The global anti-poverty movement has added a new tool to its arsenal with the launch of an index that measures women’s empowerment in agriculture.
“Agriculture is the most effective way to drive inclusive economic growth of the poorest communities”, which too often include women and children, said Sara Immenschuh of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a partner in compiling the index.
The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index is a partnership between the US government’s Feed the Future initiative, US Agency for International Development (USAID), IFPRI and Oxford University’s Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI). It uses five criteria to measure the empowerment of developing country women in agriculture, and in their own households.
Pilot programmes in Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda studied how engaged women were in decision-making about agricultural production, what sort of access they had to resources and how involved they were in resource-related decision-making; the extent to which they controlled how income was used; whether they were able to have a leadership role in the community; and how they used their time.
If a woman scored well on four out of five indices, she was considered empowered. The results differed from country to country, and the reasons for low or high levels of empowerment also varied.
In Bangladesh, just less than a third of women were empowered, with lack of control over resources, weak leadership and influence in the community, as well as lack of control over income the main reasons.
In Guatemala, the number was less than 25 percent. The less educated a woman was and the younger she was, the more likely she was to be lagging behind in empowerment. On the other hand, the more empowered a Guatemalan woman was in agriculture, the greater the influence she had in other key areas of daily life.
Respect and resources
Lack of leadership in the community and control over use of income were the two biggest factors contributing to disempowerment in Guatemala, the report says.
In Uganda, 37 percent of women were empowered in agriculture and more than half enjoyed gender parity at home.
However, many women in Uganda said widowhood empowered them – because they did not have to waste time asking their husband’s permission to do things but just got on with them.
Ugandan women “who are empowered in agriculture also reported significantly greater decision-making and autonomy with respect to almost all domains”, says the report.
Surveys were conducted in 450 households in southern Bangladesh, and 350 each in the western highlands of Guatemala and northern, central and eastern Uganda, between September and November 2011.
One aim of the project is to help US government agencies and anti-poverty organizations to measure just how successful their programmes are at fighting hunger and poverty.
“We want to improve gender parity not by disempowering men but by bringing women up to the level of men,” said IFPRI senior research fellow, Agnes Quisumbing.
Although they make up 43 percent of the agricultural labour force, women in developing countries own less land, are limited in their ability to hire farm workers and have less access to credit, among other issues.
“Without addressing those inequities, women will be unable to effectively contribute to reducing global poverty and hunger,” said Immenschuh.
The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index was launched on 28 February at the UN in New York.