How to Engage Agricultural Organizations in Increasing Women’s Decision-Making Power
The ability to exercise control over resources is an important element of empowering women in agriculture. We know that by increasing women’s decision-making power, the overall well-being of the household improves. But what about women’s decision-making at the institution level? What programmatic approaches support women in establishing or increasing their decision-making power within agribusinesses, farmer’s groups, producer organizations, cooperatives, associations, and other community groups?
Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment, a five-year activity to enhance women’s empowerment and gender equality in agriculture systems, recently completed an evidence scan of 134 resources (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles and studies, evaluation reports, guides, and consultations with 35 individuals across 23 institutions) that describe programmatic and measurement approaches used to increase women’s decision-making power in agriculture. While the evidence base explores approaches used at both the household and institution levels, in this blog post we explore programmatic approaches that have been found to increase women’s decision-making power specifically at the institution level.
Encouraging women's participation in farmers’ groups and cooperatives
Farmers’ groups, farmers’ associations, and cooperatives are key entry points to expand women’s decision-making power at the institution level, over such activities as organizational management, production, and selling products. By mobilizing women to join farmers’ groups, practitioners can increase women’s access to agricultural technical training, markets, skills transfer, and knowledge, which are also shown to influence power dynamics at the household level. These institutions also offer an opportunity for gender sensitization within communities, for example, by creating space to facilitate discussions among men and women about the importance of shared decision-making within the household. Compared to farmer groups or associations, cooperatives, because of their collective ownership, tend to provide more decision-making opportunities for women.
Agri-ProFocus developed the Gender in Value Chains toolkit for practitioners to use when analyzing value chains and adopting approaches to increase women’s decision-making power. The toolkit highlights intervention strategies within producer organizations and businesses, as well as within households. The toolkit aims to “create space” and encourage women’s participation at the institution level.
Role models, mentors, and gender champions
Gender champions are used broadly to increase women’s voice and decision-making power because they are often leaders in their community who can promote social dialogue about norms and gender roles and advocate for women in male-dominated institutions. Women’s leadership circles or social support networks can connect women leaders across rural areas to share their experiences and build leadership capacity and confidence. For example, some women’s self-help groups in India provided members with a woman agribusiness mentor to help them build their businesses.
An example of one such mentorship program is International Fund for Agricultural Development's Rural Women’s Leadership Program. Implemented in Madagascar, Nepal, the Philippines, and Senegal, the leadership program aimed to close the gap between women’s contribution to agricultural production and their limited participation in making decisions that affect them, their production, and their communities. The program conducted training-of-trainers and mentorship programs to increase women’s decision-making power as leaders. The program focuses on building women’s negotiation skills, confidence, and self-development. It also addressed organizational change, gender mainstreaming, and technical knowledge on agricultural issues.
Capacity-building: leadership and business skills
Social norms, such as deeming women’s capacity in literacy and numeracy as unimportant or threatening, often prevent women from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills. The evidence scan found that training women on literacy and numeracy encourages women’s leadership, indirectly increasing their decision-making power.
In Kenya, for example, rural women entrepreneurs have been trained on record keeping through the Enhancing Opportunities for Women’s Enterprises program. As a result of increasing women’s capacities in numeracy, productivity has increased, women have more access to assets and credit to sustain and scale their businesses, and leadership within sellers’ groups has improved. The program complements this approach by guiding dialogues on social norms that influence women’s decision-making and control over income, as increasing women’s income is not enough, on its own, to increase empowerment.
This evidence scan identified a predominant set of programmatic approaches used to increase women’s decision-making power. Overwhelmingly, these approaches are combined in implementation. For example, at the household level, capacity-building may be implemented alongside social norms change methods, or access to finance and credit alongside messaging that promotes equitable division of labor and joint budgeting. At the institution level, one example was encouraging women’s participation in an association combined with leadership training. However, there are still gaps in the evidence on what approaches work to increase women’s decision-making power specifically at the institution level. One of the factors contributing to this gap is the scarcity of tools or indicators that measure women’s decision-making power at the institution level. Check out the full report to learn more.