Policy Brief 64
by Sally Baden
Concerns expressed since the 1970s about women being excluded from mainstream rural development activities in Africa have fostered numerous women-specific activities designed to address this gender inequality. These actions have, more recently, been supported by arguments and evidence linking gender inequality with adverse agricultural productivity and welfare outcomes (FAO 2011). Views are divided on this approach: feminists such as Razavi (2009) have described such arguments as static and ahistorical, because as argued by O’Laughlin (2007) they ignore the larger processes of accumulation and impoverishment that have occurred in the context of capitalist transformation in the countryside. Meanwhile, recent reports suggest that, to varying degrees, rural women have benefitted from their involvement in certain types of women-specific development programmes (Buvinic et al. 2013).
This Policy Brief takes a critical look at one such activity – the engagement of women farmers in formal groups (referred to here as ‘collective action’) that are organised principally for economic purposes, including for acquiring finance, inputs and new technologies; for the bulking of produce for sale; for sharing marketing information and collective sales; and for developing linkages to more distant or remunerative markets (Thompson et al. 2012). The literature on smallholder collective agricultural marketing is large but relatively few studies address gender dimensions of group organisation in this context. The Brief draws on the findings of primary research undertaken by Oxfam between 2010 and 2012 on women’s collective action in agricultural markets in Ethiopia, Mali and Tanzania, as well as other sources, to address this knowledge gap.