Income Alone Is Not Enough: The Importance of Increasing Women’s Decision-Making in Agriculture
When women have control over how they spend their income, they invest a far greater percentage of it on their families than men do. Their spending helps improve education, health and nutrition outcomes for the whole family. While many agriculture programs invest in women’s economic empowerment, there is no clear understanding that women’s access to income necessarily correlates with their control over how to spend that income. Although there can be many positive outcomes of increasing women’s income, increasing income alone is not necessarily enough to improve women’s empowerment and benefit the household. Women’s empowerment requires additional steps to improve their ability to make decisions or participate in joint decision-making with their spouse. If women lack control over the decisions regarding how their income is used, the positive impact on their family and community is limited.
Therefore, it is critical to increase women’s decision-making power in agricultural programming in tandem with increasing women’s income. Agricultural development programs may succeed in increasing women’s incomes in the short-term, but these efforts will be largely unsustainable, and their impact on women, their families and their communities will be stunted or short-lived without also ensuring that women have decision-making power over spending.
Approaches for increasing women’s decision-making in agriculture
To start addressing this gap, the Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) program is exploring ways to understand and increase women’s decision-making in agriculture. The program started by collecting evidence-based approaches to increasing women’s decision-making power in two spheres. The first sphere was agricultural production, such as decision-making over what to plant, what inputs to use and how to spend the income generated. The second was agricultural institutions, such as participating in collective decision-making within farmer groups, associations, cooperatives, agribusinesses and community groups. AWE recently completed its first phase of research, which included eight group interviews with global organizations and 10 individual interviews with agricultural institutions, all of which include increasing women’s decision-making power in their agriculture programs.
Through these interviews, AWE was able to collect a list of evidence-based approaches to increasing women’s decision-making in agriculture, as well as its outcomes and impact. While the approaches varied depending on whether they were intended to increase women’s decision-making power over production or within agricultural institutions, the most common approaches were providing access to finance or other resources, countering social norms through male engagement, using role models and gender champions and using quotas or other policy reforms. It is important to note that these approaches were found to be most effective when combined and used simultaneously at the national, community and household levels.
Beyond the positive outcomes on household education, health and nutrition supported by existing evidence, participants identified that these increases in women’s agency and decision-making led to increased agricultural productivity, strengthened supply and value chains, and increased resilience to shocks, including economic and climate shocks or health shocks like COVID-19. These outcomes create a strong case for integrating approaches to increasing women’s decision-making into agricultural programming to achieve programmatic goals.
Gathering evidence on women’s decision-making in agriculture
In speaking with agricultural institutions and implementing partners, AWE took the first step to better understanding what approaches exist for increasing women’s decision-making in agriculture and what their outcomes are. In the next phase of research, AWE aims to validate these initial findings with evidence-based programmatic approaches for increasing women’s decision-making in agriculture.
In March 2021, AWE embarked on the second phase of research, which includes conducting a larger evidence scan of approaches and outcomes of increasing women’s decision-making power in agricultural production and agricultural institutions. AWE will create a summary of evidence-based resources on approaches for increasing women’s decision-making, what the outcomes of these approaches are, and how to measure their success. From this, AWE will create tools that will enable development practitioners to integrate women’s decision-making interventions into their agriculture programs. The complete evidence scan will be available in the summer of 2021 and the final tools will be available in early 2022.
AWE’s research on increasing women’s decision-making power in agriculture will play an important role in filling the evidence gap. Agricultural development practitioners will be able to use these resources to determine which approaches to increasing women’s decision-making power are best suited for their programming.
In addition to this research on women’s decision-making power in agriculture, AWE provides technical assistance to missions, implementing partners, USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, and USAID offices to increase women’s participation, productivity, profit and benefit in agricultural systems. Through a range of services, AWE can identify opportunities for increasing women’s decision-making power and provide support for executing these activities to ultimately increase women’s empowerment and gender equity in agriculture systems and programs.