Putting Women at the Center of Household Decision-Making
By Amy Gaman, Nuru Nigeria Executive Director, and Dena Bunnel, Nuru International Impact and Markets Specialist
March 8 was International Women’s Day — a day to celebrate the incredible work that women do every day for their families, communities and economies. Furthermore, it is a day to acknowledge the gains that still need to be made in recognizing women’s role and empowering women to be changemakers. At Nuru Nigeria, women are front and center in our programs. In northeast Nigeria, women traditionally do not have as much power in decision-making as men in the household. However, when more economic power is placed in the hands of women, they are nearly three times more likely than men to spend earned income on family needs, such as nutrition, health and education. In addition, women play a significant role in agricultural activities in most households in northeast Nigeria.
Women are the backbone of family welfare and they play a vital role in their household economic well-being. This critical, but under-recognized, role of women is why women serve as the entry point to our communities in Nuru Nigeria programs. Women often grow key crops, like groundnuts, which serve as both an important food crop and a market crop that can be sold for cash. This money can then be used for other household needs, such as medicine or clothes. Women also often raise small livestock or engage in small-scale processing, like pressing groundnuts into oil for cooking and groundnut cake for snack foods. These activities are an important contribution to household income.
For all of these reasons, Nuru works with women as the starting point for Nuru Nigeria’s work. This focus on women helps increase inclusivity, empowerment and involvement of women in community decision-making. As women are included, their valued voices are more readily heard. Nuru believes that every human deserves an opportunity for fairness and justice. Women — including those in rural communities — are no exception. These women also deserve to be heard in their communities and in their households.
Creating More Effective Partnerships
Nuru’s approach to having women at the forefront of our programming also considers many elements of a do-no-harm approach, which is firmly ingrained in our mission and model.
Nuru encourages household decision-making, an approach that supports women and men to work together to collectively make decisions for their households and families. Many development experts raise the concern that economic empowerment of women has the potential to create additional problems for these same women. These problems include increased gender-based violence against women as a result of shifting power dynamics in the household. In order to mitigate such risks, Nuru promotes household-level decision-making that encourages men and women to make decisions collectively.
In Nuru’s programs in northeast Nigeria, while women lead the charge, men also become involved once a female household member is engaged in Nuru programming. In this way, women are leading the income-generating activities for their household, but men are not excluded from the process. Partnership is fostered, and men become supportive actors in empowering women to make economic investments that will improve their livelihood. Women simultaneously take on leadership roles in their communities. Through this strategy, Nuru Nigeria maintains an approximately 3:1 female-to-male ratio among its participants. Having both women and men sharing decision-making responsibilities helps to prevent problems that could otherwise emerge as a result of shifting power dynamics in the household.
Nuru Nigeria began implementing programs in 2019, and farmers are already seeing positive impacts from women leading the way. A program to provide seedlings and training for vegetable permagardens was conducted in 2019 and delivered an increase of approximately 43% in income for the participating households, while supporting access to sustainable and nutritious foods. Women were also able to access loans for post-harvest technologies (Purdue Improved Crop Storage (PICS) hermetic storage bags) in 2019, and for seeds and inputs to produce improved groundnuts in 2020, while male participants from the same households produced soybeans.
One Nuru farmer association member, Mary, joined Nuru programs with the hope of getting access to improved seeds and seeing her yield improve. Mary, a mother of five, was able to increase the size of her land under cultivation. Her participation in the permagarden program allowed her to not only improve nutrition in her household, but also to generate more income by selling the excess in the market.
By unlocking the potential of women within the households, poverty solutions will be more sustainable and equitable. Nuru Nigeria is committed to advancing gender equality through our farmer organizations. Furthermore, Nuru is active in mainstreaming the minimum standards for gender equality, which lay out a baseline for strategies that will advance gender equality.
Women’s empowerment is a strong predictor of whether households can escape and remain out of poverty in the face of shocks and stresses. By giving women more economic power, without taking power away from male household members, we give women the opportunity to make lasting, meaningful choices for their families.
Nuru Nigeria celebrates International Women’s Day this year by continuing to create communities where women can serve as leaders for their communities and their households to build healthier, more resilient lives.