The purpose of this research was to identify and document the ways in which gender plays a part in the value chains of rural communities in Armenia and Georgia, so as to help inform gender-oriented programming in the JOIN Project.
The research included both desk research and extensive focus grouping. For the desk research we reviewed the existing literature on gender in the two countries and looked at national statistics, World Bank statistics, as well as the data from the annual regional survey, the Caucasus Barometer.
Our field work included focus groups and interviews in six municipalities of Georgia and six municipalities in Armenia. The ten focus groups in Georgia and eight focus groups in Armenia were attended by a total of 128 women and 19 men. We also did a small survey at the end of the each focus group in order to quantify some of the attitudes of participants, and the results are also incorporated in this report. This is not representative of the regions as a whole.
In addition, we conducted semi-structured interviews with representatives of different value chains, including agricultural machinery rental service, fertilizer shop, potato seeds provider, and large farms.
There is a broad consensus that gender discrimination exists on a broad range of areas in both countries. Culture and tradition play a crucial role in defining sexual division of labor in household and restricting the range of activities that women engage in, their control of resources and influence in decision making. However, while tradition may require that women take a subordinate role, practically they often take the lead.
Women and men have distinct roles and responsibilities in the agricultural production. Men are generally responsible for tasks that require physical brute strength (like lifting sacks), technical knowledge or skill (like driving cars/machinery or butchering animals) or which require outside negotiations.
Women on the other hand, are responsible for the bulk of day-to-day agricultural activities including field work (including the bulk of the work collecting the harvest), milking cows, the processing of food (like cheese-making) and house-keeping, hold budget management/small sales.
In general this creates a significantly biased division of labor, where women work longer hours on agricultural activities than men. This causes some resentment amongst women, particularly because women feel that men generally interpret gender roles in their favor. For example, men are commonly prepared to let women do physically demanding work, but men would never do household chores.
Women also have very little involvement in areas of the value chain outside of the household/land-plot. As farmers, they do not negotiate with outside parties. They also almost never take the role of input suppliers, tractor drivers, veterinarians or technicians. Consistent with the general literature, while women may actually be more likely to have regular employment in rural communities, they will generally be as a teacher or nurse. Some of the value chain input providers said that they would happily hire women, but the only roles in which they currently do so are as accountants or office administrators.
Decisions are mostly made in consultations within a family but, according to both men and women, the final word is usually left to the men. Although women perform most of the agricultural tasks, when it comes to “big decisions” and “big money,” it is usually up to men.
All of that said, women have considerable practical control. First, women end up being practically responsible for the household budget most of the time. They make most of the decisions about the purchase of food, clothes and even purchases for the house. As these purchases are often done in the form of barter, this also means that the woman is deciding when to sell the home-grown and processed food.
Second, there is the general sense that women, behind closed doors, can persuade their husbands to make a particular decision. As many different focus groups recounted, ‘the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and the neck turns the head’.
Third, in many of the focus groups, it was clear that because women are basically practically in charge of so much of the home, finance and agricultural activities, the women, of course, are responsible for considerable innovation and direction of overall farm activity.
That said, it is also clear that outside of the household the woman has to take a far more formally subordinate role. It is not acceptable, for example, for women to negotiate with individuals outside of the household, except on small issues. Also, women generally can’t drive, especially big trucks. So, even if women wanted, in many situations they could not perform the tasks that are considered “man’s work”
In some households the head is a women, this is usually because the man is working abroad. Women in these families have money sent by a husband, so they can hire labour and equipment and even make small investments in their production. However, for much of the ‘man’s work’, even women-headed households are expected to engage a male relative where possible, particularly in negotiations with outsiders.
Monetary income is a huge problem in villages and taking loans is also difficult due to high interest rates and the risks of poor crops. As lands and harvest are not usually insured, simple drought or hail might lead to disastrous results for a farmer who has taken loans. Therefore, our focus group participants were generally only prepared to take loans if they had a non-farming source of income, with which to make repayments.
In terms of access to information, we did not identify a particularly gendered access to information. In fact, bearing in mind the intensive level of women’s involvement in agricultural activities vis-a-vis men it seems likely that women know more about farming practices than men do.
However, few of them have good access to information and there is a demand for more knowledge of modern agricultural practices, from households generally. Households are eager to know more about their own lands, what to grow, what technologies to use and the right practices for looking after crops and animals, for increasing fertility, and better marketing their products.
Another area where CARE and other donors could push for positive change is by supporting the political activeness of women. In this study we encountered a very motivated and energetic woman from an Azeri village who had succeeded in improving the water provision in her local community, by fighting with the local community to secure new resources She won the battle, but was unable to pursue a political career despite the support of fellow villagers due to gendered prejudices about the role of women and the unsuitability of women for politics.
In general, therefore, we can probably generalise that our analysis of the value chain provided two very broad findings. First, women not only do most of the work, but are actually responsible for most of the day-to-day budgeting, financial management and decision making. Second, that in the public domain it is still important to both women and men, that men have the role as the main bread-winner and decision-maker.
This creates a diplomatically sensitive balance, but one that offers both challenges and opportunities for the programs. One consistent factor of our research was that women are eager to obtain new information of this kind, and despite some gender sensitivities, they are well placed to make use of it.
In particular woman’s intensive involvement in most facets of agriculture mean that projects which save them time processing food (like cheese) may result in more time available for better agricultural management and marketing. Informational and training projects, targeting women in particular and conducted in a village community setting would then ensure that their time is more effectively employed. This training and information could relate to almost any area of agricultural management, from general market information on potential new crops, seed, fertiliser and pesticide use or even animal feeding and health.