Are women-only training sessions more effective than mixed-group ones?
Training is a key part of the Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia (STRASA) project. A gender component has been developed to systematically reach women across all of STRASA’s activities through training.
There is a dearth of literature available, however, on whether female farmers should be trained in mixed groups (with male farmers) or if they should be trained separately, in female-only groups. It is not clear whether participation and understanding are higher when women are trained in a mixed group or in a female-only group.
To evaluate a training program, the following must be considered:
- partner NGOs or farmer participants should not be pre-informed about the planned interviews,
- the same trainer(s) should handle all the groups, using the same approach,
- the same topics of discussion and the same amount of information should be shared across groups,
- there should be equal numbers of participants across groups,
- participants should be interviewed separately, and
- the duration of training sessions conducted should be the same for all groups.
However, there are certain limitations of training, such as:
- the dropout rates of the participants,
- participants opting out of training sessions on some days, or for a few minutes within sessions, and
- the timing of the interview after the training and the risk of participants being pre-informed before their turn to get interviewed.
I found that when participants underwent training in a combined group of men and women, there was a tendency for the males to sit in front while the females sat at the back, but there was little difference in the level of responses (from the interviews) by gender. However, during the training, the women were less participative than the men. Repeating the content on the second day in separate groups of male- and female-only farmers revealed that the participants, especially the women, did better than on the previous day. Not only did their participation during the training improve, but the number of correct responses from them increased during the interview. Was it repetitive information that increased retention among the participants, or was it having separate male and female groups that promoted greater participation, retention, and confidence?
The research was designed in such a way that new female participants joined Day 1 female participants on Day 2, when Day 1 participants were given new information in addition to a recap of Day 1. For the new participants that came on Day 2, however, the recap of Day 1 and the added information were both new for them and they had to grasp much more information than Day 1 participants. It was assumed that Day 1 participants would perform better on Day 2 compared with the new participants of Day 2.
There was little difference observed in the responses among Day 1 and new (Day 2) participants. Female participants, however, were more confident and vocal on Day 2, when trained in a female-only group. This could be a result of either familiarity with the training environment due to repeated exposure, or familiarity and thus ease with other females.
The training sessions were found more effective done in separate groups for men and women, rather than in a mixed one, resulting in greater participation from the women and thus enhancing the effectivity of the training program.