Answering the Who What and Why of WOCAN

March 14, 2014

By Hannah Oblock, WOCAN Intern, Feb-March 2014

Those of you reading this are most likely familiar with WOCAN and its commitment to empowering women all over the world to be leaders in agriculture and natural resource management in their community and countries. Before my experience interning with WOCAN, my understanding of how a global non-profit functions and how it impacts international development issues was weak at best. I feel that the awareness I have acquired over these last four weeks is worth sharing. I have come to see that international development is truly a fascinating field.

I have only worked with local non-profit organizations in the United States. I have seen the incredible impact these organizations have on my own community through very direct measures. But before arriving to Bangkok and meeting the staff at WOCAN, I had a difficult time explaining to loved ones back home what exactly it is that WOCAN does. I would use a jumbled mix of words such as “political advocacy, leadership training, gender mainstreaming, sustainable agriculture” and hope that some coherent explanation emerged. The vision and mission of WOCAN was clear but for me, the means of getting there seemed abstract and not relatable. 

A few days ago, I participated in a Skype discussion with WOCAN’s country project coordinators of Nepal, Kenya, and South Africa. The meeting was organized because one of the coordinators was facing challenges of how to sustain enthusiasm and commitment amongst the women professionals, organizers, and farmers interested in working together on a regional level. Women would attend regional meetings organized by WOCAN to discuss challenges they face in their communities such as access to land and resources, combatting effects of climate change, and getting equal representation in local government bodies. The regional meetings were dynamic and exciting; the women were showing tremendous interest in forming their own cooperatives. But after the meetings concluded and time went by, the enthusiasm and initiatives would fade away as everyone went back to their daily lives. 

WOCAN responded to the coordinator’s struggle by opening up a supportive dialogue between the country coordinators, enabling them to share their success stories, strategies, and advice. During the meeting, I was impressed by the sense of collective support that the coordinators had with each other. From across continents and countries, they remained committed to their mission. As women leaders, they were implementing gender equality policies and practices in places and societies where the gender gap is drastic. Many of the women in these countries do not have access to their own land which limits their economic independence. They make up the majority of laborers in agriculture but receive wages considerably lower than their male counterparts. As a result, family and female health decrease, women receive less education than men, and are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of climate change. But the WOCAN coordinators were working at these issues together, trying out innovative techniques to mobilize women’s groups, and enacting change through all levels of international development. WOCAN created the organizational structure for this type of sustainable gender mainstreaming to take place. It was in this instance when I truly came to understand WOCAN and the multifaceted initiatives it undertakes.