The Joint Programme RWEE comes of age

Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Lead Technical Specialist (Gender and Social Inclusion), Policy and Technical Advisory Division

Two years ago I would not have been confident to write a short blog on the Joint Programme on the economic empowerment of rural women (RWEE).  The RWEE is a global initiative jointly implemented by FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP in seven countries, whose overarching goal is to secure rural women's livelihoods and rights in the context of sustainable development.

Two years ago, I would have been able to tell you how the idea was first mooted by Michelle Bachelet, the then head of UN Women. In 2011 she challenged the heads of the Rome-based agencies to work together to support the economic empowerment of rural women. I would have described how the technical staff in each agency worked together to develop the concept into a programme with four outcome areas and seven implementing countries, and engaged UNDP’s multi-partner trust fund office to manage any monies that the JP would receive.

I could have talked about preliminary activities at country level. The agencies- working with relevant government  departments - conducted a needs assessment of rural women and mapped ongoing activities, comparative advantages of each agency and potential synergies.  Individual country programmes were developed and validated at multi-stakeholder workshops.

But I couldn’t have told you about any activities on the ground because we had no dedicated funds.

Despite doing what agencies recognise as good practice and donors urge us to do – namely working together, as set out in the Paris Declaration of 2005 – we found it extremely difficult to raise funds. We held well-attended launches in New York and Rome in 2013 but it was not until WFP hosted a large fund raising event in 2014 that we were finally successful. Norway stepped in with US$1.6 million contribution, soon followed by SIDA with US$15 million to be disbursed over three years. At last things were able to happen in earnest at country and community level. In addition, the Ethiopia also raised an additional US$1.5 million from the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. Still this is far from the original goal of US$35 million.

What have been the early achievements?
The key results achieved in 2015 include:
·    - 3,500 women trained on improved agricultural technologies
·    - 2,000 women organised in cooperatives
·    - 1,750 women accessed financial services
·      over 1,000 women linked to home-grown school feeding programmes
·    - 5,200 women received business development support for income-generation
·    - 650 women leaders participated in national rural women’s conferences for advocacy purposes
·    - 8,000 people attended sensitization campaign on women’s rights.

The impact of the programme is more than just about increased productivity and increased incomes. It is also about improvements in the quality of people’s lives  – not just for the women participating in the RWEE in terms of increased self-confidence and dignity – but also their family members.

What has contributed to effective implementation?
Several factors have contributed to successful implementation:
  • Drawing on the specialist experiences of each agency: IFAD has supported the use of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) – an innovative tool for baseline studies and impact assessments - in Guatemala and Niger (with FAO), household methodologies in Rwanda and Kyrgyzstan, and rural finance in Ethiopia. FAO has focused on Dimtra listening clubs and agricultural technologies; WFP on purchase for progress; and UN Women on women’s leadership and policy dialogue.
  • National ownership: This has been promoted since the beginning of the programme through consultation with stakeholders at the country level, alignment with national priorities, and a governance structure that facilitates the flow of information and better coordination among national partners.
  • Using the same entry points and layering activities: Rather than spreading interventions across a wide group of beneficiaries, the JP decided to deepen impact by using the same entry point in a given region, such as self-help groups, rural savings and lending groups, Dimitra listening clubs – and layering different activities on same set of beneficiaries.
  • Hiring global and national coordinators: They work on behalf of the whole programme, seeing activities in the whole rather through the perspective of one specific agency (see box 2). They are supported at global and national levels by steering committees and technical advisory groups. At HQ level, the programme is supported not only by the gender teams but also partnerships and resource mobilization staff and communications teams. Knowledge sharing and south-south exchanges are an important element of the implementation process.
  • Flexibility: Within the framework of the four outcome areas, have been able to be flexible at the national level to respond to specific needs and priorities, such as the Ebola crisis in Liberia, drought in Ethiopia and gender-based violence in Kyrgyzstan.
  • Working with men: Men have been actively involved in the design and implementation of the interventions through awareness raising campaigns and the utilization of innovative methodologies that aim at addressing power relationships within the communities (Dimitra clubs and the “HeforShe” campaign) and households (household methodologies).

Comments by Jipara Turmamatova, National coordinator of JP in Kyrgyzstan
I wear two hats: as national JP coordinator and UN Women programme manager. It took me time to differentiate between the two and to learn how to coordinate and adopt a whole programme perspective. I am delighted to work in the team of committed professionals from the partner agencies. We have made a great progress in becoming a joint programme, going through challenges, regardless of individual agencies' mandates and interests, and joining efforts to work through the same entry point of women's self-help groups.
Rural women face a range of challenges in their everyday life, and we cannot put aside some aspects - such as violence, security or reproductive health - and only focus on productivity or other interventions. It takes a joint approach to address these multiple dimensions as a whole, complementing each other's interventions.
We are also very happy that other development actors have started using the JP as a platform for reaching rural women, such as UNFPA with its messages on maternal health. 

What next?
As the outgoing chairperson of the international steering committee and technical advisory group I am acutely aware of the need to raise extra funds. The present money will take us until the end of 2017, but even then activities are limited by the small size of the pot (supporting activities across seven countries and among four agencies). Indeed, some countries have already completed their available funds for 2016. It is estimated there is a funding gap of around UD15 million based on estimates of what country teams would wish to achieve over the next two years.

This year we have held side events during the Commission on the Status of Women in New York (March) and the EU development days in Brussels (June). The photo shows members of the JP team meeting with the Network for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment of the permanent representatives in Rome in June for a very fruitful discussion (see the photo below). Other events planned for 2016 include a side event at CFS with the Gender Network (October) and another at the high level event on rural women being organized by the Slovak presidency of the EU (November).

And my final thought?
We have mechanisms in place which are proving effective in delivering a joint programme producing tangible benefits for rural women. Lessons can be learned about inter-agency cooperation modalities and innovative approaches; the findings can be shared beyond the four agencies and partners to contribute to the SDG dialogue and improve the outcomes.

With approximately 18,000 women and their households directly benefitting from the JP RWEE and a governance mechanism fully operational at the global and national level, the programme has the potential to be scaled-up to additional 50,000 women if further contributions are received.

JP team meeting with the Network for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment of the permanent representatives in IFAD HQ