Measuring Women’s Decision-Making Power in Agriculture
Measuring and understanding decision-making is complex. When it comes to decision-making in the household or in agricultural production, it is often not enough simply to ask whether someone makes a decision independently or in consultation with others. Joint decision-making may not actually constitute equal participation in decision-making. The level of input into a decision may vary, may change over time, will be informed by a range of factors and cannot be judged as positive or negative without contextual information.
Women’s decision-making power in agriculture and market systems programming, then, is a complex, multifaceted issue. Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment partner ACDI/VOCA has studied numerous aspects of women’s decision-making in agriculture, including: technology adaptation and agricultural best practices, productive activities and savings groups, income-generating activities and household decision-making, perceptions of women’s decision-making, allocation of cash transfers, influence of religious leaders on household decision-making and women’s participation in organizational decision-making. Understanding how decision-making interacts with various aspects of agriculture and market systems is crucial to effectively integrating efforts to increase women’s decision-making power into programming and funding.
In this post, we’ll explore how ACDI/VOCA studies and measures women’s decision-making power across various elements of agriculture and markets systems development programming, including lessons learned on how best to approach measuring this complex area of women’s empowerment.
Measuring women’s decision-making power in agriculture
Because of the multifaceted nature of decision-making, it is important to expand evaluation practices to encompass a complex understanding of how decisions are made as well as the household and systemic power dynamics and social norms that affect decision-making. A mixed-methods approach that supplements the data collected through quantitative surveys with qualitative studies can help capture a more complete understanding of decision-making processes and the extent to which men and women participate in the decision-making process and impact final outcomes.
ACDI/VOCA uses organization-level metrics related to decision-making such as:
- Females/youth who report positive contributions to group/organization decisions
- Females/youth who report they provide input into decisions about the use of productive/business assets
- Females/youth who report they provide input into decisions about the use of income
These metrics are disaggregated by sex, age and other social factors as well as by type of organization, type of decision, type of asset, income source and other categories.
To support project-level measurement and learning, ACDI/VOCA developed the GenderFirstTM Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (GMEL) Framework, which is a tool for integrating comprehensive measurement, analysis and learning about a project’s influence on gender equity, female empowerment and social inclusion in the sectors and areas where a project is implemented. The GMEL provides guidance to measure decision-making as related to project goals, outcomes, and results; participation in such key activities; uptake of technologies and management practices; and leadership roles. All metrics are disaggregated by sex, age and other social factors, and may be further disaggregated by other relevant details such as type of group or organization, credit, asset, income or activity.
In addition to surveys (baseline, annual, and endline), ACDI/VOCA collects qualitative data through focus group discussions and key informant interviews customized to the research questions and objectives of the study to help understand the “quality” and domain of participation in decision-making. For example, in the USAID Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice Diversified Crops Activity, ACDI/VOCA assessed the program’s contributions to women’s participation in business versus household decisions. It also collects data through impact assessments and seeks to understand whether project activities have affected decision-making and in what ways.
ACDI/VOCA has also used the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) methodology. The Feed the Future Ghana Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement II program, for example, implemented a simplified WEAI made up of four domains: production, income, resources and leadership. The program found that on average a woman who is empowered in four domains has 62 percent higher yields than one who is empowered in none of the four domains. When women contribute in the decision to purchase agricultural inputs, they are 27 percent more likely to use nonsaved seeds and 58 percent more likely to use fertilizers. As a result, they have 23 percent higher yields.
There are also methodologies, such as the gender audit (InterAction or International Labour Office), that allow for assessing an organization’s commitment and application of gender mainstreaming practices. These tools, as written, do not specifically assess women’s decision-making and leadership within the institution itself. It can be argued, however, that the conditions for women’s equitable and improved decision-making are supported by an institutional environment that embraces and implements the values and approaches that are assessed by a gender audit. For implementers interested in assessing women’s decision-making within an institution, it is possible to adapt the gender audit methodology to include a component focused on women’s participation in organizational decision-making processes. Adaptation of these methods may also include augmenting the methodology to include qualitative components such as key informant interviews and focus group discussions to assess women’s participation in organizational decision-making processes.
ACDI/VOCA and its subsidiary, Tanager, both provide capacity-building with various types of agriculture institutions. This capacity-building often begins with a form of gender audit or gender-integrated organizational capacity assessment. For example, the Impacting Gender & Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange in Agriculture program, implemented by Tanager, uses a client diagnostic tool with agriculture organizations that identifies gender and nutrition capacity across eight organizational domains and helps identify areas where technical assistance is needed. This tool includes a review of leadership development practices, including whether the organization promotes equal opportunities for men and women to participate in decision-making processes and tracks (and seeks to address) gender gaps in leadership roles.
Lessons learned on measuring decision-making power
Many of the metrics and outcomes that projects measure are affected by decision-making power, whether or not decision-making is explicit in the measure itself, and projects should have customized indicators and metrics for measuring decision-making based on individual design and scope. For example, a project might measure the number of male and female farmers adopting improved technologies or management practices. It is important to not make assumptions about why males and females apply technology or management practices, because the ability to make such decisions is affected by family or community relationships —‚power — as well as technical knowledge, awareness of laws and rights about land, access to financial resources, skills, time and confidence, among other issues.
Gendered preferences and the gender division of crops could also influence the adoption and application of different crop technologies. For example, men’s preference and control over crops with market value may lead to the crops that they grow getting priority in household resources (decision to allocate income to those crop technologies). It is important to understand how gender division of crops influences household decisions to apply or adopt technology for different crops. Projects should assess the dynamics that impact these decisions and how they shift.
Another important area of learning is to understand correlations without assuming that changes affect root causes. For example, projects may identify that increases in women’s incomes are positively correlated with increases in women’s decision-making power. However, these changes do not necessarily reflect changes in underlying power differences or social inequality. ACDI/VOCA research has shown that where increases in women’s incomes result in increases in decision-making power but are not combined with social norms change (i.e., transformative interventions that shift perceptions and social norms about women’s roles, value, and decision-making in general). These increases may not be sustainable long term, and subsequent loss of women’s income due to shocks, stresses or market downturns results in related loss of decision-making power.
Learn how other organizations are measuring women's empowerment here and through these additional blog posts:
Assessing the Needs of Women in Ethiopia through the FEED III Project (includes link to full study)
Six Ways Ghanaian Women Thrive in Village Savings and Loan Associations (includes link to full study)