The Gender Factor: Understanding the Impact of Empowering Women

Women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural workforce  in  many  developing  countries,  positioning them in a critical and transformative role in agricultural growth, food and nutrition security, and poverty reduction.  Women  also  play  an  important  role  within their families as income earners and caregivers. In 2010, USAID approached IFPRI and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative to design the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). The tool, also supported by PIM since 2012, monitors and supports the inclusion of women in agriculture as part of USAID, under the US Feed the Future initiative. WEAI measures the role and extent of women’s empowerment in agriculture relative to men within their households, providing a way to understand gender dynamics within households and communities. The index also helps identify the women who are disempowered and the areas in which they are disempowered, two major considerations in designing solutions to close the empowerment gap.

Since its launch in  2012,  WEAI has  been  revolutionizing how women’s empowerment and their role in agriculture are seen and measured. The index has been adopted by 19 Feed the Future country programs for monitoring and impact evaluations to understand baseline  conditions  and  track  the  changes  in women’s empowerment as a direct or indirect result of interventions. It has also been used by at least 60 organizations in 39 countries. In Bangladesh, the 2012 BIHS, which collected the WEAI data, helped identify disempowerment gaps and motivated the Ministry of Agriculture to design interventions that will close those gaps.  Bangladesh’s  7th  Five  Year  Plan  (2016–2020) used the analysis of BIHS and WEAI to reinforce the government’s commitment to ensuring “women’s advancement as self-reliant human beings.”

Because of the interest of many development organizations in adapting the WEAI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has funded a second phase of the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP2), which  is working with agricultural development projects to develop and test a project-level WEAI.   USAID, along  with A4NH, is also supporting this effort, which builds  on the original WEAI and will increase its relevance to agricultural  development projects.