Gender-Responsive Extension During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This research was funded by the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Policies Institutions and Markets (PIM), CRP on Livestock, and the CGIAR Gender Platform, which are supported by contributors to the CGIAR Trust Fund, and the IFAD-funded ICARDA project “Use of conservation agriculture in crop-livestock systems (CLCA) in the drylands for enhanced water use efficiency, soil fertility, and productivity in NEN and LAC countries.”
The past two years of pandemic lockdowns, border closures, and social distancing measures have meant that agricultural extension services delivered through digital channels have been crucial to maintaining vital information flows to farmers.
Yet, while research shows that agricultural extension is most effective when targeting both women and men, in practice, extension messages are still often intended for men, assuming they are the lead farmers and heads of households.
During the global pandemic, ICARDA Gender Scientist Dr. Dina Najjar designed a study on gender-responsive digital extension activities in Tunisia. The study was co-authored by Dr. Rosalie Rateglie from the University of Western Ontario and Mrs. Dorsaf Oueslati from ICARDA in Tunisia and carried out through the IFAD CLCA project.
Their paper, recently published in MDPI Sustainability, adds to the growing body of evidence that gender-responsive digital extension can narrow the persistent information gap, increase the adoption of agricultural technologies, and improve women’s decision-making.
Dr. Najjar investigated the impact of gender-responsive digital extension by using a blended approach of SMS and radio messaging, on topics related to animal health and feed, conservation agriculture, and rural organizations.
Extension services were delivered digitally to 624 farmers (363 male and 261 female) in northern Tunisia by distributing phones, sharing prompts, and using the radio to compensate for high illiteracy levels - particularly among women.
Above all, gender-inclusive language and sharing prompts were used to rectify the gender bias and increase the reach of extension advice to all household members, in a context of unequal phone ownership, and reliance of extension programming on SMS messages.
Additional text messages prompted the sharing of information sharing between spouses to increase the reach of extension advice to all household members. In parallel, invites were sent to encourage families to listen to the National Radio program mawasim, which covers agricultural topics and news.
“Our findings also reveal that extension content on knowledge-intensive topics, such as conservation agriculture and rural collectives, can be more effectively delivered when information is shared and discussed between spouses,” she continues.
The study also found that while phone ownership is essential, especially in isolated areas, to facilitate women’s access to agricultural extension, it also allows them to connect to health services and maintain active social networks, which are vital to their general well-being and confidence levels. The study highlights the power of gender-inclusive extension through phones to help achieve a more equal power balance within the household.