Why Women’s Empowerment in Market Systems Matters: Lessons from the Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) Closeout
At the Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) closeout event on July 27, panelists representing USAID, the private sector and implementing partners shared their perspectives on why women’s empowerment within market systems is important and how to integrate women’s empowerment into market systems development.
Why is women’s empowerment in market systems important?
Melissa Schweisguth, market systems specialist for the USAID Bureau for Resilience and Food Security’s Center for Agriculture-Led Growth, noted that women consist of half the population, and that in market systems development, “we can’t leave half the population behind. And the other half of the population is not going to get as far ahead as they could have if they don’t have women helping. We need a hundred percent of everyone working at their full potential.” Further, the private sector needs to understand that “half or more of their customers could be women and if they don’t have the distribution methods, information or credit systems targeted to women, they are overlooking half their business. If they are not developing women in the supply chain, they are compromising the quality of the volumes and the efficiency of half or more of their supply.”
She also noted that women’s participation needs to be meaningful. “Meaningful participation goes beyond counting. In the past, we would count to fulfil our indicators — we would make sure women showed up at training or received seeds and tools. They were there and they were counted. And then they went back home to their normal lives, and if there were unequal gender power balances at home, they still didn’t have access to finance or decision-making power. Meaningful participation is about power. Decision-making power is that first step of meaningful participation of women being empowered; being about to make decisions about what they produce, how they sell it and how, as a woman, they want to spend their time. Meaningful participation also applies to leadership and having women taking leadership positions, not just as participants in a cooperative or organization. As leaders, they have the opportunity to capture added value.
In market systems development, the aim is to improve the whole system. Women and men all bring different perspectives and different backgrounds, which is needed in every level of the market system. With decision-making power, men and women are empowered to optimize their production, output and livelihoods equally. Other goals, such as nutritional, business or livelihoods goals, cannot be addressed without ensuring that women have equal opportunity to be empowered to take leadership positions and to have decision-making power.”
Lizzeth Villatoro, general manager of Banco LAFISE Honduras, shared that lenders are leaving money on the table if they choose to ignore women. “Small and medium businesses are a key sector in Honduras. Twenty-three percent of the small and medium enterprises in Honduras are owned by women. From this 23%, 42% of the medium-sized enterprises need financial services, and banks are currently not meeting all the women’s financial needs. If you translate this to money to see the market opportunity, we’re talking about $2 billion. In a study done by Banco LAFISE in alliance with the IFC [International Finance Corporation], we learned that women are exemplary customers. They save more, they pay on time and are more loyal, and they purchase a variety of financial products. One of our biggest lessons as a bank and also as a private sector is that we can demonstrate that financial inclusion is really good for business.”
What can we do to integrate women’s empowerment within market systems?
Annet Namunane, senior gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) advisor for Uganda Inclusive Agricultural Markets (IAM), shared, “In market systems, when you work with the private sector, you have to show the value proposition and the business case for integrating women, youth and other marginalized groups in their business model. We do this by co-designing with the private sector and analyzing their activities to ensure they do not have unintended consequences or will reinforce inequalities already that already exist. When we co-design together, we are able to identify the constraints and the opportunities, and identify opportunities around employment, the supply chain and products and services. From that point we are able to design interventions that ensure that women, the youth and other marginalized groups benefit from the market, and that the private sector also does not see this as a burden, but an opportunity to profit from a neglected market segment.”
Farzana Yasmeen, senior advisor for monitoring, evaluation and learning and program development for the Economic Growth Office at USAID/Bangladesh, also noted the importance of co-designing with the private sector. The first step at USAID/Bangladesh is to undertake market assessment or in-market analysis for the value chain they are currently designing for, as well as a gender analysis to identify the gaps for women. They then identify the common ground or entry point for working with the private sector. “At the end of the day, we are all following a market system approach, but our end goal is not making sure that the private sector business is sustained. Our end goal is to benefit that smallholder farmer and most importantly the women farmer.”
Jane Lowicki-Zucca, senior youth advisor within USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security shared that it is important to be intentional about inclusion from start to finish. She shared five points stakeholders can take to ensure inclusion is top of mind:
- Knowledge management is important. No one needs to reinvent the wheel, and knowledge needs to be passed along from generation to generation. Stakeholders must own and embrace knowledge transactions.
- Stakeholders need to believe in inclusion. Integrating a focus on gender and social inclusion and assessments and analyses, including approaches to market assessments, is very important.
- Recognize people as key stakeholders in their own development and as activity participants through a human-centered approach.
- Learn and adapt. Markets are dynamic and people’s lives are dynamic. There are shocks and stresses that will cause the best laid plans to shift. Stakeholders should build in participatory ways to anticipate the need to pivot and change, particularly when you’re testing market probes.
- Identify strategic points of leverage. For example, with young people, there is a lot of evidence related to a lack of access to capital land and other protective resources, as well as an ongoing need for capacity strengthening, particularly soft skills development.
Learn more about inclusive market systems on AWE’s Agrilinks page: