My name is Elvira Laurien and in September, I was given the opportunity together with six other master students at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) to participate in the Nordic Africa Days 2016 organized by the Nordic Africa Institute in Uppsala.
The theme of the conference was Gender and Change, a theme which permeated not only the panel discussions and keynote speeches but also the overall feeling during the two conference days. It was a great experience to partake in an event with so many interesting sub-topics, and although all panel discussions that I was fortunate to be able to attend were very interesting, one on gender relations and women’s economic empowerment was a personal favourite.
The theme of the panel was Exploring gender relations and rural women’s livelihoods in times of change: What’s beyond the focus on “women’s economic empowerment”? The argument was made that it is necessary to develop new tools to understand the interactions of households, gender relations and economic activities. UN Women writes that “Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth”. But is it really that simple? The presentations by Karolin Andersson and Andrea Petitt gave the audience an insight into the realities of women’s economic empowerment in Tanzania and Botswana respectively.
Karolin Andersson presented the paper Gender dynamics in cassava leaves value chains—The case of Tanzania, which focused on the impact of gender on the structure and dynamics of the Tanzanian cassava leaves value chain. Cassava leaves is a leafy vegetable which is gaining increased interest, and it is also a crop which is often harvested and sold by women. It is therefore interesting from a women’s economic empowerment perspective. Through looking at the cassava leaves value chain with a “gender lens”, Andersson found that although women were found to be the main participants of the cassava leaves value chain as well as participating on all levels of the chain, the men who did participate seemed to earn higher incomes due to selling larger quantities of cassava leaves than their women counterparts, or by having a more commercial orientation of the production and/or selling of the leaves than their women counterparts.
Would investments in women’s participation in the cassava leaves value chain really lead to “inclusive economic growth”, then? It seems obvious that in this case the question should be posed differently. Andersson’s presentation made it evident that what is needed when it comes to the cassava leaves value chain in Tanzania is investments that enable women’s access to the more profitable functions of the value chain and to understand the implication of gender on the cassava leaves value chain in general, since women already do participate to a great extent. What seems to be crucial is sensitivity to the many obstacles that are hindering economically equal participation, as well as innovative solutions to how women who for various reasons cannot participate in stages of the value chain that are situated further away from the household farm can be empowered through more profitable cassava leaves production and selling strategies.