Feed the Future
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Context matters: Programming reflections on gender-based violence and land rights

This post was written by Alejandra Vargas Garcia, Senior Program Officer, IDRC

In a recent conference focused on promoting economic opportunities for women and youth, a group of researchers, practitioners and I started discussing the lessons on unintended consequences stemming from our programming in rural contexts, particularly in agriculture. A common message that emerged was how much the promotion of empowerment for women in one dimension was often accompanied by a profound disempowerment in another, largely due to rooted and unequal social norms. Gender-based violence jumped out as a prime example.

We know that women constitute up to 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, providing paid and unpaid labor in addition to carrying out most household duties.[1] Yet, they don’t share the profits equally with men, they have less control over which crops to cultivate and less access to technology, training, and credit, and they own significantly less land. Let’s focus on this last critical gap.

Land rights and gender-based violence

Women represent less than 5 percent of all agricultural landholders in North Africa and West Asia, 15 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 25 percent in Latin America, according to FAO data.[2] Lack of control over land is known to be a deterrent to women’s economic prosperity, voice, and agency. Yet, a growing body of evidence shows a correlation between gender-based violence and land rights that is highly contextual.

Surveys from rural Nicaragua found that women who owned land increased their power and control within their marital relationships and reduced their exposure to domestic violence.[3] Yet, studies in Sub-Saharan Africa found no correlation — or a negative one — between land rights and gender-based violence.[4] Contexts with institutions and social norms that are supportive of women’s rights likely offer more positive outcomes.[5] Evidence gaps remain in understanding the best combination of assets and conditions that help mitigate intimate partner violence.

Investing in gender-sensitive programming

What these examples show is that context matters greatly, and that we need to invest in nuanced research, led by local organizations, to better understand this relationship. It also validates the need to be intentional in programming design, implementation, and evaluation to mitigate harm to vulnerable groups in the agricultural sector, among others. Here are a few reflections on gender-sensitive programming to address gender-based violence in agriculture:

  • Agricultural programming must go beyond a narrow focus on technical constraints, such as access to credit or training, to uncover the underlying structural barriers[6] holding vulnerable groups back, such as unequal power relations between men and women and deeply rooted norms that hinder women’s ability to be seen and supported as legitimate landowners and farmers. In so doing, people’s experiences of gender-based violence will emerge more prominently in community-level discussions as a key theme that should inform programming considerations. A key is to engage local organizations that understand the context and can incorporate gender-based violence monitoring and mitigation strategies from the start, and iteratively, throughout the program cycle.
  • Selecting suitable gender-sensitive methodologies with strong ethical protocols can render more inclusive results and thus limit the risk of gender-based violence. Lessons from the Soils, Food and Healthy Communities organization, which promoted participatory village discussion groups, encouraged men and women to discuss agriculture, nutrition, and gender issues.[7] As a result, communities reported that husbands and wives were increasingly making decisions about their farms and households together, sharing care work and labour while increasing food security. This shift can have important implications in promoting behavior change and preventing gender-based violence. Other examples of participatory methods include the use of theatre or PhotoVoice, where community members capture images of their daily lives to then prompt a community dialogue about solutions.[8]
  • Agricultural advisory services are biased toward men. Moreover, they are often based on gender-biased interpretations of women’s needs and interests, focus on culturally inappropriate or out-of-reach techniques, and fail to consider women’s specific challenges. Hiring more female extension service agents, responsible for providing information to women farmers, and sensitizing male agents to rural women’s realities can render advice that is more responsive to women’s time and mobility constraints, literacy levels, land ownership patterns, and experiences of gender-based violence.
  • Support collective action. A World Bank/IFPRI study found that in Ethiopia, only 2 percent of women belonged to an agricultural cooperative, compared to 13 percent of men.[9] Research supported by IDRC in India validates the positive impact of collective action on female productivity, voice and agency.[10] Intentionally promoting a gender-based violence lens in the work of agricultural cooperatives and targeting both men and women to address violence can be highly effective.
  • Interventions focused on women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector must be implemented alongside strategies to engage men and the community, to maximize impact. Unless women’s living and working environments adjust in parallel to the gains made through expanding women’s individual access to land, credit, and tools and innovation, there will always be a heightened risk of violence resulting from unaddressed root causes and social norms. Interventions that take a systems approach can be the key to addressing violence.

When women in agriculture are safe, their agricultural productivity can rise dramatically, which in turn spurs economic growth for the community. Better understanding the links between gender-based violence and agriculture for vulnerable groups through an intersectional lens — one that considers sex, race, ethnicity, economic status, and sexual orientation — is the key to unlocking their potential. It is also the right thing to do.

What are your organization’s strategies for integrating a gender lens in work with land rights or other aspects of agricultural programs? Let us know in the comments, or by tweeting @Ale_V_G and @Agrilinks. And, please join the Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment Program and Agrilinks for a webinar this Wednesday, October 30, on the hidden costs of gender-based violence in agriculture.


[1] SOFA Team and Doss, S. (2011). The role of women in agriculture. ESA Working Paper No. 11-02. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Agricultural Development Economics Division.

[2] FAO. 2011. The state of food and agriculture 2010-11 – Women in agriculture: closing the gender gap for development. Rome: The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

[3] Grabe, S. (2010). Promoting gender equality: the role of ideology, power, and control in the link between land ownership and violence in Nicaragua. Analyses of social issues and public policy 10, no. 1: 146–170.

[4] Ezeh, A.C., and Gage, A.J. (2000). Domestic violence in Uganda: Evidence from qualitative and quantitative data. Working Paper 18. Nairobi: African Population and Health Research Center.

[5] Gupta, J. (2006). Property ownership of women as protection for domestic violence: The West Bengal Experience. Washington, DC: ICRW.

[6] AJWS and IDRC (2008). Summary – using research for gender-transformative change principles and practice. American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

[7] Kerr, R. B., Chilanga, E., Nyantakyi-Frimpong, H., Luginaah, I., & Lupafya, E. (2016). Integrated agriculture programs to address malnutrition in northern Malawiv. BMC public health, 16(1), 1197.

[8] Nyariro, M., Hani Sadati, S.M., Mitchell, C., Muthuri, S., and Njeri, M. (2017). Picturing change through PhotoVoice: participatory evaluation of a daycare intervention in Kenya. GrOW Working Paper Series GWP-2017-11. Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID); produced with support from McGill University, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

[9] Peterman, A., Behrman, J., and Quisumbing, A. (2011). A review of empirical evidence on gender differences in non-land agricultural inputs, technology, and services in developing countries. ESA Working Paper No. 11-11. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Agricultural Development Economics Division.

[10] IDRC (2019). The power of collective action to achieve gender equality. Research in action. International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

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