Social Media and Drone Technology: Transforming Gender Norms for Women Livestock Farmers
This post is written by Madison Spinelli and Madeline Wong, Princeton in Africa Fellows at the International Livestock Research Institute.
Small ruminants and chickens, which are often cared for by women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), have been shown to help women become more independent and improve the nutrition of their households.
Although women do much of the work in livestock farming, they need more access to resources and power in decision-making compared to men. Gender norms, perceived as "appropriate" behavior for a woman or man, often prevent women's empowerment in agriculture by, for example, limiting their mobility, ownership of assets and resources, and decision-making about income. In the last ten years, researchers have shifted from accommodative approaches (which provide solutions that accommodate existing gender norms, e.g., by gifting women with livestock so that they can own some, rather than challenging the norm that women cannot inherit livestock, to transformative approaches, which engage communities to discuss the pros and cons of a given gender norm. The gender research team at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has been using gender transformative approaches (GTAs) to sustainably change negative gender norms surrounding women poultry farmers throughout the value chain.
Alessandra Galiè, leader of the gender research team at ILRI, shared the success of these GTAs:
The gender research team at ILRI in collaboration with local partners, have supported women-led livestock business through innovative solutions such as drone-delivered vaccines, women-friendly software combined with women vets, village-level lead farmers, and role models for gender equity. We have witnessed the huge potential of such women-led livestock businesses in reaching the majority of livestock keepers with inputs and markets and supporting the empowerment of women and the well-being of their households.
Using Social Media to Change Gender Norms for Women in the Chicken Business, Tanzania
In October 2021, ILRI partnered with Shujaaz Inc to carry out #BintiShujaaz, a campaign designed to break down gender normative barriers that prevent women from successfully engaging in poultry agribusiness in Tanzania. Shujaaz's prior GroundTruth research found that poultry farming was an easy way for young people, especially women, to enter the market system. However, harmful gender norms, like "women should not be financially independent or make more money than their male partners," prevented women poultry vendors from becoming successful businesswomen.
Through social media posts, videos, offline comics and two online panel discussions, stories highlighted positive examples of young women in the chicken business and men supporting women in the chicken business. At the study's end, the campaign reached 4.4 million young Tanzanians, with 507K of them engaging directly with Shujaaz content on social media.
Not only were young women and men changing their perceptions of women in the poultry business, but some women began poultry keeping themselves. Rosemary Mbeya, 25 years old and with a son, saw the online posts and decided to keep chicks to earn an extra income to supplement her job as a pharmacist. Mbeya still visits the social media page to learn more about poultry farming and share her experience: "BintiShujaaz proves to be effective in encouraging young women to make moves and be financially independent because all the stories I saw (my favourite being from Cecilia, who is also a working mom like me) shows that it is possible."
The campaign also encouraged male support for women poultry farmers. Ian, 25 years old, entered the chicken business with his girlfriend while trying to find a job post-graduation and jointly save money for marriage: "I am pleased to start this hustle with my girlfriend because, as I said, soon we plan to move from home and go to be independent and start our own life."
ILRI and Shujaaz hope that the continuation and expansion of this project will encourage 'norming,' using peer-to-peer learning through social media to make women and youth in agribusiness accepted as usual.
Supporting a Gender-Responsive Livestock Vaccine System, Ghana
Animal vaccines are a critical aspect for livestock health and management, impacting productivity and related income. Healthy livestock mean greater empowerment for farmers. Healthy chickens and goats in Tanzania and Ghana represent enhanced women's empowerment through, for example, more animal-source foods available for women to perform their traditional role as nutrition providers or by providing surplus milk from which women can make an income. However, rural women livestock keepers in Ghana have difficulties reaching animal health service providers who are primarily men: local gender norms dictate that men vets liaise only with men farmers. Women farmers have problems sourcing vaccines for their animals: gender norms constrain women's mobility, and they cannot reach agro-vet shops.
As a consequence, women's chickens and goats are not vaccinated. ILRI's Women REAR project, in partnership with CARE International and CowTribe and supported by The Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund (LVIF), is testing innovative approaches to gender vaccine delivery in Ghana to break gender barriers and increase access for women farmers to vaccines for Newcastle, Peste de Petit Ruminant (PPR) and Contagious Caprine Pleuropneumonia (CCPP). One such approach is to involve young women vet graduates working as animal health service providers. Women vets can reach women farmers more quickly than men vets. However, women animal health service providers also face gender norms that hinder their ability to perform effectively in their business. One local gender norm, for example, discourages a woman from working as a vet because it is believed that when a menstruating woman enters a pen, all the animals die.
Created in 2019, the project has been investigating the causes and consequences of gender inequality to gather evidence in support of a gender-responsive livestock vaccine system. It aims to positively change beliefs, perceptions and norms about women-owned livestock and women animal health service providers through transformative approaches. "Traditionally, women here are not supposed to own livestock; everything we have belongs to our husbands," said Dorcas Ayere of Bawku West District in Northern Ghana. "Before we make a decision, we consult with our husbands." The project aims to question such perceptions of women's role in livestock management by opening a dialog with the communities on the advantages and disadvantages for their household of women's inability to make decisions on their own livestock.
Researchers are working with households, including male and female farmers, in the Bawku West and Pusiga districts of Ghana. They are exploring how animal vaccines and women's empowerment relate. They found that knowledge of vaccines and animal health are strongly correlated to women's empowerment. More animal health knowledge corresponds to women's greater power in decision-making.
Equipped with this knowledge, researchers are now focusing on possible interventions to increase the linkage between livestock vaccines and women empowerment, making the system more responsive to women farmers.
Peter Awin, a co-founder of CowTribe, knows the importance of inclusive and equitable vaccine access. "We want to ensure that no farmer in Ghana is denied access to good-quality and reliable healthcare for the animal they depend on for a livelihood. And we mean any farmer; man or woman," he said. Delivery of animal vaccines through drones is one way of reaching farmers from remote areas (otherwise difficult to reach) promptly (a few hours rather than weeks) and at a lower cost (drone-delivered vaccines are 25 percent cheaper). This facilitates the access and affordability of chicken and goat vaccines for women farmers.
Gender-blind interventions are limited in their efficacy in transforming gender norms in livestock health and management systems. Gender transformative and accommodative approaches can support women's access to and involvement in household livestock production, strengthening the overall system and supporting successful intervention strategies. The Women REAR team is currently piloting interventions in the study districts and hopes to expand the project. By testing the impact of transformative and accommodative approaches on women's empowerment, the project aims to provide recommendations on the most effective approaches for a gender-responsive animal vaccine delivery system.
For more information on the #BintiShujaaz project see: https://www.ilri.org/research/projects/women-in-business
LVIF is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), and Canada’s International Development Research Centre. For more information on the Women REAR project see: https://www.ilri.org/research/projects/transforming-vaccine-delivery-system-ghana-identifying-approaches-benefit-women