According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women compose 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force. In less developed countries, where large portions of the population live in rural areas, the majority of the agricultural workforce is often female. Unfortunately, the employment of women in the agricultural sector does not necessarily equate to female empowerment, as many lack land rights, benefits or access to financial assistance normally reserved for their male counterparts (i.e. loans or microloans). In order to gain a better understanding of women’s empowerment in agriculture, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) partnered with USAID’s Feed the Future and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to launch the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI).
You might be wondering, is it really that important to measure women’s empowerment in agriculture? The answer to that question is an astounding YES. Food insecurity due to climate change is a very real and pressing issue. Around the world, food prices are rising as farmers – many of whom are women – find it increasingly difficult to grow crops. If half the populace and the majority of smallholder farmers battle gender discrimination on top of issues of climate change, that nation’s economy will inevitably fail to reach its full potential and continue on the road to low growth and food insecurity.
Divided into two sub-indexes, the WEAI first measures the five domains of empowerment for women and then assesses gender equality in empowerment within the household. Because the WEAI is a composite of both indexes, it arguably becomes an aggregate of its five domains of empowerment: production, resources, income, leadership and time.** In its pilot year, case studies were conducted in southwestern Bangladesh, the Western Highlands of Guatemala, and Uganda. Although data differed among the highly diverse regions, each area surveyed demonstrated significant gaps in women’s empowerment.
By capturing women’s empowerment through the WEAI, the world has become equipped with the information necessary to more accurately measure (and learn from) gender-related progress and failures in agriculture. As a result, women farmers around the world can look forward to a future of decreasing gender inequities.
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** Not all domains are weighted equally.