Comprising nearly half of the agricultural workforce in Afghanistan, women in rural parts of the country are still among the most marginalized. They lack access to knowledge and technologies and are far from availing the benefits of livelihood opportunities. Patriarchal social and cultural setups are highly restrictive.
Under an International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)-funded project, ‘Community, Livestock and Agriculture Project (CLAP)’, which aims to reduce poverty in rural Afghanistan, concerted efforts are being made by ICARDA and the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) to encourage an active participation of Afghan women. The project undertakes public awareness programs, which involve building trust and direct communication with communities. They also conduct informal meetings with local women’s groups and male family members, which is critical to building sustainable participation. This project targets 169,500 rural households in selected districts in three provinces of Kabul, Parwan, and Logar and works towards increasing agriculture and livestock productivity.
When the project hosted its first field day in December 2014, out of the total 97 participants, only five were women. However, the percentage of women’s participation has been steadily increasing. At the third field day in July 2015, women’s participation exceeded that of men - 104 women were in attendance, along with 100 men.
Dr. Yashpal Saharawat, ICARDA’s Afghanistan Country Manager, attributed this steady increase in women’s participation to various factors, including the trust building efforts of ICARDA gender expert and CLAP team to instill the message that the involvement of women in agricultural activities is beneficial for their families and the entire community. The women-based famers’ seed enterprises launched by ICARDA and MAIL, which are an innovative initiative in Afghanistan, have also been a motivating factor.
Ms. Mahbobeh Hashemi, a farmer and the head of the Parwan Women Famers’ Seed Enterprise, said that the project’s gender activities have increased the interest of women in the province. ‘It is not the first time we’ve held a field day in Parwan, but it is the first time that we had more than 50% women,’ she added.
Acknowledging the project’s contribution in bolstering the participation of women, Ms. Frozan Darwish, ICARDA’s Gender Expert in Afghanistan, emphasized that more motivational and trust building activities are required. ‘However, these trends are encouraging and prove that it is possible to change attitudes in rural communities about women in agriculture,’ she said.