Services‎ > ‎Training Material‎ > ‎

Working with Women’s Groups in MENA

MEAS Training Guide for Working with Women’s Groups in the Middle East and North Africa

Overview and Guidelines for the Training Modules


Background and Rationale

Five Modules

  • Leadership and Group Management
  • Savings and Financial Skills: Fundraising and Proposal Writing Guide
  • Business and Marketing Skills: Marketing, Value Added, and Value Chains
  • Natural Resources Management: Water
  • Technology and Innovation
Scroll to the bottom of this page to download any or all files. 
Women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) often face insurmountable constraints that prevent them from accessing extension and advisory services (EAS) that could assist them in improving their livelihoods and/or agricultural production. One way of overcoming these obstacles and reaching women with valuable extension information and services is to work through already established women’s groups such as cooperatives, producer organizations and community-based organizations. The goal of this Leadership, Group Management and Team-Building Guide is to help you, the field agent, facilitate training sessions with women’s groups to increase their knowledge and skills related to effectively managing groups. This guide, and the corresponding PowerPoint lessons, is part of the MEAS Series: Working with Women’s Groups in the Middle East and North Africa, which is comprised of five guides that together present an integrated and practical approach to building and strengthening the capacity of women in the MENA region. The overall goal of this series is empower women’s groups to improve their access to various resources, to establish or build presence and a voice in the community, to improve the livelihoods of active group members, and to effectively manage their group’s communal resources.

This publication was made possible by the generous support of the American people and the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) through the Modernizing Extension and Advisory Services (MEAS) project which is implemented by a consortium led by the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. The MEAS program endeavors to promote and assist in the modernization of rural extension and advisory services worldwide through various outputs and services. These services benefit a wide audience of users, including policymakers in developing countries, technical specialists working in agriculture and livestock, development practitioners, extension agents and many others.

Developing the MEAS Training Guides
This MEAS series was designed for use by field extension agents and rural development specialists working with women’s groups in the MENA region. This series was created by a research team from the University of Florida that worked in close collaboration with Dr. Samia Akroush, the Director of the Socioeconomic Directorate at the National Center for Agriculture Research and Extension (NCARE) of Jordan, and Asmahan Hattar, Director of the Monitoring and Evaluation Unit, NCARE. This collaboration also brought about the adaptation of training materials that were developed for NCARE’s work with women’s groups during a series of trainings. The training program, organized by NCARE, was funded through the State Department’s U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) to help women from three cooperatives in Jordan develop skills to strengthen their respective cooperatives.

The MEAS field guides, as well as the MEPI trainings, were based upon the CRS guides: The Five Skill Sets for Preparing Smallholder Farmers to Successfully Engage with Markets and adapted for the context of working with women’s groups in the MENA. The CRS guides were created by development professionals, field extension agents and community leaders from nineteen organizations in twelve countries through an analysis of what made some farmer groups more successful in the market than others, including the skills farmers felt were valuable to their success. The result of this work revealed that there are five broad skill sets that help to enhance the success of farmers’ groups in the market place.

The Five Skill Sets
The CRS study, initiated in 2002, determined that self-help groups were eager to acquire certain basic skills needed to form a group capable of successfully engaging in the market. These skills fit into five broad skill set categories. 
  • Group Management: The formation and democratic management of groups of more than ten people capable of resolving internal conflicts and building effective relationships with external service providers. 
  • Business and Marketing Skills: The ability to run a cooperative, manage collective resources, develop a business plan, identify opportunities to enter the market or a value chain, and the ability to represent a group in the market. 
  • Savings and Financial Skills: Understanding financial management, including how to manage internal funds, set up a revolving fund, and perform fundraising activities such as grant writing. 
  • Technology and Innovation Skills: Understanding how to use accessible technology to acquire and disseminate information about new and innovative practices (e.g., new seed varieties, new production techniques). 
  • Natural Resources Management: Development of community-based natural resource management plan and the dissemination of best practices relating to sustainable production and natural resource conservation. 

The complete set of CRS guides on the skill sets can be downloaded at www.meas-extension.org/meas-offers/training/five-skills.

The five guides in the MEAS series focus on applying lessons from the above skill sets to the context of women’s groups in the MENA region. The guides aim to help women build capacity in their own groups, manage their finances and other resources, achieve sustainable production, explore market opportunities and stay innovative and competitive. The MEAS series materials are intended to supplement the previously published CRS guides, thus those guides should be consulted accordingly.

Working with Women’s Groups
Throughout the world, rural women provide vital contributions to agriculture and food security. Women contribute to family farms, produce their own crops/food for household consumption, and provide the majority of agricultural labor in many areas. Despite their vital role, extension agents throughout the world often fail to provide women with the same kind of valuable information, technology, and advisory services that men receive. Extension agents throughout the world face a number of constraints in reaching women with the information and technology that could improve agricultural production and household livelihoods. Issues such as cultural or familial restrictions on mobility and engaging with non-kinship males often restrict women’s ability and level of involvement in mixed-sex trainings or the agricultural value chain. Women’s time is also often heavily structured between household, childcare, and agricultural duties that greatly limit their availability for additional activities such as extension training. Lastly, educational materials do not typically account for the possibility of women’s reduced technical and numerical literacy.

Women’s groups, however, present a unique opportunity for overcoming many of the barriers that constrain women’s access to EAS. The meeting place of the women’s group can serve as a culturally acceptable space for women within the community that mitigates familial and community concern over women traveling and interacting with male strangers as men who are involved in the group would be from the community or vetted by group leaders. Having an accessible community-meeting place nearby is also essential for women who are unable to drive a vehicle or leave their home for longer periods of time due to their other responsibilities. Often women’s groups also provide child-care support to women who are in a training session.

Working through women’s groups can also help to overcome some production and resource constraints that affect women such as lack of collateral, credit, or other assets to purchase agricultural inputs. Women’s groups may offer their members the opportunity to access savings schemes, to pool resources, and/or to borrow materials needed for their livelihood or agricultural endeavors. Service providers are also more likely to work with, and extend credit to, an established group than they would to a single individual with scant resources. Similarly, being able to engage with a group of women who are able to pool their time, ideas, skills, and talents into a project will have a greater impact than working with individuals alone. For extension agents that want to make a difference in a community, working through a community-based organization often means having a pool of members that are interested and capable of being part of a project or training.

It should be noted that working with women’s groups does not mean excluding men. In fact, in the MENA region or similar cultural contexts where paternalistic systems are prevalent, it is advisable that your activities with the group be transparent to help mitigate any fears or suspicions that the trainings are designed to confront culture or gender roles. To facilitate greater transparency, you may wish to have an informal meeting with the community and the training participants’ male family members at the women’s group (or a community gathering place) to discuss the goals of the training program. Doing so may help secure “buy-in” prior to commencing training by showing how women’s involvement might benefit their household or community at-large. Additionally, meeting with the community may improve the participation rate and long-term effectiveness of the training, as well as encourage the sharing of extension information throughout the community to non-member participants.

Participatory Learning Methods
Social capital - loosely defined as the physical and intangible resources that accrue within a group - is key to the creation of strong and highly-functioning groups that are self-sufficient and sustainable. Groups with robust social capital are tightly knit, have strong purpose, and work to develop the skills, expertise, and knowledge of individuals within the group to serve the group as a whole. Each member of the group is recognized as a valuable resource and contributor in her own right. As previously mentioned, the overall goal of these training guides is to help you facilitate the empowerment of women’s groups so they may improve access to scarce resources (including information and people); better manage their resources; build a stronger presence and voice in the community; and improve the livelihoods of active group members. To meet the training objectives, it is necessary to strengthen the existing social capital within the group through activities that enable group members to interact with each other in ways that build trust, strengthen relationships, and advance the vision and goals of the group, while adhering to their shared values.

Participatory learning methods are an ideal way to build social capital within a small to medium-sized group. This approach is centered on the learner and involves strategies that promote the full engagement of participants in an environment based on collaboration, inclusivity, and interaction wherein the learning process is as important as the subject matter. The participatory learning method helps participants build confidence in their own abilities and express their own opinions while also strengthening the relationships they have with other members of the group through the shared experience. There are a number of activities you can employ to integrate the participatory approach into the learning environment. Some examples include:

- Brainstorming – a process of developing creative solutions to problems identified by the group

- Small group exercises – especially those focused on problem-solving

- Role-playing exercises

- Participatory group discussions

- Case study analysis

- Simulations[1]

Research shows that learning by doing is the most effective way that adults learn new skills. For example, you could break the participants up into smaller groups and read a case study to them depicting a realistic problem that the women’s group or community might face so they exercise problem solving skills. Next you would instruct the smaller groups to discuss the problem and what options they can think of to deal with it before they decide what solution would be most practical and effective. This activity is an example of experiential learning wherein the participants are involved in the experience, use active reflection, apply critical analysis, and lastly, employ decision-making skills to determine the best solution.

When you facilitate a training session, try to involve all of the members of the group while being cognizant not to push extremely shy participants. As you lead discussions or go through the PowerPoint lessons, be sure to ask how concepts and materials relate to the group’s situation. Each person thinks differently and has her own unique experience, skills and knowledge, so exploring divergent viewpoints (in a respectful manner) through group discussion can bring to light some of the member’s talents and potential contributions. When participants contribute to the discussion, give them adequate time to express themselves and allow the group to acknowledge that view and opinion. In order to create an environment where everyone feels safe enough to open up and share with others, it is critical to illustrate that all contributions are valid and appreciated while also ensuring that everyone treats each other with respect.

Preparing for a Training Session
The most effective trainings are the ones that are significant for participants. If the training topic serves no practical function for the group, the participants will not be very interested in the material. For example, facilitating a training session on livestock vaccination for a group that does not own or provide animal husbandry would most likely not be relevant or significant for that group. Facilitating a “needs assessment” through a focus group discussion with members of the group’s leadership board as well as general members might help to more fully determine the group’s needs and interests. Ideally, the focus group should be between seven to eleven participants who are aware of the type of questions you will be asking and have the requisite time to make the commitment. In preparation for the focus group you should create a short list of questions about the goals, activities, resources, and constraints of the women’s group. Phrase questions so that they encourage open discussion (avoid yes/no questions) and minimize the opportunity to blame individuals or past decisions. Encourage everyone’s participation. If you see that someone is not talking very much, gently ask if they have a different opinion or suggestion. The information that you gather will help you decide how to adapt and expand trainings for the group, which might help them overcome applicable problems and achieve their collective goals.

It is important, when preparing for a training session, to take stock of participants’ availability and schedules. Time, or lack thereof, is a real concern to women as their many responsibilities including child-rearing duties, household management and agricultural activities. Therefore, it is important to schedule all trainings and group meetings at times when most women are available. The focus group setting is an excellent opportunity to determine what times are likely to be best for the training group. You can accomplish this through thorough discussion or by creating a Daily Activity Calendar with the group. There are two methods you can choose from. The first involves preparing a chart (on large paper or a blackboard) that lists the hours of the day on it. The group will then tell you the activities they usually perform during those times for you to write on the chart. You should bring a list of common activities, such as cooking, cleaning, and eating to help provide examples for the group and get them talking. The second method is for you to simply ask the group what they do from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep at night. You can encourage them to give more details such as how long a given activity takes or how often they do it. Before ending the focus group discussion you should have an idea of the time of day that would work best for women with similar lifestyles. It is important to keep in mind that the women in the focus group may or may not be part of your training so the scheduling of events may need additional adjustments; however, this activity will give you a sense of the responsibilities and schedules of women in the area – aspects of which will be affected by local school times.

When creating your lesson plan, keep in mind that women tend to receive less formal education than their male counterparts so their literacy skills might be less developed than that of a male only training group. In addition, you should consider adjusting the technical language of the training material to make it clear to women. The participatory learning methods outlined above help to overcome this potential problem by focusing more on discussion than written materials, but you should keep this in mind if you choose to develop additional material. After developing a lesson plan and determining the best time to meet, you must critically evaluate the time it will take to adequately cover each topic and activity. When you have determined how long it will take to cover the material, advise the group so that they can plan accordingly and you must adhere to that schedule on the day of the training. It is important that you do not exceed the time that you have scheduled, so decide in advance how you will handle the training if a topic runs longer than you planned. Be prepared to spend more time on topics that are more important to the group than those that are just "good to know." Do not ask the participants to stay late to complete activities or the lesson as this could create problems for their continued involvement.

The location that you choose to hold your training is also important. While the best choice is to meet at the group’s premises, it may not be possible. If it is necessary to hold the session in an off-site location, it should be one that is culturally acceptable and easily accessible to women, keeping in mind that women may need to walk there with small children during unfavorable weather conditions. The location should be free from loud noises and strong smells, kept at a comfortable temperature and large enough to accommodate your group. It will not always be possible for women to secure childcare for trainings so planning in advance for childcare support is advisable. Find an area that is away from the group, but still within sight, and set out some quiet activities to entertain the children.

Additional information on how to prepare and conduct training sessions can be found in the resources provided in the Further Reading section.

Using the MEAS Guides
As previously mentioned, the five training guides in this series have been designed as a resource for those working with women’s groups in the MENA region to supplement the materials produced by CRS, that are not specific to women’s groups or the MENA region. It is therefore advised that practitioners consult the CRS guides for additional information and training suggestions related to the five skill sets. A link to the CRS guides can be found in the Further Reading section at the end of this document.

The MEAS series is comprised of one guide and a small number of PowerPoint lessons for each of the Five Skill Set categories. The guides provide a detailed overview of the materials within the PowerPoint trainings to enable the facilitator to be well informed of the material. Each PowerPoint training is designed to take one hour or less to complete in a small group setting – ideally of no more than thirty individuals. If you are unable to find an adequate number of participants that are interested and available to attending the trainings, please consider reaching out to more than one women’s group and having combined trainings. The women from each cooperative involved will benefit greatly from the opportunity to network and to share their experiences, talents, and skills.

The PowerPoint sessions can be combined into a longer training session, if appropriate, and suitable for the women’s schedules. If you do choose to combine them into a longer session you should provide adequate time for breaks and, if necessary, a meal that is provided for them. Using an icebreaker/energizer exercise when resuming from a break will help to refocus and reinvigorate the participants. Work with the women’s group when you create a schedule for the trainings as they may be aware of holidays and/or community events that could interfere with your timeline.

The materials also include participatory activities; however, we have kept them short, simple, and to a minimum while tailoring them to be applicable for audiences with limited education. You should feel free to build upon the tools provided to include more in-depth explanations and more hands-on or group activities as appropriate to your particular context and constraints. We have also included further reference materials to assist with building your own capacity in training women, in the case where more information or experience is needed (see Appendix A.)

Before leading a training session with these materials, it is necessary to review both the PowerPoint and the guide. The ‘Notes’ section in PowerPoint (below the slide) may include suggestions on how to discuss that particular slide or how to conduct a group activity to facilitate participatory learning. Instead of reading the text on each slide verbatim, please try instead to paraphrase the material while cultivating discussion within the group.

You can use the information and activities in this guide and the corresponding PowerPoints to create a plan for how you will work with women’s groups. Since every group and every situation is different, you should choose those items within the MEAS Series that you think are pertinent to the group’s needs. Feel free to adapt these materials to suit your particular context, and to develop new materials as needed.

An evaluation form in the Annex section of this guide is for use after each of the trainings. The purpose is to learn what methods worked best for that particular group to enable you to adjust the training sessions to improve them each time. It is important that you make it clear to the participants that their answers are anonymous so they will feel safe to be fully honest. For this reason, you should also instruct the participants to put their completed surveys, text facing down, on a desk in the training room. During this time you should busy yourself with clearing materials and straightening up after the training, or outside of the room altogether. It is also critical that you schedule time for the survey during the time allotted for the training so that women are not asked to stay later than the scheduled time. This will show them that you respect their time and that their involvement will not create unnecessary additional time burdens.

Lastly, we encourage you to provide a certificate of participation to the women who have completed the entire training series. A template is included in the Annex which should be modified to include the name of the person receiving the certificate, the name of the women’s group, and the name of your own organization. A certificate can provide a source of encouragement and pride for participants who may choose to retain it for years to come. As such, it is recommended that the certificates be printed on higher quality paper and handed out in a ceremonial fashion, recognizing the important contribution of each participant and her accomplishment.



_____________
[1] Additional activities, as well as instructions on how to carry them out, can be found in the Facilitator’s Toolkit developed by ARC and listed in the Further Reading section.
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  265k v. 1 Mar 2, 2015, 11:12 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  14k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:12 AM Andrea Bohn
ĉ
View Download
  55k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:12 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  268k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:04 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  507k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:04 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  503k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:04 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  474k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:04 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  504k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:04 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  332k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  977k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  831k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  577k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  608k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1036k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  604k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  505k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  394k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:08 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  291k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1115k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1083k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  511k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1016k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  889k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:09 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  276k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:10 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  2305k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:10 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1971k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:10 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  2771k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:10 AM Andrea Bohn
SelectionFile type iconFile nameDescriptionSizeRevisionTimeUser
ĉ
View Download
  265k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:11 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  1267k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:11 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  446k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:11 AM Andrea Bohn
ć
View Download
  476k v. 2 Mar 2, 2015, 11:11 AM Andrea Bohn
Comments