The role of women in extension work
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CTA. 1987. The role of women in extension work. Spore 12. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/44778
From 24 to 29 May, 1987, at Sparsholt, England, CTA, in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Society of England and the British Council, organized a seminar to discuss the contribution of women to rural extension
When you talk about a farmer the image in most people's minds is that of a man. But in many developing countries and especially in Africa, it is the women who accomplish most of the tasks associated with farming. It is the women who do the hoeing, sowing, weeding and harvesting, particularly for food crops. A lot of the time the men are away in towns earning a cash income or when they stay home, they are more involved with cash crops. These preconceived ideas of farmers as men have meant that the significance of women in food production has been largely overlooked. Consequently, most development and extension activities tend to be planned with men in mind, disregarding the particular problems faced by women farmers. For instance, women's social responsibilities in the community and their daily tasks such as looking after children, preparing food and collecting fuel and water, are not taken into consideration. Yet these time-consuming chores mean that women have much less time to spend on farming activities. There are other constraints such as the traditional attitudes towards land inheritance and formal education, which make the women's lot in rural areas worse. However, over the last few years, the significant contribution of women in food production has attracted more and more attention. From 24 to 29 May, 1987, at Sparsholt, England, CTA, in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Society of England and the British Council, organized a seminar to discuss the contribution of women to rural extension. The seminar brought together those with an interest in agricultural extension work from thirteen African countries as well as Fiji, Guyana and Papua New Guinea. After discussing the problems they face in providing advice for women in their own areas delegates came up with a wealth of ideas for improving the lot of rural women and encouraging more women to take up a career in agricultural extension. Among the ideas suggested was that advisers should encourage village women to get together to discuss their own problems so that they could share ideas and find solutions which they themselves can implement. Better ways of making information reach women should be found: radio, open-air film shows and the use of women's organizations. Delegates also thought that more research should be directed at easing women's workload. Research to improve food storage methods, for instance, would help women to secure an adequate supply of food. Beyond the household, women should be advised on ways of marketing surplus crops to gain some cash for other household needs and maybe to invest in better seeds or other farming inputs. A two-way flow of information between women farmers and decision-makers was considered essential. This would ensure that women's views are taken into account at the decision-making level. At the advisory level, delegates emphasized the need for more detailed information on rural women's work. In order to obtain the best information it should be collected by people familiar with life in the village or prepared to live there for sometime. Rural women would most probably communicate better with a fellow woman. More efforts, therefore, should be directed at encouraging girls to take up a career in extension work. The number of women in extension services in sub-Saharan Africa has been estimated by the FAO at only 3 % of the total. This has been the result, partly, of the fact that education systems in some regions have tended to exclude women from technical training institutions. Home economists were singled out as an important link with village women in some African countries. It is important that the status of this subject is upgraded and home economists undergo further training so that they could provide agricultural as well as domestic advice. Delegates noted with appreciation that attitudes to women were changing and there was evidence of awareness of their needs among decision-makers at all levels. Representatives from international aid agencies reported that an effort to encourage 'gender awareness' in their organizations has already begun but cautioned that these require a sensitive approach if they are not to backfire. If government and aid agencies could divert some of their funds to fulfilling the aims stated above, or at least ensure that the role of women farmers is not overlooked in their schemes, it would not only improve the welfare of rural women but, by increasing food supplies, would improve the well-being and wealth of nations as well.