated by the evaluation of the Phase 1, through improved agricultural practices, market linkages, awareness-raising and leadership building. “We believe that the second phase is a great opportunity to apply these lessons learned to achieve systemic change,” added Ms. Tveteraas, while encouraging other potential donors to come on board and help catalyze changes.