The 2016 SEEP conference was my second. At my first. in 2012 I was one of the presenters on Participatory Market Systems Development (PMSD) this time I was a full participant. Thus I had time to follow proceedings as well as network. I would like to share with you the learning I took home with me.
The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Expanding market frontiers’ and indeed we expanded the boundaries.
As I prepared for the conference two tracks caught my mind ‘Enhancing Food Security through Market-oriented Interventions’ and ‘Getting and Using the Right Kinds of Evidence’. I liked these two tracks mainly because at Practical Action we have several projects on livelihoods and food security where we are using a participatory markets systems development approach to transform markets to become more inclusive and to benefit all market actors including the small-scale farmers. The second reason is that I have been working in the sector for some time now and one area I need to explore further is getting and using the ‘right evidence’. How do we measure, report and share systemic changes in the market system?
However my most interesting learning was about how to integrate gender into market systems work. This is not a totally new concept, we have tried doing this for many years. But, quite honestly,we have not been getting the results we want. This probably won’t happen overnight as some of the factors are so dynamic and cultural so much that they are difficult to change.
One session was on ‘Using ex-ante evidence to promote gender responsive market system change’. Ex-ante means ‘before the event’ so this focussed on using evidence that we collect to inform our program design. More often we rush to do a quick feasibility study and go on to design a program, racing against deadlines. In such circumstances our design misses some of the critical data that we might need and we sometimes end up disaggregating data to men and women to tick the box on gender mainstreaming.
Significantly this session focused on the need to centre attention on the skills women have and to come up with business models that either take advantage of these skills or build on them. That way, women take part meaningfully and are integral to the project design.
Common business cases we discussed included women as an important market segment, capturing underutilised female skills/talent, improved reliability, improved productivity, improved quality, improved reputation, social impact and diversified distribution channels.
In our recent projects we have had women taking negotiating roles with buyers and other market actors because they are regarded as the best negotiators. Have you ever wondered why most women are involved at the fresh vegetable markets? It is simple.Women have the best negotiating skills. They are also involved in grading not because of their ‘patience’ but because they have the skill and eye for good quality. So a program built around women’s skills and capacities is better placed to address gender issues and enhance women empowerment.
Moving forward we are going to use such thinking when designing our programs and also see how we can incorporate such lessons in our existing projects.