Analyzing Farmer Business Schools from gender and social perspectives in Meghalaya, India

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FoodSTART+ considers gender as an important component for inclusive and equitable development. Having social diversity among group members can strengthen group activities by sharing and building on different ideas and experiences. On the other hand, social diversity involves power dynamics, and careful analysis is required to understand whether and how members participated. To explore these gender and social dimensions in Farmer Business Schools (FBS), a rapid gender assessment was carried out in April 2019 through in-depth interviews with twelve women and twelve men FBS members in Meghalaya, and a report was published.

Three key findings are presented in the report. First, men are a minority group in FBS, but they play very important roles such as taking on the leadership, facilitating women’s participation, providing labor, and making available their knowledge, experiences and connections. On the other hand, women tend to play more supportive roles . However, there are some women whose participation is passive, simply listening to without being actually involved in decision-making at group level. These gender differences are closely associated with local gender norms in which men are more active in public activities, while women are decision-makers in the household.

Second, there are clear gender differences in perceived challenges in participating in FBS. For women, husbands’ disapproval prevents some of them from participating in/continuing with FBS. For men, FBS is viewed as feminine small-scale income generating activities. As such, it is less attractive for the breadwinners, many of whom work outside their villages. Apart from gender differences, it was found that FBS has some barriers for young women and men to participate. Also, both women and men who have very limited education feel uncomfortable with school-style learning approaches, resulting in passive participation and depending on a small number of educated members for decision-making.

Third, some women are enthusiastic and have leadership skills. For example, women foster solidarity in FBS by sharing with other members the knowledge and skills learned in technical training. Some women then formed an own group and initiated selling snacks at small scale. To facilitate women’s greater involvement in FBS decision-making and communication, and make their contribution more visible, the report identifies potential areas where women can have more active participation.

The concluding section provides five practical recommendations for enhancing meaningful participation of different gender and social groups in FBS.

The full report is available here.

Written by Dr. Nozomi Kawarazuka

Photos by Bashisha Kharchandy, Designated India Country Facilitator and Assistant Manager in Inclusive Supply Chain Division, MBMA