Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Bringing Women’s Empowerment from Research to Reality

Authored by

Michelle Stern
Michelle Stern
Senior Technical Director, Technical Learning and Application

Michelle Stern is Senior Technical Director for Technical Learning and Application at ACDI/VOCA. She supports gender integration and women’s empowerment throughout the project cycle.  

Women’s empowerment is an important part of development, and measuring results helps to make sure that activities are helping women. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) was launched in February 2012 by USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative as an innovative tool for measuring, evaluating, and learning about women’s empowerment and inclusion in the agriculture sector. It has provided important information about the causes of women’s disempowerment in many of the countries where USAID works. 

But what does this mean in real life? How can we take the findings and use them to impact gender equity and women’s empowerment? How can we contribute to positive changes in the Index? One place to start is the Practitioners’ Guide to Selecting and Designing WEAI Interventions. The Guide includes a menu of illustrative activities linked to each of the five domains of empowerment used in the WEAI survey. These activities can be adapted to suit particular countries and specific environments. 

Maybe you’re implementing an activity in Bangladesh, and you’ve learned that women’s empowerment is significantly inhibited by weak leadership and influence in the community, lack of control over resources, and lack of control over income. Domain 3: Control over Use of Income might be helpful in this instance. One suggested intervention in that section, for example, is to help women access technologies that safeguard their income, such as prepaid cards to distribute loan payments or biometric smartcards to control savings account access. If these technologies are not readily available, there is likely to be a way to adapt the proposed intervention to respond to the country context. 

Or, your activity could be in Honduras, where control over income is also a major contributor to women’s disempowerment, but the greatest constraint is lack of access to productive resources such as credit. In that case, you could turn to Domain 2: Access to Productive Resources and address this challenge by supporting financial literacy training through women’s groups in order to improve money management skills and build confidence in savings organizations. As a complementary activity, you can also work with financial institutions and other credit providers to expand their services to be more inclusive of female producers.

Perhaps you’re in a country where WEAI results are not available, but you’ve carried out activity-level gender analysis and found that, because there are few women leaders in producer organizations, women’s voices are not being heard. In that case, you could open the Guide to Domain 4: Community Leadership and consider seeking out civil society organizations in the region that provide leadership training (either for women or both women and men) and leverage their expertise.

The idea behind the Guide is to help practitioners – both gender experts and laypeople – move beyond the WEAI data to concrete action. Even if none of the proposed interventions are quite right, they are likely to spur thinking about what other interventions might fit the context. Our field staff has appreciated the opportunity to use the Guide to help them figure out how to achieve gender targets in a meaningful way, and, as a gender advisor, I’ve been happy to see them empowered to design and implement gender-sensitive programming.

We intend to update the Guide in a revised edition at a later date and are collecting feedback here to inform revisions. Please share your thoughts, ideas, and experiences to help the gender community understand how best to translate into practice the evidence from the WEAI survey results. Tell us what works and what doesn’t, so we can continue to improve together. Also, coming soon: activity-level indicators to measure the impact of interventions that address women’s disempowerment.