A new study published in the Canadian Journal of Development Studies shows how some of Bangladesh’s indigenous women are overcoming social norms and institutional biases to gain direct access to maize and wheat agricultural innovations through developing women-led agricultural organizations, which benefit low-income Muslim women members as well.
Agriculture is important to Bangladesh’s economy and employs a large percentage of the male and female population as farmers, hired labor, and decision-makers. Bangladesh also has a positive policy commitment to gender equality. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are embedded into the country’s national growth plans, including a strong commitment to Goal 5, Gender Equality, and Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities.
However, this new study shows that agricultural innovation programs are primarily directed at middle-income male farmers. Institutional biases in agricultural partners — extension officers, research organizations, policymakers, private sector partners and others — can hamper indigenous peoples and women from participating in wheat–maize innovation processes, as they rarely meet the requisite criteria: sufficient land and social capital. In addition, their participation in markets varies according to their socioeconomic location in society.
Drawing on GENNOVATE case studies, the authors provide insights into how overlapping layers of disadvantage are being challenged in one community in northern Bangladesh.
Indigenous Santal women in the community are active in agriculture, both in the field and in decision-making, but are often marginalized by agricultural partners. Through mobilizing themselves organizationally into a woman-led agricultural organization, they have provided a forum for the delivery of technical training. This process has encouraged low-income Muslim women — who work in the field but are also marginalized by agricultural partners — to join the organization and benefit from training as well.
The findings provide insights into how agricultural research partners can work to strengthen the contribution and voices of the women who have long experienced differing forms of marginalization and to support their efforts to secure technical training.
The data used in this article is derived from GENNOVATE (Enabling Gender Equality in Agricultural and Environmental Innovation), a global research initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This is a cross-CGIAR initiative examining how interactions between gender norms, agency and other contextual factors shape access to, adoption of and benefits from agricultural innovations in rural communities worldwide.
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