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At a five-day ‘learning route’ event for rural entrepreneurs in Colombia, poultry association leader Sandra Paola Sequeda shared the significance of what she had discovered. “I learned to call things by their names,” she said. “We all experience similar things – like stereotypes – but we don’t know what they are called out there. I am going to take this knowledge home, to my association and my community.”

Eleven women and one young man from the country’s Cauca and Bolivar regions took part in a set of  activities organized by a team of researchers from Colombia’s Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF), as part of a study on securing women’s resource rights through gender transformative approaches (WRR).

The learning route brought together participants from the rural development programme El Campo Emprende, an initiative by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia. The programme aimed to enhance employment, income, and living conditions for rural families in extreme poverty, particularly those affected by the country’s recent armed conflicts. 

   Participants take notes during the learning exchange. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

The programme supported rural community groups to start businesses that not only improved their income but also enhanced their participation in decision-making spaces within their families, groups, and communities. Leaders of successful groups were then invited to participate in this exchange, where they delved into topics such as gender relations, gender transformative approaches (GTAs), tenure and land rights, gendered approaches to ecosystem restoration, natural resources management, tools and databases for accessing development programmes, and the influence of language and stereotypes on gender relations. 

“We’ve noticed that when different groups come together, tell their experiences, and identify common challenges and opportunities, the exchange can really supercharge processes of transformation,” said Peter Cronkleton, senior scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF who leads the analysis for Colombia of the WRR. ” The idea here was to bring the participants together to learn from each other – as well as looking into changes in gender relations in each of their situations.” 

The study is part of the Global Gender Transformative Approaches initiative for Women’s Land Rights, an effort funded by IFAD that works to promote and strengthen women’s resource rights through the integration of gender transformative approaches in rural development initiatives in Bangladesh, Colombia, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, and Uganda. GTAs aim to identify factors that enable and catalyze changes to achieve more equitable involvement of women and girls in decision-making, control over resources, and agency in their own labour and future.

   Sandra Paola Sequeda shares with the participants of the learning route how the poultry business she manages was developed. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF
   Workshop to explore local strategies for gender-transformative approaches at the conclusion of the learning route. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

New landscapes

The learning route took participants around a wide variety of landscapes. It began at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, then moved to the coastal city of Cartagena, where several of the participants had their first opportunity to visit the ocean. On the third and fourth days, the group travelled to communities in Sincelejito, Guarumal, Membrillal, and the island of Tierra Bomba to gather first-hand information on how small enterprises founded by women and youth helped improve their living conditions, and created spaces for social recognition and leadership.

   Yeny Hurtado, from the El Cauca region, meets the sea in Tierra Bomba. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

“Discovering new landscapes is one of the most important lessons from this journey for me—seeing and understanding lands and lives that are different from mine, but that face the same challenges and experiences,” said Yeny Hurtado, an Indigenous Nasa woman from the Cauca region who participated in the programme.

In Sincelejito, Nueva Esperanza Producers Association representative Jimmis Severiche explained how the group transformed sesame seeds into butter, oil, and snacks. She noted that in the past, women weren’t involved in sesame seed production. “We had to gain confidence and empowerment, and learn that we have rights, day by day,” she said. “Projects without women aren’t projects. As rural women, we must have opportunities within our landscapes – we need land and resources to be able to earn an income.”

   Jenessis Godoy welcomes participants to the Tierra Bomba fishing community. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

Jenessis Godoy, a representative of the Tierra Bomba Mar y Tierra 7 Association who took part in the learning route, shared a similar story of transformation. “Since we founded our organization, there have been important changes,” she said. “In the past, fishing – the main activity on Tierra Bomba – wasn’t a women’s business. Now, though, the women in the association have become more empowered and learned how to fish – and this has helped us improve how we sell the catch commercially, too.”

“Spaces like this training enhance our confidence and help affirm that we [women] have the knowledge and the know-how to mobilize more women to get involved in our communities’ decisions and well-being,” said Godoy. “We are here to stay.”

   Workshop to explore local strategies for gender-transformative approaches at the conclusion of the learning route. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

Investing in women

Preliminary analysis of the WRR study in Colombia shows that empowerment, leadership, and access to decision-making ensued when the El Campo Emprende programme targeted women and youth to access financial opportunities. According to professor Pablo Ramos, leader of the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana research team, who helped design and facilitate the training, the creation of the specific categories ‘rural women’ and ‘rural youth’ for El Campo Emprende initiatives enhanced women’s access to financial support for their business ideas, and empowered them to participate in community leadership.

“The impact on my life has been transformative,” said María Marlene Rizo, a learning route participant who manages a community supermarket in the town of Piendamó that supplies goods for several villages in the Cauca Region. “The knowledge and skills acquired through this journey have become a means for me to contribute to the wellbeing of my community.” 

   María Marlene Rizo raises her hand during the participants’ visit to a beekeeping venture led by youth, as part of the learning route activities. Photo by Marlon del Águila/CIFOR-ICRAF

“Through this learning routeI am witnessing the strength of other women leading projects, overcoming challenges, and mobilizing change,” Rizo said. “It reinforces my belief that women taking leadership, participating in decision-making, and working for the wellbeing of one’s family and community are achievable goals. Women can achieve remarkable things when given the opportunities.”

For more information, please contact Peter Cronkleton at


This research is part of broader work on Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches. In 2020, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) invited a consortium of the Center for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry Centre (CIFOR-ICRAF), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to work with selected IFAD projects to promote and strengthen women’s land rights through the integration of gender transformative approaches (GTAs) in rural development interventions by improving policies, tools and practices. 

This is the second of a blog series covering the activities of the study Securing Women’s Resource Rights through Gender Transformative Approaches (WRR) in Colombia.


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Topic(s) :   Gender