Challenging gender inequality in farmers' organisations in Nicaragua

Challenging gender inequality in farmers' organisations in Nicaragua

Food insecurity and malnutrition are chronic in Nicaragua yet rural women's food growing activities are often overlooked.  Efforts made by the National Federation of Cooperatives (FENACOOP), a farmers' organisation in rural Nicaragua, has had a significant impact in engaging women farmers in collective action. Oxfam Canada has funded FENCOOP's gender mainstreaming efforts since 1998. This article draws on research carried out in 2008 reviewing the process and impact of a Gender Audit commissioned in 2006.

FENOCOOP saw the need to address the gender biases embedded in its policies, structures and programmes. It is a large co-operative that affiliates smaller cooperatives, which are comprised of grassroots organisations. The co-operativeworks with approximately 41,000 farmers, 39 percent of whom are women. Farmer’s organisations are generally male-dominated with few women members and fewer in leadership positions.  Through the gender audit women farmers' needs and priorities were identified, such as women's central role in producing food for the household and carrying out domestic work. Also women's lack of access to resources such as equipment and credit was acknowledged, with lack of access and control over land emphasised as the biggest barrier. 

Two years later it was clear that the gender action plan to emerge from the audit had taken effect, with more women working as key leaders or technical staff, as well as an increase in women beneficiaries in new projects with better access to assets to make their farming more profitable. Also lobbying from members for localised gender audits was very successful. Importantly it led to more women accessing land through joint partner ownership. Many women farmers became actively involved in advocacy work around land rights, playing an important role lobbying the government, resulting in the introduction of the Women's Land Fund in May 2010, which provides women with low interest credit to purchase land.

Key learning points on gender mainstreaming include:

  • Strong women leaders are very important to a successful gender mainstreaming process
  • Women's empower and peer exchange creates alliances, building a critical mass of women, which is essential for mobilisation and lobbying