Joining forces to speed up economic empowerment for rural women

"Inspiration" was the focus of the first two sessions of the 2013 Retreat on the Joint Programme Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women being held at IFAD today and tomorrow. About 40 participants from IFAD, FAO, WFP and UN Women gathered to hear about achievements, challenges and opportunities in the seven pilot countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger, Rwanda, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal.

Economic empowerment for women is recognized as a fast track to improving gender equality between woman and men, driving economic growth and advancing women's human rights.

Your mother might have told you that money can't buy you happiness. But research shows she was probably wrong. In any case, it surely buys you practically everything else. How's this for starters: nutritious food, clean water, physical safety, healthcare, schooling, decent clothing, a mobile phone, a bicycle. Money also buys less tangible things: status, hope, freedom, choices, self-respect, security, comfort.

An op-ed published this week in The Hindu makes another critical point about the effect of economic empowerment for women: "high levels of female employment and earnings are critical to lowering domestic violence against women".

What follows is a personal account and a personal reflection on the morning's work and the significance of the aims of the Joint Programme.

What does it mean?
It's hard to say in a jargon-free nutshell what economic empowerment means, because in fact it means so many things. It means earning money, being paid for your work where before you may have worked for nothing. It means being paid a fair wage that compares with what others are paid for similar work. It means having the power to negotiate fair prices for your produce. It means having the power to decide how the money you have earned is spent, or not spent in the household. It means having the power, the education and the information to decide about investments, savings, loans. It means being able to go to a bank or a microfinance institution and being treated fairly when you get there. This list is not exhaustive.

Launched in 2012 in New York and Rome, the Joint Programme aims to speed up economic empowerment for rural women by building on ongoing work by the four agencies in the seven pilot countries, maximizing synergies and scaling up approaches that work. To be effective, the Programme has to respond clearly to issues identified at national level and complement existing activities.

In five out of the seven pilot countries consultative workshops have been held with the four agencies, government representatives, local partners, women's civil society groups and rural women's associations. Some countries are also using focus groups and interviews to identify stakeholder priorities. Good practices are being collected and successful initiatives are being mapped.

Country ownership and common challenges
Participants at the Retreat underlined the importance of the Joint Programme being 'owned' by the countries to ensure that achievements and progress are sustainable over the long term. Aligning work programmes with country development priorities is also essential to getting buy-in from governments and local partners.

Common challenges across the countries relate to sharpening the focus of the Joint Programme and clarifying how the agencies work together on the ground in widely different contexts. In many cases local stakeholders are very enthusiastic about the new programme and there's a need to manage expectations while the groundwork is finalized and activities get under way.

The retreat runs for two days and aims to hammer out details and agreements that will enable the ambitious Joint Programme to move up a gear and, in the words of Clare Bishop-Sambrook, IFAD Senior Gender Adviser, "turn the ripples made so far into waves".