The new Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) will be officially launched today during the United Nations’ 56thsession of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York City. The WEAI is the first-ever measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agricultural sector.
The index is the product of a partnership between USAID, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) of Oxford University, in support of President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative to combat global hunger and poverty.
Paul Weisenfeld, Assistant to the Administrator for the Bureau for Food Security at USAID, Dr. Sabina Alkire who leads OPHI, and Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, Senior Research Fellow for the Poverty, Health, and Nutrition Division at IFPRI answer questions about this innovative measurement tool.
Q: What is the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index and what will it mean for the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative?
Paul: The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector to identify ways to overcome obstacles and constraints that hinder women’s engagement and equality. The Index is a significant innovation in its field and aims to increase understanding of the connections between women’s empowerment, food security, and agricultural growth. It measures the roles and extent of women’s engagement in the agriculture sector in five domains: (1) decisions about agricultural production, (2) access to and decision-making power over productive resources, (3) control over use of income, (4) leadership in the community, and (5) time use. It also measures women’s empowerment relative to the men within their households.
The WEAI was developed to track the change in women’s empowerment levels that occurs as a direct or indirect result of interventions under Feed the Future. The U.S. Government sees the inclusion of women in agricultural sector growth as a key component of the Feed the Future strategy. We are paying close attention to gender integration at the country-, program-, and project-level, and trying to get it right at every stage of the initiative. This is where the Index plays a critical role; we want to continue to study, assess, and monitor how our approaches impact women, men, and their engagement in overall agricultural sector growth.
Q: What makes the WEAI so innovative?
Sabina: The WEAI is the first index to directly capture women’s empowerment in agriculture and provides invaluable tools for empowering women and improving gender equality.
The WEAI reveals the areas such as time burdens, community leadership, and control over income and resources, where women are most disempowered. It also shows whether an ‘empowerment gap’ exists between women and men from the same household.
And because it gets closer in, it also transforms our understanding of who is empowered. Until now, wealth and education have been taken as signs of how empowered women are. The WEAI gives a more precise picture. Pilot results from Guatemala, for example, show that 76% of the sample region’s wealthiest women are disempowered in agricultural empowerment. The index is constructed using an adaptation of the Alkire Foster method for measuring multidimensional poverty.
Q: If we’re seeing that wealth and education don’t necessarily mean “empowerment” for women, then what does empowerment mean in the context of agricultural development?
Agnes: It means a woman is able to make decisions, access the tools she needs, obtain a loan if she needs to buy inputs to expand production, join a women’s group, and take on leadership roles to advance agricultural production and tackle shared problems in the community. It means that she can control her income, better manage her time, and make sure she remains healthy and productive in her multiple roles. These factors enable a woman to do things such as produce food for her family; identify and help raise awareness to address problems affecting output – like crop disease or drought –helping communities cope with unexpected shocks; bring her products to market; and have the opportunity to both advance and benefit from economic growth opportunities.
All of this increases women’s bargaining power within her household and her ability to decide how she’ll spend her income. Our work at IFPRI has shown that women are more likely to spend additional income on their children’s health, nutrition, and education, as well as on other investments that ultimately result in dividends that advance the broader community. We know that empowering women is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. It helps advance families, communities, and the broader global good.
Learn more about the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index