Empowering Women through Agriculture

Posted in — Core Concepts > Gender Equity
September 23, 2017
(Photo by Rachel Rose/iDE)
Gender Equity

Current thinking has brought a renewed focus on greater gender inclusivity into market systems development frameworks–making markets work not just for ‘the poor’ but rather for ‘poor women and men’.

In many low income farming communities around the world, women bear the brunt of manual irrigation and thus benefit most from labour-saving and time-saving technologies. iDE has placed an emphasis on identifying the market challenges faced by women to access technology and supports the marketing and sales of small-scale drip irrigation systems for kitchen gardens, which are almost exclusively used by women.

iDE’s Adaptation of the WEAI Index

Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) was pioneered by researchers of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), USAID, and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to evaluate outcomes of interventions on women’s empowerment. It is an aggregate index often reported at the country or regional level, and is based on individual level data on men and women within the same household.

iDE has developed a shortened version of the WEAI index that is referred to as WEAI-lite. The WEAI-lite is meant to be used in an analytical survey design to test for attributable changes in women’s empowerment from an iDE intervention. During an evaluation of SDC’s SUPW2 project in Nicaragua, iDE carried out a quantitative analysis to determine an average WEAI-Lite index score.

WEAI’s Five Domains of Empowerment

The five domains of empowerment allow us to better understand which women are either empowered or disempowered across a range of areas related to empowerment within the household. The details of each of the domains are further summarized below.

  1. Production: This domain is concerned with the respondent’s decisions about agricultural production and refers to sole or joint decision-making related to food and cash crop farming, livestock, and fisheries.
  2. Resources: This domain is concerned with the respondent’s ownership of and access to productive resources such as land, livestock, agricultural equipment, consumer durables, and credit.
  3. Income: This domain is concerned with the respondent’s sole or joint control over the use of income and expenditures.
  4. Leadership: This domain is concerned with the respondent’s leadership in the community—measured by membership and participation in formal or informal economic or social groups.
  5. Time: This domain is concerned with the respondent’s allocation of time to productive and domestic tasks.
As an iDEal client, Doña María Izaguierrez participated in the WEAI-lite evaluation in Nicaragua. We learned that she feels empowered to make decisions concerning the farm business, such as selling at a market or building a local clientele. (Photo by Rachel Rose/iDE)

WEAI-Lite Results in Nicaragua

The scores for each of the five domains show that both men and women score low on the resources domain, which includes access to credit, and ownership and transactions of assets—indicators signifying greater disempowerment in these areas. While men scored relatively well on all other domains of empowerment, we see that women have their lowest empowerment on decision making around agriculture production. One of the features of the WEAI is that it highlights the areas in which women are empowered, while also highlighting the areas in which they are not. These findings suggest that the programmatic efforts to increase women’s voice in agriculture decision making will most effectively improve their empowerment scores.

The graph below presents the overall contribution of each domain to disempowerment by gender. That is to say, which of the five domains seems to be contributing the most to women’s or men’s respective disempowerment (lower empowerment scores).

The greatest contributor to disempowerment for women is the ‘Production: Decision-Making’ domains (46 percent). We see that lack of voice in decision-making processes is driving a low empowerment score for women. The ‘resources’ domain is the second greatest contributor to disempowerment (27 percent), where women scored relatively low on the access to credit sub-indicator and would benefit from increased opportunities to access credit, particularly for agriculture investment.


For men, the largest contributing domain is ‘resources’ (51 percent). Improving access to credit and agency in the purchase and sale of assets will most effectively improve men’s empowerment scores.

Women’s Stories: More time to earn more money

Qualitative interviews with female farmers in treatment households revealed improved empowerment for women using iDEal drip irrigation systems.

One female farmer stated that with her own drip system she spends less time working in the field and is able to bake bread to sell as an additional source of income for her household, diversifying her income sources and giving her more autonomy over the use of income.

Another female farmer stated that due to her initiative to purchase and learn the drip irrigation system she has greater presence in family-making decisions. Even more, she feels confident enough in her knowledge to teach other women how to use the system.

Tagged — Nicaragua
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