Partnership is the Key: A Conversation on Addressing Gender-Based Violence in Agricultural Work

World Bank, UNDP statistics that GBV could be costing countries up to 4% in GDP-which is more than 2 times what most governments spend on education- and that, when applied, that could mean up to 2% of GDP is lost each year just due to GBV in agriculture.
December 10, 2018

The rise of the #MeToo movement has thrown back the curtain on gender-based violence with a focus on sexual harassment, and coercion at work, resulting in a global call for safer workplaces. The movement reveals a hidden truth: gender-based violence happens everywhere. For many this seems obvious, but what about a market development expert? An agricultural extensionist? A nutrition curriculum designer? 

Last week, Sahar Alnouri, EnCompass’ team leader for the Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) program, sat down with Krista Jacobs and Jenn Williamson to talk about survivor-centered approaches to addressing gender-based violence in the agriculture sector and how AWE can help. Krista is Senior Gender Advisor in USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, which leads the U.S. Government's Feed the Future initiative, and Jenn is Senior Director of Gender and Social Inclusion at ACDI/VOCA—key partners for the AWE program

EnCompass Insights has captured some of the main threads from that conversation here, as part of our series on this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which focuses on the world of work. 

What Gender-Based Violence Looks Like in Agriculture

The group began with a discussion of why it’s so important to address gender-based violence in the agriculture sector.

Krista: As a gender advisor in agriculture, I see a big part of my role as reminding people to think about the people in our projects, to ask questions about the connections. It puts us in a good space to begin this conversation.

Jenn: We know gender-based violence affects women’s ability to participate in agriculture—to move freely, to access markets, to negotiate deals. It affects their incomes and the stability of their homes. It is a women’s rights issue, a human rights issue, and relevant from the productivity perspective.

Krista: Right. The World Bank estimates gender-based violence could be costing up to 4 percent of GDP. In some countries where we work, 40 percent of GDP is from agriculture. If we do a really loose application of those percentages, that could be 1–2 percent of GDP lost just from gender-based violence in agriculture

Sahar: And think about some of the other statistics, like that depending on the country, women supply 30–80 percent of agricultural labor. If you take that, along with the United Nations estimate that about 1 in 3 women experience gender-based violence, you see that women are a very big part of the agriculture sector and that gender-based violence is a part of women’s daily existence. The cost is monumental. 

Expanding Responsibility for Gender-Based Violence in Agriculture

The group agreed that a major hurdle is the continuing expectation that the problem belongs in the hands of gender experts and gender-based violence specialists. In fact, preventing and reducing gender-based violence in agriculture is impossible without the engagement of diverse partners from multiple sectors

Krista: Many people are aware gender-based violence is happening. But agronomists, market specialists, and other experts don’t always know how to have this conversation. They understand it’s sensitive, that people’s safety is on the line. Part of the solution is for donors to invest in open discussion, giving people space to ask questions like, “As an agriculture project, how do we talk about this? How can we help when we don’t know where to refer survivors?” 

Sahar: I think one reason people don’t engage is out of fear—being afraid of doing harm or making it worse somehow. That comes from a lack of capacity. We have a responsibility to make language and responses more accessible and demystify resources like GBV referral pathways. You shouldn’t have to be a gender specialist to put some basic preventative measures in place. One of our calls to action for the AWE program is to help identify and create contextualized and survivor-centered tools and training for agricultural teams.

They all agreed: programming should be survivor-led and survivor-centric, and agriculture specialists must see themselves as essential partners in prevention and response, working with survivors and gender specialists toward safer programs. Importantly, agriculture can draw on lessons from HIV care and treatment, energy and infrastructure, education, and the emergency sector.

Measuring Change in the Sector

Finally, the discussion touched on the need to tread carefully when collecting data on this problem in agricultural communities. They agreed that a mix of methods is essential, as is a willingness to experiment with novel approaches.

Jenn: We all want that one magic indicator to tell us gender-based violence is going up or down. Sadly, there isn’t a simple way to measure these things, and you have to be careful how you ask the questions. That’s why the qualitative and quantitative data are important; the numbers and the stories together are how we find out what is changing as a result of our work, and what the unintended consequences might be. 

Krista: And it’s a different kind of thinking and measurement, depending on how you’re approaching gender-based violence and who is in your ag system—you’re looking at changes over time, practices in the home, in the public sphere, and these things move at different rates. 

Sahar: This is another area where the AWE program is hoping to contribute. Part of what is needed is a willingness to try some new things. We don’t have the indicators we need right now, so we need to test. Proxy indicators can help us make some educated guesses, even if we can’t get the more sensitive questions answered directly.

Next Steps for the Agriculture Sector

Three survivor-centered solutions emerged from the conversation:

  1. Collect more data to fully understand the risks, prevalence, and contributing factors for gender-based violence in agriculture.
  2. Agriculture, MEL, and gender/gender-based violence specialists should partner together to design, deliver, and measure safe and empowering agricultural programs.
  3. Engage a diversity of actors from the public and private sectors and at the community level in identifying solutions.

On November 29, the conversation continued as part of a Twitter relay on gender-based violence in agriculture.

How will you act on these ideas? What other ideas do you have to support survivors and prevent gender-based violence? Tell us in the comments below or by tweeting @EnCompass_World.

EnCompass is grateful to Jenn Williamson, who is also the Gender and Agriculture Systems Advisor for AWE, and Krista Jacobs for their contributions to this post, and to all those who participated in our Twitter relay.


IASC, 2015. Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action – Reducing risk, promoting resilience and aiding recovery: Food Security and Agriculture, Thematic Area Guide

Jones-Renaud, 2018, What Does a Survivor-Centered Approach to Workplace Harassment Look Like?

Okwaro, 2018, Cost of Gender Gap in Agriculture

UN Women, 2018 (updated), Facts and figures: Ending violence against women

World Bank, 2018, Brief: Gender-Based Violence (Violence against Women and Girls)


Graphic designed by Crystal Cason, © EnCompass LLC. All Rights reserved.


Jenn Williamson...

Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in this conversation. I wanted to add to this rich discussion that there are many ways implementers can address gender-based violence in the context of agriculture systems programs. Implementers should always begin with an assessment of the context and gender-based violence risks, issues, and social norms. Based on this information, they can identify entry points, activities, and ways to integrate messaging about gender-based violence or activities focused on changing norms related to gender-based violence as appropriate. They can also identify appropriate partners to collaborate with and leverage resources, as one organization may not be in the position to provide certain services or responses but there may be key opportunities to work together and address identified needs or issues.

One example of how ACDI/VOCA did this was in the Resiliency through Wealth, Agriculture, and Nutrition (RWANU) project in Karamoja, Uganda. One approach this project took to addressing gender-based violence was through engaging male champions. Called Male Change Agents (MCAs), these men were trained to deliver key messages and promote positive behaviors related to: 1) gender equality and female empowerment, 2) health, nutrition, and household caretaking, and 3) gender-based violence. The MCAs received locally produced, portable “posters” that depicted scenes of female labor and caretaking and gender-based violence as well as male engagement in caretaking and healthy family dynamics, to prompt dialogues on these topics and making the tool easy to use for literate and non-literate facilitators.

Krista Jacobs

Thank you both for the great discussion!

We’ve seen instances in Feed the Future programs where creating a space where people can raise the topic of gender-based violence, even as part of fairly common elements of agricultural programs, can be a good starting point.

For example, farmer field schools and informal savings groups often include lessons and messaging around nutrition and household decision-making, but can also include messages and discussion around violence and positive ways for family members to interact or solve conflicts. In Tanzania human rights and gender-based violence were woven into their farmer field schools. Together the “class” took action to mediate when one of their members suffered violence from her husband.

In Honduras, the Gender in Agriculture: From Policy to Practice (GAPP) project held local policy advocacy level workshops for women’s group leaders, local NGOs, and municipal women’s leaders to engage on developing municipal level food security and nutrition policies and also for the women’s groups to present their priorities and ideas to their municipal governments. In the 9 municipalities where GAPP worked, finding resources to help manage intimate partner violence – be it through adding a counselor, a safe house, or other ideas women raised – was a point in every memorandum of understanding between the women’s groups and their local government.

It’s important to invite local partners and experts to help guide the conversation and provide resources and support. However, we in the agriculture world can also ask ourselves what openings we already have in our programs and communities to address, the often underlying, violence.

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