WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, was established as an international financial institution in 1977, with the mandate of enabling rural poor people to overcome poverty. IFAD is a unique partnership of Member States from OECD, OPEC and other developing countries, and is one of of the largest sources of development financing for agriculture and rural development in many developing countries. IFAD's Strategic Framework 2011-2015 includes the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment as one of its principles of engagement and recognizes that since rural women play a key role in agriculture and in rural economies generally, they require recognition and support, including gender-sensitive targeted policies, services, and public and private investments.

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

IFAD's strength in relation to rural women stems primarily from its mandate to work with poor rural smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, and empower them to overcome poverty. IFAD's focus at the field level, as its core business, provides a unique opportunity to deliver support services that effectively empower poor rural women. It works with governments and other implementation partners to empower poor rural women and men through a wide variety of country programmes and projects to grow more food, better manage their land and other natural resources, learn new skills, start small businesses, build strong organizations and gain a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. IFAD also engages in policy dialogue, advocacy, institutional capacity building and knowledge management.

Many of IFAD's policies have gender considerations embedded within their principles and approaches, in particular the Targeting Policy of 2006 and the Policy of Engagement with Indigenous Peoples of 2009. The former states that IFAD will address gender differences and have a special focus on women within all identified target groups — for reasons of equity, effectiveness and impact — with particular attention to women heads of households, who are often especially disadvantaged, and the latter notes a special commitment to improve the well-being of indigenous women.

Specific activities include promoting and supporting:

  • women's rights to land in order to contribute not only to gender equality but also to poverty reduction, since women are responsible for household subsistence production and welfare;
  • project identification, design and implementation based on an understanding of sustainable natural resource management and how climate change affects different categories of poor and women as compared with men;
  • mainstreaming gender equality and women's empowerment as integral to effective approaches to rural financial services;
  • conducive policy frameworks that focus on removing the constraints that prevent rural women from embarking on small and medium scale enterprises;
  • advocacy for promoting gender equity in private sector development and value-chain development.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

IFAD's forthcoming policy on gender equality and women's empowerment aims to deepen the impact and enhance the sustainability of IFAD-supported development initiatives. The purpose is to increase IFAD's impact on gender equality and strengthen women's empowerment in rural areas. This will be achieved through three strategic objectives:

  1. to promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunity as men to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities;
  2. to enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations; and
  3. to achieve a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men.

The policy also highlights the importance of investing in knowledge management and policy dialogue for scaling-up instruments and best practices.

The policy states that IFAD will, within its projects and programmes:

  • Use participatory approaches to ensure that the voices of different segments of the rural population - men, women, youth, indigenous people, the poor and the better-off - are equally heard and valued;
  • Work with the entire household, leveraging the positive complementarities between women and men, young and old, to identify new roles and relations to improve food security and household incomes and, and to share the benefits;
  • Empower women by transferring decision-making power over the use of funds (such as community development funds) and the selection of service providers to them;
  • Invest in building the self-confidence and esteem, knowledge and skills (technical, leadership, managerial) of women and girls, particularly when combined with functional literacy and legal literacy on women's rights, through gender-sensitive extension and business advisory services, vocational training, and also informal means, such as peer learning, exchange visits, learning routes and role models;
  • Use quotas selectively - for women, men or youth, as necessary - as a way of fostering change (such as reserving places in project-related decision-making bodies), but always accompanied by other measures (primarily capacity-building);
  • Engage with men and leaders as partners at the project and community level in promoting gender equality and attitudinal change;
  • Work with government institutions to create an enabling policy, institutional and cultural environment to support gender equality and women's empowerment and sustain impact; and
  • Model gender equality, for example through gender-balanced design and implementation support missions.

Key tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

All projects and programmes incorporate attention to gender equality issues by implementing activities and service-delivery mechanisms that are tailored to the needs and specific characteristics of poor rural women, alongside men. They are designed following operational instruments developed by IFAD to integrate gender concerns systematically in its project and programme cycle. Gender considerations have now been mainstreamed into the full range of operational procedures, from the Results-based Country Strategic Opportunities Papers (RB-COSOPs) and project design, through implementation and monitoring, to final evaluation. See the Framework for Gender Mainstreaming in IFAD's Operations and the checklist for key features for gender sensitive design and implementation.

One of the key activities for promoting gender equality at present is the scaling-up of the Gender Action Learning System methodology (GALS), which is an innovative community-led tool to address gender equality issues at different institutional levels (from the household up to the market level) in a broad range of development activities such as rural finance, value-chain development, organizational strengthening etc.

Inter-agency Partnerships

  • Rome-based agencies: IFAD works in close partnership with the other Rome-based agencies (RBAs), FAO and WFP, and implements a joint work plan that includes advocacy, policy analysis and capacity-building. Among other initiatives, the three RBAs are organizing joint events at the occasion of international Women's Day (8 March) and International Day of Rural Women (15 October) as well as joint seminars with the Rome-based permanent representatives. With the support of an IFAD grant, FAO has implemented a two-year training and capacity-building programme that targeted IFAD and FAO programmes in the field.
  • World Bank: IFAD collaborates closely with the World Bank and jointly produced the "Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook" (2008) with WB and FAO.
  • ILO: IFAD works closely with FAO and ILO on the gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment. Together they published "Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment: Differentiated pathways out of poverty, Status, trends and gaps" in 2010.
  • UN Women: IFAD collaborates closely with UN Women (formerly UNIFEM) in various countries and regions. For instance, UN Women implemented IFAD supported programmes in India and Senegal.
  • UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) and UN Inter-Agency Group on Indigenous Peoples' Issues (IASG): IFAD has developed strong partnership with UNPFII and is very active within IASG, which also has a strong focus on gender equality.