Background and Introduction

Many of Zambia’s women farmers continue to face challenges which constrain their productive capacity, limiting their incomes and the extent to which they can contribute to productive and efficient agricultural value chains. Key challenges include –

Inequality of access to                                                                                   Inequality of power to

•  Education                                                                                            • Make decisions (e.g. what work to do, how to spend income)

• Land & other productive assets  (e.g equipment / machinery)            • Have their voice heard (e.g. membership of  labour groups, cooperatives)

• Agricultural services (e.g. extension, veterinary services)                     • Live free from gender-based harassment/violence

• Financial services

These are not only constraints on women’s socio-economic wellbeing; they are also constraints on the generation of increased business value.


ENTERPRISE Zambia is a European Union backed challenge fund established to support increased participation of smallholder farmers in market-integrated, nutrition-sensitive value chains. The Fund is designed to support actions enabling SMEs and smallholders to transition to greener and more sustainable agri-food systems, and to tackle the challenges presented by Covid-19.

One of its key objectives is to support actions which generate meaningful opportunities for women in agriculture by supporting agribusinesses that are gender inclusive[1] . To ensure that the Fund is well positioned to achieve this objective, Imani Development co-developed a gender learning audit tool[2] with Self Help Africa to understand how women are involved in grantees’ operations and supply chains, what actions they’re taking to enhance women’s integration, and whether these actions are having the desired effect.

In April and May 2022, the first round of Gender Learning Audits was conducted with the 15 companies supported under Call 1 and Call 2 funding windows. The findings indicate that though Zambia continues to make improvements, there are opportunities to catalyse progress towards equal opportunities for women. This blog highlights some key issues relating to gender integration at company level and along the value chain, and sets out five internal drivers of good performance identified through ENTERPRISE Zambia’s gender learning audit.

Women in Technical Roles

A female machine operator on the plywood line; Copperbelt Forestry Company

Representation of women in technical roles is mixed amongst ENTERPRISE Zambia grantees and performance varies according to the definition used.  When defined according to qualification levels – a technical role being one which requires a professional or vocational qualification – female representation is adequate amongst Call 1 and Call 2 companies – usually over 10% and often over 30%. This often relates to a high number of women in administrative and financial roles. However, when defined according to hands-on technical fields such as mechanics, engineering, and food science, representation of women is much weaker. Where women do hold these roles, they tend to be lower-level positions such as machine operators and quality control rather than highly skilled roles.

Grantees cited a number of reasons for low representation of women in hands-on technical fields, including the influence of traditional gender norms, and the difficulty of finding prospective female candidates with the requisite skills and qualifications. It was noted that this is beginning to change as Zambia makes progress towards equal opportunities in education, and that the pipeline of strong technical candidates is likely to include more women in the future.

Further research into recruitment, training and promotion pathways for technical roles is recommended. Whilst many companies are open to the idea of employing more women in technical roles, few know how to go about it. Some assume that when women don’t apply for a role it’s because there are no qualified women; others think that some roles are just culturally unacceptable for one sex or the other. Further research could help to reveal, for example, whether there are women with the relevant qualifications to fill technical vacancies; what businesses can do to make these positions more accessible to women; how sex-disaggregated candidate and employee data can be used to inform the gender strategy; how training and professional development opportunities can be tailored to the needs of women.

Women in Extension Services

Female representation in extension varies across Call 1 and Call 2 companies. 4 companies have no female extension officers, 6 have at least 10% female extension workers, and a further 4 have at least 30%. Just one company has ≥50% women in extension; the company has not had to work to achieve this but generally receives more applications from women than men when a new post is advertised. This bucks the trend described by many other grantees who reported difficulties in recruiting female extension officers. The reason for this difference is unclear but contributing factors might include regional dynamics (e.g. proximity to an agricultural college, local gender norms), how the company is perceived by potential applicants, and how jobs are advertised.

The challenges to employing female extension officers cited by grantees include –Lack of (qualified) female applicants

•       Lack of motorbike licences amongst female candidates

•       Women less willing to travel long distances (e.g. due to family responsibilities)

•       Women less willing to do uncomfortable work (e.g. “worried they might mess up their hair”)

•       Safety concerns (e.g. traveling after hours)

•       Cultural barriers

Some grantees indicated that they expect to see a shift in the coming years as more women graduate from agricultural college and socio-cultural norms gradually change. None of the companies has an explicit strategy for improving gender integration in extension, though some favour applications from women as a means of improving the balance. Several grantees noted the value of having female extension officers, both when it comes to engaging with female SHF suppliers, but also in general due to perceived good performance and work ethic.

As the link point between formal company and farm, extension officers play a key role in managing and maintaining positive and productive relationships with SHF. Female extension officers are often better equipped to engage effectively with female SHF; having both male and female extension officers can contribute to gender equity and inclusion along the VC. Many grantees reported difficulties recruiting women for extension positions despite general intent to improve female representation in their field teams. Further research might usefully unpack issues around the supply of qualified candidates, factors influencing women’s decision to train/apply, opportunities for women in extension, and barriers to entry.

Internal Drivers of Good Performance

Companies that take deliberate steps are better at translating ‘good intentions’ into action.

Many leaders, boards and management teams would like to improve gender integration within their companies. However, good intentions alone are insufficient to drive change. Setting out a strategy with clear actions and targets can help put gender integration clearly on the agenda and ensure there are clear lines of responsibility and a benchmark against which to measure progress.

Sound policies provide a strong foundation for improving gender equity and integration.

They equip managers with an understanding of the rationale for a policy and with a clear process to implement it. They equip staff to understand their rights and responsibilities, and how to address concerns or hold their employer to account. Templates can be a useful guide for policy development, but they need to be tailored to the company and context to be fit for purpose.

Competent HR capacity is key.

Having a competent HR manager (male or female) who is proactive on the issue of gender integration, means that policies are more likely to be well developed and consistently implemented, with higher staff awareness facilitated through induction, training and sensitization. Where there is no HR manager, clear lines of responsibility are especially important for achieving good alignment between policy and practice.

Having women in management streamlines gender equity and integration.

Women are better placed to understand constraints to gender integration and to champion specific needs. Even one woman in management and leadership makes a difference, particularly where the HR function is carried out by a man.

Female representation in management was mixed amongst grantees, with just one company having no women managers at all, and 2 companies with at least 50% women in management. When viewed alongside the proportion of employees that are women, the importance of having women in management for achieving gender equity is revealed. In general, more women in management means more women employed throughout the company. Whilst there is some uncertainty about the degree and direction of causality, there is little doubt that having women in management streamlines opportunities for women throughout a business.

Figure 1: Women in Management in relation to % Total Employees Women


Pioneers can lead the way in (re)defining company culture

Women in leadership are particularly well placed to lead on some issues. For example, one company reported that several cases of sexual harassment were raised soon after a woman in a senior leadership position had taken on the responsibility of raising awareness on sexual harassment and had conducted some trainings. They provided details of 2 incidents where employees (one a senior manager) were fired after an investigation had been conducted and the allegations were found to be true. Reflecting on these events, the company representatives felt that the training sessions had given staff the confidence they needed to understand what constitutes sexual harassment and to report incidents without fear of negative repercussions. Having a woman in leadership take on this role was seen to be a key factor in transitioning from a culture of silence to openness and zero-tolerance.

Men also have an important role to play, especially when it comes to challenging the status quo in male-dominated leadership and management structures. Grantee comments suggested that even something as small as a manager utilising paternity leave can signal a shift to employees.

What Next?

The insights gleaned through the gender learning audit are informing the provision of TA to ENTERPRISE Zambia grantees. The next round of learning audits is underway with Call 3 and Call 4 companies, with follow-up audits planned for all grantees towards the end of their project implementation periods, once they’ve have had time to implement recommendations and benefit from TA. Through this process the programme aims to incentivise gender positive action and enable improvements to be captured, facilitating learning around effective strategies and interventions. Watch this space for further updates and insights.



This briefing note was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Self Help Africa and Imani Development and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.


[1] Defined as at least 30% women farmers/artisans/employees, or at least 20% participation of women/ farmers/artisans/employees and the business is led by a woman

[2] The tool was originally developed under the EU’s AgriFI Kenya Challenge Fund and was refined and adapted to the Zambian context for the purposes of this project.