Despite hardships: Women running own households provide model of empowerment and innovation
This blog by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) discusses stories of resilience, change and achievement emerging from the testimonies of women running their own households. These stories were found during a recent study exploring gender and innovation processes in villages in maize farming regions of Ethiopia, Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. It showed that many of the “unattached” women in the sample rated themselves as strongly empowered by their experiences with running their households and with managing their own farms and livestock and petty trades. Also, many widows innovate in their agricultural livelihoods and work their way out of poverty. These findings are consistent with wider trends underway in sub-Saharan Africa where women-headed households are experiencing faster poverty reduction than male-headed households. It seems there is a distinction between the more fluid gender norms that apply to widows and other women who head their households in comparison to the more restrictive norms for married women. One of the most unexpected findings is the disproportionate numbers of women who report heading their households in the study sample of women identified as “innovators.” The research suggests that women heads of households may offer entry points for strengthening agricultural innovations at the local level as they can provide role models which may help to shift local normative environments for other women and men.