Women’s empowerment in agriculture: Lessons from qualitative research
This paper (PDF) in SSRN synthesizes qualitative research conducted conjointly with quantitative surveys, to develop a project-level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (pro-WEAI). There is growing recognition of the importance of women’s empowerment in its own right and for a range of development outcomes, but less understanding of what empowerment means to rural women and men. The challenge of measuring empowerment, particularly across cultures and contexts, is also garnering attention. Despite challenges in translating the concept of “empowerment” across different cultures, the study revealed similarities among perceptions of women’s empowerment across contexts. Economic status was an important component, meaning that empowered women can take care of themselves, their families, and their communities. Women’s empowerment was seen more positively when it was not just an individual attribute, but used to “lift the burden” of others. Both men and women reacted negatively to the notion of women having power over others, especially over men. Results also showed interconnections between different quantitative indicators of empowerment. Women’s workloads and domestic responsibilities often limit their mobility and ability to earn income, two common measures of empowerment. Group membership can be empowering, but time and mobility mediate women’s ability to participate in groups. This study gave three critical insights: 1) It reveals where conceptions of empowerment among researchers may diverge from those of rural women and men in different contexts, enabling future development programming and research to be more sensitive to the norms and beliefs shaping rural livelihoods to improve outcomes; 2) Provide projects with guidance on strategies that can contribute to women’s empowerment, and allow them to interpret quantitative results of pro-WEAI; 3) The importance of qualitative research to provide rich contextual data for assessing empowerment, and a methodology that can be used in this pursuit.