New index to empower women and fight hunger

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Oxford University researchers have helped create a new index designed to help empower women working in agriculture in developing countries.

The ‘Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index’ (WEAI) is the first measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion in the agricultural sector. Empowering women in agriculture means helping them produce food, bring their produce to market, obtain loans, tackle community problems and benefit from opportunities to grow their businesses.

To mark International Women’s Day this week, over 100 senior government officials, academics and NGO representatives gathered at a briefing at the Houses of Parliament to hear about the groundbreaking new approach. The event was co-hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development.

To build the index, women and men from the same household were interviewed in three pilot countries with diverse socioeconomic and cultural contexts – Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda.

Researchers from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at Oxford University collaborated with the US Government’s Feed the Future initiative, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to produce the index. It will now be used to track the change in women’s empowerment that occurs as a direct or indirect result of US government interventions.

Traditionally, money and education have been used as indirect signposts of women’s empowerment. The index reveals, however, that having money or being educated does not guarantee that women will thrive as entrepreneurs in the field of agriculture.

The index focuses on women because they play a critical role in agricultural growth in developing countries, yet they face persistent obstacles and economic constraints. The index focuses on five areas: decisions over agricultural production, power over productive resources such as land and livestock, income decisions, leadership in the community, and how they spend their time. Women are considered to be empowered if they have adequate achievements in four of the five areas.

The index also compares the empowerment of women and men from the same household, asking both genders the same survey questions.

In the sample from the Western Highlands of Guatemala, three-quarters of women in the wealthiest two-thirds of the population do not yet have any real influence.

In the southern Bangladesh sample, more than half of women have less influence than the men with whom they share their home, yet they are usually confident about speaking in public – another sign of empowerment.

In the sample from rural parts of Uganda, women were found to lack control over resources and how they spent their time.

‘The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index marks a major advance in our ability to measure empowerment,’ said Dr Sabina Alkire who leads OPHI and is co-creator of the Alkire Foster method for measuring multidimensional poverty, which has been used to construct the index. ‘In giving us an improved understanding of empowerment, it enhances our ability to better empower women and improve their lives.’

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