Food security and gender equality go hand in hand

| September 30, 2017 | 0 Comments
André Samvura and his wife, Anastasie Izabiriza, have taken part in a program of the Canadian Co-operative Association that improved their ability to feed their family and strengthened the gender equality in their marriage. (Photo: DAVID SHANKS)

André Samvura and his wife, Anastasie Izabiriza, have taken part in a program of the Canadian Co-operative Association that improved their ability to feed their family and strengthened the gender equality in their marriage. (Photo: DAVID SHANKS)

Rice farmer André Samvura loves to cook. “I used to eat only meat and rice,” he explains while peeling a basket of potatoes at his rural Rwandan home. “Now we eat a balanced meal with the vegetables we grow ourselves.”
This is a sea change for Samvura and his wife, Anastasie Izabiriza, who now grow their own carrots, radishes, onions, spinach and eggplant in a three-tier garden that resembles an earthen wedding cake. It produces more than a flat garden the same size, retaining moisture more efficiently and longer. Residents just water the top layer and let gravity do the rest. “Our children no longer have parasites or diarrhea,” says Anastasie. “We save money and our sleep is better.”
They credit their rice co-op, Cooproriz Abahuzabikorwa, for introducing this new gardening approach, and for improving the volume, quality and value of the rice they grow.
They also point to the co-op for encouraging another transformation — this one at the core of their marriage. Samvura cooks and shares in household chores and Anastasie has a say in decisions about their finances.
“Our neighbours thought Izabiriza was poisoning me because I cooked and did other woman activities,” Samvura recalls.
“Now they see us differently,” Izabiriza nods in agreement. “We spend more time together and plan and share decisions and chores. Our love is shiny now.”
Gender equality is taking root in the 15 farmer co-operatives that participated in a recently concluded food security project of the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF) designed to help farmers stem hunger gaps when money and food are scarce between harvests. Women and young children are particularly affected, with women more likely to forgo eating to feed their families first.
CCA and CDF help smallholder farmers, traders and producers establish co-operative enterprises that can provide needed goods and services they cannot access on their own.
Food security and gender equality go hand in hand, says CCA and CDF CEO Michael Casey.
“There can be no sustainable food security without greater equality between men and women, and the full and equitable participation of women in farming,” he says.
“And by helping men and women farmers develop their own agricultural, financial and marketing co-operative enterprises, the gains they achieve will be long lasting and gender equitable.”
To foster the full participation of female farmers, each of the 15 co-ops established a committee comprised of men and women to bring greater gender balance to their co-op’s governance, management and within their members’ households.
“There is a definite excitement and energy around this,” says CCA country manager Fresnel Devalon. “Each co-op board has embraced the need to provide equal opportunity and value both men and women in their institutions, backing this up with formal policies requiring co-op leaders to make it happen.”
The co-ops now require at least 30 per cent representation by women on boards and committees. Once dependent on their husbands for a share in revenue, women are now fully registered co-op members, receiving payments for their produce from their co-ops. They are opening their own bank accounts, many for the first time, starting small businesses and building savings.
Municipal leaders have taken note of the gains co-ops are making in bringing gender equality and food security to their regions. Muhanga Mayor Beatrice Uwamariya says gender training is bringing women into the value chain in ways they have never experienced before. She says there are now more children in school, better nutrition, productivity, health, peace and contentment.
Outside his home, Samvura’s son, Divin, is pounding soya beans. It’s something boys don’t usually do. Divin is imitating his father, whose housework gives Izabiriza more time for production, to rest and to participate in co-op activities. Nearly 16,000 men and women have taken gender training and are making these changes. Many also have kitchen gardens in their yards.
“Our project ended this summer, but the gender committees and their work will continue long after,” says Devalon. “That’s a positive legacy for women as well as for men, and for the future success of their co-operatives.”
The Rwanda Co-operative Agricultural Growth Project was funded by the government of Canada through Global Affairs Canada and the Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada.

David Shanks is communications and marketing manager at Canadian Co-operative Association|www.coopscanada. www.cdfcanada.coop.

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David Shanks is communications and marketing manager at Canadian Co-operative Association|www.coopscanada. www.cdfcanada.coop.

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