Rural women in Honduras are often an invisible pillar in their own homes, supporting their families’ livelihoods without recognition or a voice in decision making processes. Part of my work is to support women’s increased involvement in agricultural activities, which can yield a host of benefits for communities.
But my experience has shown me that we cannot expect a woman to be empowered when she has no sense of self-worth to draw from. We have to work from the inside out.
Rural women at a severe disadvantage
About a quarter of Honduras’ 2 million rural women work in agriculture. But Honduras has one of the highest rates of inequality in access and control of productive resources like land, tools, property and credit. Men are seen as the owners of these resources and as in control of the agricultural processes.
Women in rural Honduras are expected to take care of domestic work, prepare food and raise children. But they are also a crucial – and often unrecognized – part of agriculture and income generation. They help tend small gardens, select seeds, raise livestock, transport water, harvest and process crops. Women are also frequently involved in selling goods in informal markets.
Despite their contributions to their households’ livelihoods, women are excluded from making decisions on what to produce, the details of the harvest or how to spend money. They rarely receive any income themselves.
As stated by the U.N., addressing these gender inequalities in agriculture is central to increasing crop production, reducing malnutrition and improving livelihoods.
Recognizing the power dynamics in the homes of agricultural producers and smallholder farmers, the Dry Corridor Alliance (ACS)-PROSASUR puts a gender-sensitive lens on all project components, from planning and implementation to monitoring and evaluation.
The program aims to reach 6,000 poor and extreme poor families in the climate-fragile Dry Corridor region of southern Honduras, reduce chronic childhood malnutrition and raise the incomes of smallholder farmers. To achieve these goals, we must also address the lack of value placed on traditionally women’s roles and support women as key contributors to local economies.
The ripple effect: women helping women
At the household and community level, we build awareness of women’s role in the production process, the local economy and in decision making. Through workshops designed to teach joint household decision making, ACS-PROSASUR helps women establish co-responsibility with their partners so that they have more time, mobility and space to do agricultural activities without being overloaded by their other daily tasks.
We’ve seen that women trained through our programs then share their knowledge with their daughters, neighbors and friends, thus multiplying the message across their communities. Women become the best motivators for other women seeking to change the dynamics of gender inequality in agriculture.
Supporting women as heads of households
ACS-PROSASUR also focuses on women as heads of households, building their capacity and ownership over income generation and agricultural production and shifting perceptions of women as leaders in rural communities.
Since the start of the project, we’ve supported 1,100 women who are heads of their households create food security and nutrition plans for their homes. These plans include technical assistance, installation of irrigation systems, and the supplies and tools needed to establish plots that produce basic grains and produce with high nutritional and commercial value. The project has also supported women who do not own their own plots but have access to land belonging to another family member or in-law to give them autonomy in production.
Agricultural business plans have been created for 1,750 homes, 35 percent of them with women as heads of household. These plans have helped establish 350 hectares of irrigation.
Similarly, we develop non-agricultural business plans for households that don’t have access to land. More than 250 homes have participated, and 50 percent of them are led by women involved in production and in microenterprises that break with traditional roles.
Changing the narrative
In my 10 years working with rural women, I have seen how factors like self-worth and autonomy and issues such as domestic violence feed into social and economic inequities. It’s difficult to ask a woman to be a leader in her community when her voice is overshadowed at home.
But giving women and their families tools to improve their livelihoods can both change the narrative around women’s role in society and lead to healthier families and communities. When a woman’s sense of purpose awakens, we begin to see real change.
Yajaira Hernández is the Gender Advisor for the Dry Corridor Alliance Project in Honduras.