Women for Expo – Khadija Doucoure: “Africa is

Women for Expo – Khadija Doucoure: “Africa is progressing slowly but surely on rural
women’s empowerment”
In Africa, like everywhere, empowerment of rural women leads to an increase in their
economic, social and political power. Yet in Africa, in the rural regions, the distribution of
roles and responsibilities between men and women remains under the influence of social and
cultural realities dominated by men. According to Khadija Doucoure, Gender coordinator for
West and Central Africa at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),
women’s economic empowerment has a visible and direct impact on the quality of life of
rural households.
Speaking to Afronline.org, Ms. Doucoure shared her direct experience with the benefits of
empowering rural women: “In my career, I’ve come across hundreds of women who’ve led
remarkable paths and who’ve come from various different walks of life”.
This interview was published in the framework of “Women for Expo”, a project promoted by
Expo Milano 2015.
You have many years of experience working on gender issues, serving as Program
Coordinator and Managing Director of the African Centre for Women’s
Entrepreneurship (ACWE) before joining IFAD in 2010. Of all the women you have
worked with on the field, is there a case that struck you in particular?
A specific example I would like to mention is that of Mrs Ndoumbé Diop, a Senegalese
mother of 6 children who has been selling beignets for the past 4 years in her neighbourhood
Pikine, in the suburbs of Dakar. Through her participation with one of the training programs
of the ACWE, Ndoumbé found herself 3 years later at the head of a local cereal
transformation unit. Two years later, she joined the local fruit and vegetable transformation
unit. Her business now employs 10 people: 4 young women, 3 young men and 3 women. Its
revenue amounts to 1000 euros a week, which is huge compared to the 70 she was making
selling beignets. After having won over a big slice of the local market, she is now exporting
her products to Europe and the United States. The strengthening of Ndoumbé’s economic
power has had a direct effect on the improvement of her living conditions, with respect to her
household as well as her children’s education. Her husband now has more respect for her.
Gaining economic autonomy has reinforced her leadership and propelled her at the forefront
of the local political scene. She is now viewed as a reference for women and youth in her area
and beyond.
On a personal level, do you have any particularly striking memories of rural Africa?
The memory I would like to share is one that made me aware early on of the importance of
supporting rural women in the betterment of their very difficult living conditions. At the time,
I was an intern and was participating for the first time in an agricultural development project
mission in Northern Senegal. As a city-dweller, used to running water and electricity night
and day, I was struck by the overload and harshness of the work carried out by rural women. I
was saddened to see women and especially school-aged girls, forced to walk kilometres to
access drinking water and wood necessary for cooking. The women I met in the fields were
using obsolete agricultural tools and equipment, which required more energy and time. The
ruggedness I felt every time I shook their hands reminded me of the necessity to act and not
just observe. That is really when my commitment and determination to work with rural
women arose.
Is there a national dish or ingredient that holds a specific meaning for you? Why? Can
you share the recipe?
The «ngourbane », also called « lakhou bissap », is a Senegalese dish, originating from one of
Senegal’s ethnic groups, the Serer people. It’s a dish rich in calories, exclusively prepared
with local natural products to fight malnutrition in young children and enrich pregnant
women’s nutrition. Once only found in rural areas, it is common today in urban areas. I ate
some during my first pregnancy and continue to eat it when I have the chance. To make
«ngourbane », one needs: mil fragments, grinded peanuts, dried fish, cherry tomatoes, niébé
(cowpea). The preparation is very easy, and «ngourbane » can be seasoned according to your
taste with chilli or lemon.
The theme chosen for Expo Milano 2015 is ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life’. In
what way can this Universal Exposition be used to promote the role of African women in
agricultural development and sustainability?
In my opinion, Expo 2015 is a great platform for the sharing of knowledge and innovations in
various fields: cultural, educational, economic, technical and technological. This year, the
theme chosen “Feed the Planet, Energy for Life” implies that rural women, and African rural
women in particular, will be at the centre of the Expo 2015, in light of the crucial role they
play in maintaining the livelihoods of their households. This universal exposition is an
excellent opportunity to look at the challenges and obstacles faced by rural women as
agricultural producers. However, I believe that Expo 2015 could benefit from better capturing
the role and place of African women in agricultural and rural development in a perspective of
economic development and sustainability. The driving forces behind this thought are, firstly,
that the proportion of women in the agricultural population is increasing, especially in
Western and Central African where men are leaving to urban areas and other regions of
Africa, Europe and North America, and secondly, the fact that rural women have a tendency
to seize economic opportunities that improve the state of their households. In that sense, rural
women have a huge economic potential which, if taken advantage of, will contribute to
meliorating food security and eradicate rural poverty.
‘Empowering women’ can often upset long-standing rural traditions and gender roles
engrained within local communities. Do you personally share this view? Who do you
face resistance from the most? (Men, government, community leaders?)
I completely share this view. In Africa, like everywhere, empowerment of rural women leads
to an increase in their economic, social and political power. For example, a more equal access
for rural women to factors of production reinforces their productive capacities while the
marketization of their production surplus increases their revenue and their economic
empowerment. Moreover, women’s leadership goes hand in hand with an increase in
education and literacy levels. Women are also more represented in instances of decisionmaking within farming and producer groups; with their voices increasingly heard, so are their
needs and aspirations. Yet in Africa, in the rural regions, the distribution of roles and
responsibilities between men and women still remains under the influence of social and
cultural realities dominated by men. In this framework, resistances can appear from all sides;
from men, from their incomprehension of the issues or fear of losing their power; from
governments, unprepared to face the societal transformations or Community chefs, who fear a
loss of their control over women.
In spite of these resistances, it is important to note that considerable progress has been made
regarding rural women’s empowerment. There is still however a lot of work to be done in the
next decades, in terms of advocacy and communication. In my opinion, things in Africa are
progressing slowly but surely. I think you need to let time take its course. Social and cultural
organisations still influence the distribution of responsibilities between men and women in
both the public sphere and the domestic sphere.
Reducing gender inequality and empowering women in rural areas is a key part of
IFAD’s work. As the Gender Coordinator for West and Central Africa, how do you
operate to address these issues?
In Western and Central Africa, where food security and increasing revenues are major
agricultural and rural development issues, women’s economic empowerment has a visible and
direct impact on the quality of life of rural households due to the fundamental role the latter
play in the production of food crops, in the transformation and commercialisation of
agricultural products.
Gender inequalities remain a reality in Western and Central Africa. Women continue to face
major challenges that are similar to those faced in other regions, but because of the specificity
of each region, we need innovative and appropriate responses that take into account the local
context. In Western and Central Africa, both the agro-ecological diversity of the region
(Sahel, Coast and Centre) and the production systems have an impact on the role and position
of men and women in the production of food, with very often, subtleties linked to different
social and cultural contexts (ethnicity, culture, religion,…). For example, in Western and
Central Africa, women make up more than 60% of agricultural workers, yet the majority of
them have no control over property, even though legislative texts state that women and men
are equal with regards to access to land. The pre-eminence of customary land rights over
modern law, as well as the weight of traditions, are the main obstacles.
Concretely, what do you do?
In order to ensure that women’s needs and interests are effectively taken into account in the
various projects and programs we support in Western and Central Africa, we develop
mechanisms that work to take apart the major obstacles faced by rural women. These come in
all shapes and sizes: difficult access to factors of production (land, inputs, tools, agricultural
equipment…); limited access to markets, to financial resources, to technology, to training and
counsel support.
On the operational level, in order to tackle these challenges, we work to give women more
equal access to factors of production to reinforce their productive capacities. We provide them
with support to market their production surplus in order to increase their revenues and
economic autonomy. We work to promote female leadership within farming organisations
with the aim of making these institutions more representative and inclusive (for example,
using quotas, actions and specific positive actions that favour the emergence of woman
Can you give us some examples?
In Niger, the construction of village wells strongly reduced the amount of time spent by
women fetching water, enabling them in their spare time to follow literacy and training
workshops. Today, these women are able to participate in the management of local initiatives,
such as grain bank and welding bank committees that are exclusively female.
In Congo and Senegal, whereby women’s access to certified seed and to appropriate
agricultural advice strongly reduced the gaps in agricultural productivity between women and
In Sierra Leone, targeted mechanisms such as eligibility criteria sensitive to gender have
enabled rural women, victims of war and disabilities, to access financial services and support
for the development of economic activities.
In facing gender inequalities and, which networks, organizations and institutions do you
work with (on a regional, national or continental level)? What are the benefits and
downsides of networking with different stakeholders?
On the field, IFAD collaborates closely with many different partners: the Government,
producer organisations, women’s organisations, youth organisations, other institutional
partners and the private national sector. At the regional level, we collaborate more specifically
with the following networks: the network of Peasant organizations and Producers in West
Africa (ROPPA) and the Sub-Regional Platform of Peasant Organisations in Central Africa
(PROPAC). Women make up more than 40% of the members of these two regional networks.
Working with many actors is positive and enriching: these organisations intervene at different
levels, thus their issues, interests and challenges are very different and in some cases they
diverge even if the end goal is the same. Spaces for exchanges and sharing are created with
each group of actors and the questions and challenges are examined together in order to come
up with concrete actions to be implemented. I don’t see any downsides to this collaboration,
since it’s its diversity which makes its strength.
By Sophie Blais and Eva Donelli – Afronline.