How Gender Transformative Leadership Changes Farmer’s Lives: A Lesson Learnt From Oxfam’s Project

Ratha and her husband. Photo: Rachana

Ratha is a mother of two bearing dual responsibilities as a caregiver and breadwinner. In the past, Ratha experienced abuses by her husband who had not shared housework responsibilities. After receiving the Gender Transformative Leadership training, Ratha noticed that her husband changes his attitudes toward gender roles in the family after participating in the training on Gender Road Map and other gender-transformative leadership activities in the community. Her husband helps to take care housework and children. Rotha observes that she is more active in her community after she participated in the Gender Road Map training. She joins the Saving Group for Change and participates in monthly meeting. Sharing responsibilities at home between Ratha and her husband helps them to improve their livelihood. They utilized knowledge and resources from the Saving Group for Change to cultivate rice production and watermelon crop. Free from agriculture work, Rotha’s husband fishes at the lake in her community and Rotha sews to earn the extra-incomes. Ratha and her husband are happy with their new adjustment. Ratha shared that her family has enough food to eat while help each other to take care of both paid- and unpaid jobs. They are able to send their children to school.

The story of Ratha offers a good lesson learnt on gender transformative leadership at the community level. Oxfam defines transformative leadership as a leadership for sustainable change addressing the root causes of inequality. Transformative leadership challenges structures and ideologies that justify and perpetuate gender inequality and power imbalance. Across the federation, Oxfam works to shift the attitudes of individual toward gender justice and change the formal and informal systems that prevent society from progressing toward inclusive and responsive development. At the country level, Oxfam in Cambodia has putted a strong effort to support women in the agriculture sector to elevate their rights and dignity. We provide tools to enable women to become real agents of change, address structural barriers for women in advancing their economic status, and promote women’s full inclusion in economic activity. Also, we work with men to challenge gender imbalance through using the Gender Action Learning System which is a complementary methodology to improve livelihoods of farmers and promote gender justice in three layers:

  • Individual live and livelihood planning: Women and men develop visions for change in gender relations and improved livelihoods and plan ho0w they can more toward these visions.
  • Institutional awareness-raising and changing power relationship: This component utilizes the individual life and livelihood planning tools for staff reflection and learning, aiming to increase respect for the views and interests of poor men and women and to challenge established attitudes and behaviors within institutions.
  • Collective action and gender advocacy for change: Women and men share their individual strategies and combine them to form collective strategies which are then linked to participatory decision-making in government and development agencies.

Why Gender Transformative Leadership in Agriculture Matters?

Let’s start with some figures:

  • Female labor force accounted for 48.30% of total labor force in Cambodia.
  • 30% of total female labor are employed in agriculture.
  • 22% of households are headed by women, yet only 12.4% of agriculture land was owned by them.
  • Women produced 70% of the countries.
  • Women are about 12% of agriculture extension services beneficiaries.
  • Women make up about 60% of agriculture cooperative members, yet only 34% of agriculture cooperative board of directors are women.
  • Women run 37.6% of all fruit and vegetable processing enterprises and 46.5% of all wholesale agriculture raw materials enterprises.

This data demonstrates that Cambodia needs to overcome immense challenges to achieve gender equality in agricultural sector. Those include:

  • Access to productive resources: The Parliament Institute of Cambodia notes in their research paper in 2019 that women do not seem to receive equal benefits from agriculture due to constrains in access to reproductive resources including land and credit to elevate agriculture productivity, etc.
  • Access to agriculture extension: Accessing to the agriculture extension remains a big challenge for women farmers. This challenge is due to the dual responsibilities of women as caregivers and breadwinners, especially the unpaid care work at home including housework, children and food preparation. In addition to these challenges, women have less access to transport from local areas to extension service offices and lack of information of extension services that mostly provided to their husband.
  • Access to markets: A research paper by the Parliament Institute of Cambodia reveals that women face constrains then men when accessing the market. This constrain is due to information and communication technology, low access to transport to bring their product to the market.

The gender transformative approaches in agriculture is needed to address these challenges that are embedded in the structural biases and power dynamics that reinforce gender inequality in agriculture sector with the wider purpose of promoting gender equality and improving development outcomes.

Ways Forward

Oxfam in Cambodia works to achieve gender justice and continues to support women smallholder farmers to fully exercise their human rights and enjoy human dignity. We understand that, to achieve our ambition of promoting gender transformative leadership in farmer communities and making the lives of women smallholder farmers better, we need to work with other stakeholders such as international organizations, development partners, CSOs and the government. Below are suggestions to continue working to promote gender transformative leadership:

  • Shifting attitudes of men and women at home and in the community to change their conventional gender expectations and roles toward reduction, redistribution and recognition of unpaid care work.
  • Engage men in a way that encourages and supports their relationships with women and positions them as agent of change on the path of gender equality in agriculture.
  • Enlarge the value chain development to connect local and global markets that increase choices for farmers, strengthen negotiating power, and promote the fair exchange of agricultural produce between farmers, traders and final consumers.
  • Provide conducive enabling environment for women and men in the community to form community-level gender action learning that encourage individual to be key agent for gender transformative leadership at the community level.
  • Promote women’s leadership in agriculture cooperatives, community and formal institutional structures of the local governance.


Note: Ratha is a woman who Oxfam in Cambodia and Rachana Organization work with in Takeo province. The case study of Ratha is documented by Rachana Organization.

Text by: Sotheary You/Oxfam