The Pro-poor Horticulture Value Chain in Upper Egypt (SALASEL) Joint Programme (the Programme) aimed at enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the horticulture sector in Egypt and improving the working conditions of small farmers and agricultural workers, especially women, along the various nodes of the value chain. The Programme adopted a gender mainstreaming strategy that cut across all programme areas, while focusing on raising awareness among the farming community about gender-related issues and inequities; mobilizing Women Committees within the Farm Associations and strengthening the capacities of women working in the Post-Harvest Centers.
The rationale for the intervention is grounded in a number of realities, the first one being the significant presence and critical role of women in a key sector of Egypt’s economy: agriculture. Agriculture and farming provide a livelihood for 55 per cent of Egypt’s population and employ 30 per cent of the labour force. The 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development indicates that 46 per cent of Egypt’s female work force is employed in agriculture.1 Women perform agriculture and farming-related activities on family owned land as unpaid labor, as well as for non-family members, as paid workers. Women form the majority (75 per cent) of the work force involved in harvesting, handling, sorting and packing processes within the post-harvest centers (PHCs). Over 40 per cent of people working in agriculture or fisheries are women. However, women have little control over land or productive resources, even if they own the assets.2 Women’s working conditions and the benefits that they receive from their labour are neither commensurate with their role in the work place nor with their responsibilities at home and in the community. Furthermore, the increased phenomenon of men’s migration in search of gainful work has eroded traditional gender-based roles in rural areas. Yet, traditional gender norms remain tenacious, the result being that women and girls are at a disadvantage in both the public and private spheres.
The second reality is the persistence of regional disparities in Egypt’s economic growth detracting from progress in meeting the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly MDG 3. Poverty in Egypt, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, is on the rise. In Upper Egypt, poverty rose in both urban and rural areas from 21.7 per cent and 43.7 per cent, respectively, in 2008-2009 to 29.5 per cent and 51.4 per cent in 2010-2011.3 Moreover, the dissimilar role and status of women as compared to men is most evident in Upper Egypt. The mobility of women, their access to education, infrastructure, social and health services and their control over resources is even more restricted than that of their counterparts in the Delta or in urban governorates.
This situation justified the implementation of the Pro-poor Horticulture Value Chain in Upper Egypt Joint Programme, which aimed at enhancing the efficiency and productivity of the horticulture sector in Egypt and improving the working conditions of small farmers and agricultural workers, especially women, along the various nodes of the value chain.
The objective of developing a gender mainstreaming strategy in the Programme was to empower women within export supply chains by making sure they add value to the supply chains in new and measurable ways, and to ensure that these interventions would result in improvements to their standards-of-living and their role within their families and rural environments.
To measure the success of the mainstreaming process five specific indicators were defined:
- Number of Women Committees activated in the targeted Farm Associations (FAs);
- Number of women assisted by the Women Committees to start/upgrade a business;
- Per cent average increase in the number of women joining the FAs;
- Per cent of FA revenues allocated to the Women Committees; and
- Number of women receiving assets through the project.
The most important actors in this project were the FAs, which are the primary partners. FAs are provided a comprehensive development package by all UN agencies involved in this project, namely UNDP, UNIDO, ILO and UN Women, together with national counterparts like the Egyptian Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Investment.
UNDP ensured that effective and equitable business partnerships were forged between small farmers and the private sector, and built the productive capacities of small farmers by contributing to equipping the PHCs both directly though availing a small grant to each FA, and indirectly by facilitating cost-sharing arrangements between small farmers and private investors. Moreover, UNDP strengthened the capacity of FAs in terms of governance, financial management and business planning.
UNIDO aimed at enhancing the horticulture supply chain in Upper Egypt and strengthening its linkages to export and domestic markets, which is of utmost importance to the economic development of Upper Egypt.
ILO’s key comparative advantage in entrepreneurship and enterprise development is the ability to conceptualize and articulate the employment dimension of enterprise development to design policies, strategies and programme interventions that place productive and decent work at the heart of enterprise growth and productivity.
UN Women’s contribution cut across all programme areas while focusing on raising awareness among the farming community about gender-related issues and inequities.
The gender mainstreaming strategy developed in this Programme was an adaptation of the Gender Equity Model (GEM) developed by the World Bank in 2001. GEM aims at promoting and guaranteeing gender equal opportunities in the labour market through the establishment of voluntary public private partnerships between the government and companies. Companies that receive the GEM seal (GES) use it as part of their marketing strategy. The GEM model and the process of certification are designed for all types of organizations, regardless of size, sector of business, or geographical location. The government provides technical support to the participating companies/organizations that commit to the implementation of actions in the following areas: personnel selection and hiring; career development, including training and promotions; family-work balance and equity in benefits; prevention of sexual harassment; and finally, promoting a non-sexist public image through company advertising campaigns.
GEM was first piloted by UNIFEM and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) in Egypt in 2007, in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the General Authority for Investment, the Ministry of Man Power and Migration and the National Council for Women. A total of 10 medium and large size companies participated in the programme. The success of the pilot was such that, in 2010, the Government decided to establish a new Gender Equality Certification Unit to scale up the model to include additional companies in the manufacturing sector, while also replicating it in the agri-business sector. The objective was to add value to the supply chain of horticulture sector, by addressing inequities in the working conditions of women, who are the primary actors in the chain.
The Programme adapted the GEM model to the horticulture sector in Upper Egypt by focusing on three critical axes:
- Gender sensitization of the management of the Farm Associations (FAs).
- Reactivation and mobilization of the FAs Women Committees around the issue of women’s work and economic empowerment.
- Capacity development and awareness-raising of female workers within the Post-Harvest Centers.
The reactivation of the Women Committees served two main purposes. To start with, it reinforced and expanded the impact of the awareness-raising activities beyond the scope of the FAs to include additional community actors and beneficiaries. Furthermore, it helped strengthen the commitment of the FAs to women’s economic empowerment, and imbued the process of gender mainstreaming in the operations and services of the FAs with the ethos and notions of accountability.
In that context, the Programme trained committee members to advocate and implement interventions aimed at rural women’s economic empowerment as well as at reinforcing women’s presence in the public sphere. It also provided assistance in developing the structure of the Committees, formulating the criteria for the selection of candidates and supporting the FA electoral process to guarantee a participatory approach to community development.
Topics covered in the technical trainings included post-harvest technologies, packing and packaging, a safe working environment and good hygiene practices, as well as self-esteem and time management. For awareness-raising, traditional training modules were used together with three info-graphics and four short films. Info-graphics are 3-4 minutes animations that explain a message in the simplest and most persuasive way to those who are literate and illiterate. The first info-graphic introduced the concept of equal opportunity in general; the second focused on equal opportunity in recruitment, hiring and career development; the third concentrated on the work environment and issues of harassment. The gender equality message was introduced through these info-graphics in a compressed form and in a culturally sensitive manner. Combined with the info-graphics were five-minute visuals portraying women performing jobs that are unusual in the Egyptian context, such as taxi driver, car park attendant, mini bus driver, butchers, etc. These visuals were used also in the Post-Harvest Centers as a tool to raise awareness about qualifications and the fact that women and men often can do the same job equally well.
The management of all six FAs participated in the gender sensitization trainings. Participants confirmed that, as a result of the sensitization and acquired knowledge, the FAs had become more inclusive and better positioned to reach out to women. Proof of which is a significant increase—almost 70 per cent—in the number of women members in the six FAs targeted by the Programme.
Reactivation of Women Committees
To date, six Women Committees have been activated and five have already run their elections, electing seven women per Committee. Each of the Women Committees has conducted a community needs assessment based on guidelines provided by the Programme and work plans have been developed accordingly to include priority actions addressing the specific needs of the women in the respective communities. In Gaaffar, the Women Committee launched an advocacy campaign to install water pipes. In Beni Suef, the Women Committee has succeeded in lobbying local authorities and mobilizing community stakeholders to resolve the problem of garbage accumulated in front of houses and schools. Similarly, the Committee succeeded in lobbying for the paving of the main road leading to the village. Furthermore, the reactivation of the Women Committees has motivated its members to speak up on behalf of the workers in the PHCs as well as other women in the community. In Qena, for example, the Women Committee is working on formalizing the status of 30 female and 15 male workers in the PHC.
Major achievements include assistance provided by three Committees to 40 women, enabling them to upgrade or start a small business. The impact of the support provided to women’s income-generating activities is still not apparent. However, it is expected that the condition of women beneficiaries and their families will improve as a result of the added income from these businesses as well as from the asset transfer component.
In terms of empowerment, women in the Committees appreciate the prestige they gain in the community through their involvement in the committees. They also feel that they are tasked with expressing “the voices of women” in their communities, and accordingly feel responsible to ensure that the expectations of the women that they represent are met. However, Women Committees still have some weakness in terms of governance and budget. So far, none of the FAs have allocated resources to the Women Committees, mainly due to the precarious condition of the economy.
Capacity Development and Awareness-raising
Even if it is too early to gauge the full impact of the mainstreaming process on the situation of women, preliminary findings indicate that the technical trainings received by the women have increased their productivity and led to the adoption of hygienic handling and packaging practices, which means a safer work environment.
Analysis of the discussions following the showing of the info-graphics confirmed the added value of the visual in conveying messages—both the explicit message and the more implicit one in relation to gender—and in generating reflection and discussion around gender inequality and women’s rights. The reactions of men participating in the sensitizations are reflective, rather than defensive, which is an auspicious start to any attitudinal change. However, promoting changes in gender relations is a long-term process that requires sustained efforts to address the root causes and the structural consequences of inequality.
“Parents treat their sons differently from their daughters, thereby perpetuating the social norms and behavioural patterns that support gender inequality.”
Male Programme participant after viewing info-graphics on gender equality
The strength of the mainstreaming intervention resides primarily in the link between the social and the economic benefits brought to enterprises, which is critical to the willingness of enterprises to dedicate time and resources to participate in the trainings and to effect the necessary changes to ensure gender equality in their procedures and operations. In the case of PHCs, the motivating factor is the economic return accrued from training women on agro-industrial processes.
Varying literacy levels of the participants (men and women) and the deep-rooted male dominated culture of Upper Egypt were important challenges that the Programme had to overcome when adapting the mainstreaming methodology.
Visuals were much more effective in conveying messages than lectures, which require an attention span that is difficult for participants to sustain for an extended period of time.
This gender mainstreaming process can be described as constituting a “promising practice.” The evidence collected shows that the process is effective in achieving progress towards intended gender equality and women’s empowerment. It also shows that under the proper circumstances, mainly if there is expressed political will and a measure of economic stability, the process has potential for replication and scaling up in both urban and rural settings.
The tools developed and tested in the Programme are works in progress. However, the approach adopted by the Programme should definitely inform government efforts at motivating the private sector to play a strengthened role in integrating women in the economy. Addressing both men and women and presenting the persistence of discriminatory practices in the public and private spheres as a broader community issue are highlights of this Programme, and the lessons learned from such experience must be taken up in future programming.
1. World Bank. World Development Report: Gender Equality and Development. 2012.