Chapter 1: The GAPP Approach

Project participants Yoselyn Membreño, Dolores Amador, Ana Amaya, Marlín Membreño, and Lurvin Mejía are led by GAPP facilitator Alejandra Hernández in a woman's workshop in the city of Santa Rosa de Copan. (Photo by Morgan Arnold, for LWR)

One of the poorest countries in the region, Honduras is characterized by high rates of violence, limited economic opportunities, and recent political turmoil. An estimated 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line with the most extremely poor populations concentrated in six departments in the west, where the rates of chronic undernutrition remain high (INE 2011; USAID 2011). Although only 28 percent of households are headed by women, 64 percent of these live in poverty compared to 58.8 percent of households headed by men (INE 2011). A little over half of the economically active population live in rural areas and a third are women. In western Honduras, the priority area of implementation for the United States Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, 40 percent of farming households are headed by women of whom 68 percent are poor (INE 2007). Almost half the population (48.7 percent) is under the age of 18.

Figure 4. The GAPP Approach
Figure 4. The GAPP Approach

Honduras ranks among the lowest in the region on both the Global Gender Gap index and the UN Human Development Index. With a score of 0.693 on the Global Gender Gap index, Honduras ranks 73 out of 142 countries. The score examines four areas of gender inequality: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment; health and survival, and political empowerment. Honduras’ weakest scores are in political empowerment (0.214) and economic participation and opportunity (0.596). On the UN Human Development Index, it ranks 120 out of 182 countries.

Despite their prevalence in the agricultural sector, women receive lower incomes and experience greater food insecurity because they have less access than men to productive assets, technology and extension and financial services (FAO 2011). Women’s leadership in the agricultural sector remains limited by disparities in earned income and wages, as well as limitations in political empowerment (WEF 2011). In recent years, the Government of Honduras (GOH) has addressed this agricultural gender gap through several key public policies affecting rural women. These include the national Equal Opportunities for Women and Food and Nutrition Security laws. While these are in the early stages of implementation, reports suggests they lack adequate mechanisms to ensure implementation at the regional and municipal levels (CEDAW 2006).

In response to this situation, Lutheran World Relief worked with rural men and women in nine municipalities in western Honduras, as well as with local governments, non-governmental organizations (NGO), and rural credit institutions (ICR) to implement an advocacy project to improve the policies and institutions supporting women and gender equality in the agriculture sector. The Gender in Agriculture from Policy to Practice (GAPP) project, a two and a half-year activity (2013-2016) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Feed the Future, piloted an innovative approach to strengthen women’s leadership and address masculinity issues in an effort to increase women’s access to resources for agricultural production.

The GAPP Project

Figure 2
Figure 2

In the case of Honduras, at the national level there are public policies that provide the legal framework for supporting gender equality in agriculture. However, at the municipal and community levels implementation of such policies is nonexistent or ineffective thereby preventing women from accessing resources that would help them to achieve food security. The GAPP project aimed to change this situation by supporting the development of women’s leadership skills and fostering attitudinal changes among men. Its goal was to enable women and men to advocate for policy changes that enhance women’s access to credit and respond to women’s needs in the agriculture sector. To achieve this, it built the capacity of nine (9) women’s networks that serve as a collective voice for more than 2,500 women in their respective communities to lead and advocate for policy and institutional change in ICRs and local municipal governments. At the same time, the GAPP project worked with men in the targeted municipalities to improve their understanding of and support for gender equality. Women and men led efforts within the ICRs to improve women’s access to credit. They also lobbied the local government to fund women’s economic initiatives under an existing 5 percent earmark allocated for projects to support women (this policy is described in more detail in Chapter 2). Women and men also worked with municipal governments to integrate gender issues into local food security and nutrition plans.

The Actors

  • Redes Municipales de la Mujer (Municipal Networks of Women, RMM): The RMMs are networks of community-based women’s groups that work together to advocate for women’s needs at the municipal level. The RMMs came about as a civil society response to the passing of the first Law for Equality of Opportunities for Women in 2000. Local NGOs organized women into community-based groups and then aggregated these into recognized RMMs so that they could lobby local government for services and funding to address their needs. A key local partner for the RMMs are the Municipal Offices for Women (Oficina Municipal de la Mujer, OMM) who provide a link between the Networks and the municipal government. The OMM work to raise awareness around key areas of interest or concern, for example gender-based violence, to local authorities.The GAPP project worked with RMMs in nine (9) municipalities across the Mancomunidades of CAFEG and Sur-Oeste Lempira (SOL) in Lempira. The women members of these RMM are the main beneficiaries of the project. In the municipalities in which GAPP operates, the RMM represent roughly 2,500 number of women. The women’s leadership activities (Chapter 3) focused on building the knowledge and skills of these women in areas ranging from leadership and self-esteem, to public speaking, advocacy, and project development.

  • Municipal Governments: In Honduras, the Municipalities Law articulates the role of the municipal government and the mechanisms through which it is responsible for responding to its constituents’ needs and demands. For example, it requires the municipal governments to hold town hall meetings. These serve as venues for the public to communicate their needs directly to the municipal government; improving the latter’s efficiency and responsiveness. At least five (5) town hall meetings per year are required.The GAPP project’s aim to change policies that mediate women’s access to productive resources make the Municipal Governments a critical public sector actor. The municipal governments establish and implement policies that respond to their constituents’ needs and to directives from the national government. Most importantly for GAPP, they manage the budget allocations for all local level initiatives, including the 5% earmark to fund projects to support women. They operate as partners of the RMM to establish gender-responsive policies, as well as gatekeepers of resources with whom the RMMs need to negotiate. In GAPP, members of the Municipal Governments were targeted with specific capacity-building activities. For example, some men were invited to attend the masculinities workshops. A unique feature of the GAPP project was the creation of Management Committees (Equipos Gestores), made up of local government authorities and representatives from different civil society groups, including women from the RMMs, to manage participatory policy making and budgeting processes. The members of these Committees received training on participatory municipal budgeting, gender equality, food security, and nutrition and were responsible for integrating gender into the Food Security and Nutrition policies targeted under the GAPP project.
  • Rural Credit Institutions: In addition to public sector actors, rural credit institutions were targeted in the GAPP project because they are private entities that provide financial services to men and women in rural areas. Rural credit institutions fill a gap that exists in rural areas due to the lack formal financial institutions and the inability of rural populations to meet the credit requirements even when banks are present. In the department of Lempira, there are roughly 280 ICRs in Lempira, of which the GAPP project worked with 60 ICRs. These consist of 58 community-based credit and savings organizations that provide financing for agricultural purposes and to cover consumption needs, and two (2) second-tier finance institutions, one at the municipal level and the other at the regional level.The range of organizational development among the ICRs varies. In Mancomunidad SOL, 72 percent of the organizations working with the GAPP project are legally registered, while only 10 percent of the ICRs in Mancomunidad CAFEG are legally registered (CASM and ASONOG 2014). While many have internal by-laws outlining the institution’s structure and operations, the operations of many ICRs are weak, in large part because only a few members have received training on the institutions’ systems. Women make up less than half of the membership in both mancomunidades: 45 percent of members are women in Mancomunidad SOL, while 36 percent are women in Mancomunidad CAFEG (CASM and ASONOG 2014). At the start of the GAPP project, none of the ICRs had gender equality policies, nor had they identified the differentiated needs of men and women members or strategies to meet these needs.

The Partners

Lutheran World Relief

Founded in 1945, Lutheran World Relief (LWR) is a 501(c)3 organization that works to end poverty, injustice and human suffering, with an emphasis on improving food security for small-scale farmers and strengthening local organizations. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, LWR serves communities in need regardless of race, creed, class or ethnicity. With a staff of 150 and an annual operating budget of $40 million, LWR supports projects in 19 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

LWR is committed to strengthening agricultural systems to increase incomes and food security for small-holder farmers. In Honduras, LWR has worked to empower women farmers to access new technologies, strengthen cooperative business models and engage with external stakeholders to increase their competitiveness in national and international markets. LWR’s Honduras programs also include a strong emphasis on building the capacity of community councils (patronatos) and indigenous federations to better manage resources. LWR’s support for increased civic participation and action has been accompanied by projects that have helped councils and indigenous federations develop territorial management plans to improve natural resource management, protect community water sources, and create agricultural development plans to increase and diversify production while raising farmers´ incomes.

Since 2012, the organization has been investing in building LWR’s capacity to address gender inequalities in its programs through the Learning for Gender Integration initiative, supporting by the U.S. Food Resource Bank (FRB). This has included the development of gender-focused projects in various countries to gain experience in gender-responsive design, implementation, and monitoring. At the same time, each unit and regional office in the organization receives tailored capacity building activities on how to address gender issues in their work ranging from new business development to human resources. Significant investment has been made to ensuring LWR’s monitoring and evaluation team is equipped to provide targeted technical assistance throughout the project life cycle. With funding from the Ford Foundation, LWR is documenting the LGI methodology used in Nicaragua and replicating it with other cooperatives in the region. The GAPP project also benefited from the learning exchanges promoted by LGI.


The Asociación de Organismos No Gubernamentales (ASONOG) is an association of 15 local NGOs in western Honduras that was formed in the 1980s to coordinate the efforts of organizations working with refugee populations along the border areas of western Honduras. ASONOG has over 24 years of experience in advocacy training to improve household food security. It has working relationships with RMM, municipal governments, and municipal associations. In GAPP, ASONOG led the components to build women’s leadership and advocacy skills and coordinated withthe Comisión de Acción Social Menonita (CASM) to strengthen the rural credit institutions. CASM is a local NGO in Honduras that works on human rights and social justice issues and specializes in capacity building of local organizations including rural credit institutions.


As a sister Lutheran organization, Lutheran World Federation-Department for World Services (LWF-DWS) leads the masculinities workshops in coordination with the Centro Bartolomé de las Casas (CBC). LWF-DWS is a grant making organization that in Central America works on issues including human rights, food security, regional financial policy, and climate justice.  Established in 2000, CBC is a Salvadoran NGO and popular education center that works on social justice issues related to peace building, climate change, and masculinity.

The GAPP Approach

If you were to conduct an internet search about the “challenges of moving from policy to practice” over 100,000 hits would appear. These document the failings in a range of sectors from health, to education, to agriculture in making the successful transition from good policy intentions to successful funding and implementation of those policy directives. It is a space where institutions responsible for implementation go unfunded, where entrenched social norms (for example ideas about who has the right to land) can contradict desired policy outcomes, and where the groups meant to benefit from policy reform are unaware of their benefits or lack the ability to hold leaders accountable.

It is in this space that the GAPP Approach exists.

Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment

Gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women, men, girls and boys. It is the goal toward which gender advocates, practitioners, feminists, and others work around the world and at multiple levels (Box 1). To achieve this goal, it is necessary to address the constraints that reduce the ability of men, women, girls and boys to achieve their full economic, social and political potential. These constraints exist in multiple sectors – agriculture, health, political participation as well as in different kinds of institutions – the household, civil society organizations, and governments. The constraints are often mutually reinforcing. To achieve sustainable change, it is therefore necessary to tackle constraints at multiple levels.

While many countries now have policy frameworks that uphold gender equality and seek to reduce gender-based constraints, women still do not exercise the same rights and opportunities as men. This is in part due to constraints in three areas consistently referenced in the literature as key areas of action for supporting gender equality (World Bank 2011; Gender at Work n.d.; and Evans and Nambiar 2013):

  • Women’s lack of voice and agency, which is one aspect of capabilities and empowerment;
  • Prevailing social norms like, for example, those that restrict women’s participation to the private and domestic sphere and expect men to assume key decision-making roles in the home, the community, and elsewhere and,
  • Institutions, both formal and informal, that define the informal and formal rules that shape access to resources, participation in organizations, and decision-making processes.

These constraints are focus of the components of the GAPP Approach (Figure 3 and Figure 4).

The Approach’s theory of change proposes that by building women’s leadership and changing attitudes among men, this would improve men’s and women’s ability to advocate for policies and work with institutions that can improve gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. It is specifically focused on achieving outcomes in the area of women’s economic empowerment7 by addressing women’s lack of access to financial and productive resources in agriculture.

The sections that follow explore the components of the GAPP approach generally and within the context of the GAPP project.

Capabilities: Developing Women’s Leadership and Collective Action

Figure 3. Components of the GAPP Approach
Figure 3. Components of the GAPP Approach

In the GAPP Approach, the development of capabilities focuses on expanding women’s leadership skills and creating opportunities for collective action. Leadership refers to the capacity of an individual or group to exercise influence or “power over” others to achieve a determined goal or outcome (Domingo et. al. 2015). This capacity comes, on one level, from the development of individual skills, traits or qualities (e.g., charisma) associated with persuading or convincing others to change. It also emerges from exercising those skills either individually or through collective actions around common goals.

Women can lack the knowledge, skills, and confidence to lead. They can be unaware of their rights or of political processes. They may not know how to approach leaders in local government or in community organizations. Even with the right skills and knowledge, individual women may need the strength of working in groups to effectively mount a campaign or mobilize communities in their favor. Furthermore, women face significant challenges to assume positions of leadership, for example, in associations or political parties and at the same time find themselves excluded from the institutions or the processes where rules are made.

The GAPP project sought to strengthen women’s individual capabilities as a key strategy of its approach to drive institutional change. This consisted of a series of workshops to develop the qualities, skills, and traits of leadership and to building women’s knowledge and skills to be effective leaders. The GAPP Approach was not focused on simply increasing the number of women involved in the decisionmaking process, but also on the quality of women’s participation: Are women aware of policies that support women’s economic empowerment? Do they understand the municipal decision-making processes? Can they develop an advocacy plan to engage policy makers? Can they articulate their interests and a strategy for meeting their needs?

Additionally, the GAPP Approach considered the use of collective action a critical element of developing women’s leadership. The GAPP project pursued an advocacy strategy that was based on mutual action for social change (Stachowiak 2013). This consists of mobilizing a group, in this case the RMM, to create an identity and common agenda around which members can advance common interests. The 2012 World Development Report cites collective action as a catalyst for increasing women’s empowerment (World Bank 2011). This idea draws on the concept of “power with” described by Rowlands (1997) as “a sense of the whole being greater than the sum of the individuals, especially when a group tackles problems together.”

Collective action by women has been shown to be effective in improving access to goods and services related, for example, to sanitation, transportation and health services (Domingo et al 2015). It allows women to strengthen bonding capital, which can help them to overcome common constraints (Sebstad and Manfre 2011).8 Notable women’s groups, like the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India and other groups of women workers have successfully advocated for improved working conditions. Women’s groups have also been critical for changing laws and practices, even those that more often contested and resisted (e.g., discriminatory practices of family law). (Htun and Weldon 2012)

Developing women’s leadership and collective action is not without its challenges. In the GAPP project, the focus on the quality of leadership may have come at the expense of quantity. The GAPP project did not reach a critical mass of women and not all the women in the RMM participated in the workshops delivered in the project. The literature on women’s participation is unclear about whether there is a tipping point at which rising numbers of women lead to women having greater influence. It is an issue that is still debated and one reason why the GAPP Approach focused not just on women, but also on changing the attitudes of men to create a more conducive environment for pursuing a gender equality agenda. The ability to achieve gender equality outcomes cannot depend solely on women participating in the process, but must also address norms and structural constraints.

Norms: Addressing Social Constraints

Social norms shape men’s and women’s lives. They define men’s and women’s choices, behaviors and opportunities. Norms can dictate who can travel and where, what types of jobs are appropriate for men and women, who can go to school and for how long and how men and women interact in public. They are upheld and sustained by both men and women, even when these norms can have negative consequences for one group.

Relative to men, social norms often constrain women’s social, economic and political opportunities in many countries. In Latin America, these norms often concentrate power at the household and community level with men and assign women to the private or domestic sphere where their primary roles as mothers and wives. In Honduras, women and girls are disproportionately responsible for household activities related to caring for children and elderly, cooking and cleaning. More than half of all women cite domestic work as their primary activities (55 out of 100 women) compared to only 4 out of every 100 men (INAM 2010).

Of significant concern is the amount of time girls between the ages of 10 and 18 dedicate to household chores, jeopardizing their attendance in school. These activities limit the time available for women to participate in other activities and shaping their access to resources. Women continue to be perceived as dependent on men, with men assuming a greater responsibility for providing for the household.

The last twenty years has seen an increase in investments to address gender issues affecting men. In Latin America, this work aims to address the prevailing culture of machismo and counter negative stereotypes and attitudes which create problems for both men and women. According to the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI, 2014), long-standing and entrenched patriarchal beliefs continue to influence the ideology of individuals, as well as public institutions ― especially in the rural sector ― and represent a significant obstacle to improving food security for women. The changing political, economic and social dynamics in the region have necessitated a significant change in both men’s and women’s contributions to the economy and the household. The emphasis on masculinity aims to help men break free from the restrictive constructions of men’s identity, especially the characteristics associated with physical and economic strength, and help them adapt to new roles for themselves and for women.

Norms that shape men’s and women’s participation in associations, civic activities and decision-making processes are addressed within the GAPP Approach. The GAPP Approach assumes that social norms must shift to foster women’s leadership and access to resources, and specifically that men must be engaged in this process (Evans and Nambiar 2013; World Bank 2011). Evidence exists to suggest that men must play an active role in supporting gender equality for a number of reasons. Men are often in the positions that wield the power to either obstruct an agenda or to facilitate its implementation. Working with them to become allies is therefore a critical strategy for an advocacy agenda. Evidence exists to show that encouraging men to support women’s activism, specifically through the moral and financial support of husbands, is important for women’s political engagement (O’Neil and Domingo 2015; Tadros 2014). Finally there are limits to what women can do in single-sex groups and some evidence suggests that involving men and women can produce better results (Westermann, Ashby, and Pretty 2005). For example, while these spaces are appropriate for them to build self-esteem and confidence, in mixed-sex groups women can take advantage of men’s wider networks (Gotschi, Njuki, and Delve 2009).

Institutions: Changing the Rules of the Game

Gender equality advocates agree that achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is not just a technical exercise. Long-term sustainable achievements require changing the institutions, or the informal and formal rules that shape and govern social, economic and political life in support of gender equality outcomes. These rules are enshrined, enforced and upheld within different types of organizations including civil society organizations, the private sector and the government. The process of changing these rules involves working with and within these organizations. It is never linear, is contested and renegotiated and always requires engaging state actors because these formally protect and advance men’s and women’s rights and interests.

Similar to Gender at Work framework (n.d.), the GAPP Approach aims to reshape institutions through a process that considers the internal culture of each organization and the existence of formal policies to support gender equality (Table 2). The GAPP project worked with both private and public organizations, targeting their internal structures. For example, a key outcome of the project was the approval of gender equality policies in the ICRs. Additionally, it used social accountability measures, like participatory municipal budgeting, as a means for holding the local government more accountable to women’s needs.

Guiding this work are the principles of participation and inclusion. The GAPP Approach considers greater participation by men and women in all processes as critical to improving the responsiveness and accountability of the institutions that govern resources. The interventions pursued in the project reflect this focus on inclusive participation. The GAPP project encouraged coalition building and collective action across a broad range of civil society organizations and government in the public space, and within the ICRs and ensured that leaders and members, both men and women, participated in the policy development process. The technical assistance provided by the project aimed to equip those involved with the skills and knowledge to co-create new policies.


The individual components of the GAPP Approach are not innovative in and of themselves. We believe the uniqueness of the Approach, instead, is in the sum of its parts. The strength lies within the complementarity of its different parts: gender equality and women’s empowerment, women’s leadership, engaging men and institutional and policy change. This is upheld by research that consistently identifies the importance of operating on multiple levels to change the institutional infrastructure that can uphold (or impede) gender equality outcomes (O’Neil and Domingo 2015; Domingo et. al. 2015; Gender at Work n.d.). What emerges from the research is that:

  • Women need opportunities to build the knowledge and skills to influence and lead, as well as opportunities to exercise these skills.
  • Women’s leadership activities should be measured not just on the quantitative increase in women’s participation in decision-making roles, but on the success of collective action efforts to change the institutions and policies that govern access to resources.
  • Progress towards gender equality cannot be achieved without addressing the constraints facing men and the impact of negative stereotypes of masculinity that shape men’s behavior towards women, other men and children.
  • Transformational change can be achieved by targeting institutional and structural policies that perpetuate inequity. Supporting participatory and inclusive decisionmaking processes is an avenue for developing better ‘rules of the game.’

Are the gains made during the GAPP project sustainable? We cannot easily answer this question. The GAPP project was successful in achieving its desired outcomes. Over the course of the project, 2,500 women participated in capacity building activities that strengthened their own individual skills and the RMMs of which they were a part. Men in a range of organizations demonstrated greater sensitivity and awareness of gender issues and reported that at home they had begun to support their wives and children in more positive ways. The RMMs secured funding for more than 30 women-led economic initiatives through the municipal governments and 56 ICRs developed gender equality policies to increase women’s access to credit.

Figure 5. A Virtuous Cycle?
Figure 5. A Virtuous Cycle?

We hope that beyond these immediate and direct outcomes that the project was successful in strengthening the relationships and building mechanisms that can ensure the sustainability of GAPP investments. While the project was narrowly focused on increasing women’s access to agricultural resources, we believe the Approach can be applied to achieve other policy changes within agriculture or in other sectors. Certainly the RMMs have the experience and skills to develop a new advocacy agenda. They also have a stronger relationship with the OMM and the authorities in the current municipal governments they can leverage. Multiple actors have a better understanding of gender equality and participatory governance processes. These are positive gains and should serve women and men well in advancing gender equality goals in the future.