Cooperative Members Walking Down The Street In Rwanda

Here's how cooperatives are transforming gender equality

Land O'Lakes International Development is tackling gender inequity in the fields, offices and homes in Rwanda

The name Land O’Lakes has been a part of the story of Rwanda’s development since 2007, helping communities thrive through cooperative development.
Still, there are a lot of challenges in this East African country, especially for women. Through the USAID-funded Cooperative Development Activity 4 (CDP 4), Land O’Lakes International Development (a nonprofit, affiliated with Land O’Lakes, Inc.) has gathered deep research and insights into the power of cooperatives to help transform women’s daily lives from the home to the fields and create real change for the people of Rwanda.

Two Cooperative Members Processing Milk

The role of women in Rwanda

Rwanda is sometimes regarded as one of the best countries for gender equality as it boasts the world’s highest percentage of women in Parliamentary positions. But that’s not the full story, because equality is not always reflected in rural fields or in the home.
If you are a woman living in Rwanda, your life in 2019 may look a lot like this:

  • You probably work in agriculture (74% of women work in ag, according to UN Rwanda)

  • You won’t produce as much as your male counterparts -- not because of effort or skill, but because you don’t have access to the same resources

  • Your agricultural work is very labor-intensive

  • You do most -- or all -- of the household work (childcare, cooking, cleaning, chores)

  • If you are married, your husband likely controls household finances and you likely will ask for permission for major household decisions

  • You likely have low confidence in your ability to be a leader

Though Land O’Lakes International Development has worked in Rwanda for many years, and gender equality has always been part of that work, the team wanted to gather first-hand information for themselves.
A Gender Analysis was conducted by a group of external gender researchers earlier this year and the findings are already changing how Land O’Lakes International Development is supporting women to thrive through agriculture.

Gender analysis findings in Rwanda

That low self-confidence of women that we mentioned? It’s a real thing that both men and women report. From the qualitative feedback it’s easy to see why:
“When a man decides to be a leader, he just acts. Women think about chores first,” - man from a dairy cooperative interviewed.
“It is also because of poverty… because women don’t have an income of their own and so they are dependent on [the husband] and also feel inferior,” – woman, dairy cooperative member.
“The main problem is the mindset – the idea that women should be quiet, women shouldn’t speak . . . Sometimes I probe women to speak up, I ask them questions and they stay quiet, then when the general assembly is over, they will approach me and say, ‘do you think I could just speak out in front of others?’” – president from a dairy cooperative.
One of the major findings from the research is this: Women feel more empowered and equal at their cooperatives than they do in their own homes. This shows that cooperatives can be a useful way to bring about gender equality but only if other factors around gender inequity are also addressed.
“When I’m home I feel lonely, but when I’m in the cooperative I feel empowered and happy,” - woman from a horticulture cooperative.
“Their [women’s] voice is as valued as a men’s. They always give suggestions and ideas, and in most of the cases, these ideas are followed,” – man from dairy cooperative.

Hands In Coffee Beans

Turning research and insights into action

Armed with these insights, Land O’Lakes International Development is getting to work. Over the next four years, the CDP project plans to work with 30 existing cooperatives in Rwanda and Malawi, of which 40% of members are women.
More important than the numbers is this:  A “wrap-around” approach to gender transformation —from changing mindsets, to highlighting women’s roles and leadership potential, to creating opportunities in the home and in cooperatives. And men and women both are involved in these decisions, because it’s clear that gender transformation is going to take a village (literally).

  1. Foundational Training: Training men and women on topics like self-worth, leadership, gender-based violence, gender dynamics and decision-making.

  2. Gender Champions and Safe Spaces: Having women in leadership roles mentor other women to boost self-confidence and grow as leaders.

  3. Trading Places: Having men and women switch roles within their community for 3 days — including both household work and agricultural work. Participants will share how the switch went and what they learned in a large, community-based forum.

Just like any other issue in agriculture, gender transformation isn’t achieved through a one-size-fits all solution. Inclusive agriculture can change mindsets, lives, communities and countries for the better, and at Land O’Lakes, are proud to support this important work.
You may ask: Why Land O’Lakes is doing work like this in Rwanda in the first place? Well, empowering people through agriculture has been a part of the Land O’Lakes story since 1921 when a group of Midwest farmers came together to form a cooperative (now Land O’Lakes, Inc.). Then in 1981, Land O’Lakes, Inc. founded the Land O’Lakes International Development — now an independent nonprofit. In the almost 40 years since its creation, Land O’Lakes International Development has worked in over 80 countries, on over 300 projects, to develop global economies.