Relevance: Why Agriculture and Market Systems Development (MSD) Programs Should Consider Economic Violence
Dr. Jenn Williamson, Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) gender and agriculture systems advisor and vice president, gender and social inclusion at ACDI/VOCA, explains the relevance of economic violence to agriculture and market systems development (MSD) programs. Interventions that increase access to finance for women in situations with significant gender gaps and social inequality can disrupt power dynamics, leading to economic violence. She argues that do-no-harm analyses are key to preventing inadvertent harm.
Economic violence has the potential to undermine women, youth and other vulnerable populations’ performance, participation and benefit from agriculture and MSD program interventions. This form of violence is not limited to the household, and it can also affect the overall competitiveness, inclusiveness and resilience of the agriculture or market system.
Economic violence, especially when paired with physical, psychological or other types of violence, can undermine competitiveness in the system as abusers limit the other person’s access to (or altogether seize) economic assets required to innovate or grow their farm or business. It also affects inclusiveness as survivors are unable to access and/or benefit from market participation and resilience, as survivors lack economic resources or decision-making power needed to address or overcome shocks.
How can agriculture and MSD interventions inadvertently cause harm?
Additionally, in contexts where there are significant gender gaps and social inequality, economic violence can be an unintended consequence of agriculture and MSD interventions. A project may be working toward increasing market participation, but as the project increases access to markets — including access to finance, resources and skills — for individuals who had previously been excluded, the disruption of power dynamics and social norms can unintentionally lead to economic violence.
A 2018 study of unintended consequences of a microfinance initiative in Ghana found that while the program promotes female entrepreneurship, women’s success with microfinance created conflict within households. Male spouses “feel threatened by female independent decision-making,” and the traditional role of men was being challenged, so they sought ways to address the shift in power, resulting in economic violence.
Another 2018 study looked at influential factors among men that were associated with the perpetuation of economic violence against women in Laos. The researchers interviewed male heads of household from 350 families in the rural areas of Vientiane Capital, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Over 80% of the population are rice farmers or engage in other agricultural activities. The study found that the majority of the population (40.6%) has perpetrated economic violence against women. Among the specific factors explored in the study, 35.4% of the male population admitted that they do not like the idea of letting their wives work outside of their house.
Comprehensive data is still limited on economic violence, but this area of research is growing. Studies like those shared above illustrate the presence of economic violence across contexts, while the Ghana and Peru examples highlight risks of economic violence for agriculture and MSD programs that seek to increase access to economic resources in contexts where gender dynamics and social norms could be disrupted. They demonstrate the importance of ensuring that agriculture and MSD programs incorporate the practice of identifying potential gender-based violence (GBV) risks — including the risk of economic violence — as part of program design and implementation. This is essential for programs to not only achieve more inclusive agriculture and market systems, but also more competitive and resilient ones.
What can agriculture and MSD programs do to reduce the risk of economic violence?
Within agriculture and MSD programs, it is important to identify and address the social norms and root causes that create gaps around access to resources and decision-making to prevent backlash and promote greater understanding of how increased empowerment and inclusion benefits whole communities and economies, and as a result, how the system itself reinforces and invests in these best practices. Gender and social inclusion or do-no-harm analyses are important first steps to uncovering and understanding such norms to then inform interventions or partnerships to address them.
Further, the AWE “Toolkit to Address Gender-Based Violence in Agriculture and Market Systems Development” provides practical, how-to guidance on preventing, mitigating and responding to GBV for agriculture and MSD technical staff and gender and social inclusion advisors, and specifically focuses on GBV within the context of day-to-day agriculture programming. The GBV in agriculture toolkit offers examples of ways to identify where economic violence may be a consideration; brief case studies of how programs have designed interventions to mitigate, prevent or respond to violence; and guidance for programs to determine what entry points and actions are appropriate for the project context.