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Five innovations working to empower women

Women produce more than half of the world's food but face unique challenges as farmers. Five innovative programs are helping them – and strengthening the world's food system.

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2. FANRPAN’s Theater: Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit, and technology, and have the access to policymakers that women lack.

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The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers.

FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the program manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”

FANRPAN’s Theater in Action: After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.

3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA): In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance.

SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups, and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets.“We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, Director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.

SEWA in action: SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.

4. Women’s Collective: Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity.

The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches more than 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims.

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