Best Practices for Integrating Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) Strategies within Nepal’s Agricultural Extension System
Exclusionism in Nepal is a complex and multifactorial phenomenon that intertwines the Hindu caste system, gender, and ethnicity and that varies geographically. The combination of the social diversity of Nepal’s 30 million citizens, characterized by 125 identified caste and ethnic groups speaking 123 different mother languages, and topographic diversity, broken into three distinct zones (Terai, Hill, and Mountain), has perpetuated disparities in access to critical resources for many people (ADB, 2012; MOAD, 2016). Although the Hindu caste system, feudalism, and patriarchy are no longer formally integrated within the government of Nepal, the informal behaviors, perceptions, norms, and values that sustain those systems continue to influence the social mobility, health, and wellbeing of Nepali people (Nightingale, 2011).
At the household, community, and policy level power holders (i.e. husbands, mother- and father-in-laws, high-caste community members, and high-caste leaders) generally maintain a higher position relative to women, members of lower castes (Dalits), and ethnic minorities (Janajatis). However, the power dynamics between power holders and marginalized groups are highly complex and vary across time, spaces, as well as between individuals. In contrast to western conceptualizations of power, Nepali communities respect the ideas of “purity,” a Hindu concept stemming from the idea of cleanliness, more than financial wealth. This concept of “purity” is integrated within a hierarchal structure that may be relatively constant, as is the case with Dalits and Janajatis, or fluid, as is the case with women, who experience varying levels of exclusion depending on menstruation, caste, marital status, and age.
Targeting these issues through the mainstreaming of the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) approach, which seeks to address the complex situation of caste, gender and ethnicity, has been a major focus of development programs in Nepal (Bennett, 2008). The GESI approach is widely accepted among national and local partners including the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the international development community (ADB, 2012) and is similar to gender transformative approaches (GTA) that seek to change institutional and structural forms of discrimination in addition to improving the well-being and livelihoods of marginalized groups. However, the level of understanding and integration of GESI within programs varies greatly according to the availability of a GESI specialist within the organization, staff access to and participation in GESI trainings, the mission and goals of the organization, and also funding for GESI activities.
The agriculture sector in Nepal is a driver of rural development, which has the potential to provide economic and social mobility for Nepal’s most vulnerable populations: women, Dalits, and Janajatis. These groups not only combat barriers to agricultural development such as lack of access to services and markets, but also social and gender-based barriers. Nepal’s Agricultural Extension Services (AES) system, with its strong connection to rural and remote communities, is well positioned to support development activities by integrating GESI within their current programs. However, several key challenges remain to implementing GESI strategies within Nepal’s AES system. The feminization of agriculture and its impact on women’s time poverty is a critical issue in the agriculture sector in Nepal. Additionally, although many organizations have a GESI strategy, more work is needed to translate GESI from theory into practice such as by increasing the adoption of monitoring and evaluation tools that track project impact for women and other marginalized groups. To help address these challenges, this technical note aims to orient AES practitioners in Nepal to best practices for implementing GESI strategies within agricultural initiatives.