CGIAR Gender

CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research

Indicators of gendered control over agricultural resources: a guide for agricultural policy and research

A woman carries Senegalese arts and crafts on her head Photo:IFPRI/Yifei Liu
A woman carries Senegalese arts and crafts on her head. Photo:IFPRI/Yifei Liu

Although the importance of women’s contribution to the agricultural sector in developing countries is now widely acknowledged, there is little systematic evidence on how gender gaps in control over resources have changed over time in response to agricultural policy and technological interventions. In particular, few large-scale, national-level studies examine these effects for developing countries. This is surprising in light of the pervasive impact of agricultural technology and policy innovation on gender differences in control over productive resources for agriculture.

Women are farmers and agricultural laborers in every part of the world. They are often responsible for the storage and processing of agricultural products. In some parts of the world, they play a key role in marketing crops. In almost all contexts, they play a central role in ensuring household food security, a goal that in turn affects crop choice and other agricultural decisions. Thus, every agricultural intervention is likely to impact women and, depending on the particular context of gender relations, impact them differently from men (Meinzen-Dick et al 2011).

There is an unmet need for relatively simple, robust indicators that can be used for tracking short-to-medium outcomes of innovative technology, policy, and organizational interventions in an agricultural production process. This type of monitoring is needed especially to inform the design of interventions that may otherwise inadvertently change gender relations, and to provide timely corrective feedback if these generate or exacerbate gender gaps in unanticipated ways.

This paper aims to guide the development of new indicators useful for seeking sharply focused feedback on a specific innovation in an agricultural production process. Specific innovation refers to the introduction of a new crop variety, livestock management regime, cropping system, resource conservation practice, or marketing arrangement, for example. Use of any of these can be constrained by gender inequality and can also alter it.

Indicators of gendered control over agricultural resourcesIn this respect, this analysis differs from efforts to build comprehensive measures of women’s control or empowerment that aggregate such effects. The paper argues that a change in one or more specific indicators of a gender gap in control over resources will not necessarily correlate with a change in women’s empowerment. Nonetheless, the indicators evaluated in this paper will be useful for monitoring whether an innovation in the agricultural production process is on track toward a positive change in gender equality.

The development of suitable indicators for this purpose faces a number of difficulties. Apart from a deficit of national-level data, there is a lack of agreement about the definition and measurement of indicators of gender gaps in control over agricultural resources. Developing robust indicators requires a level of conceptual clarity on causal pathways, on the definition of “control” over resources, and on appropriate data collection procedures – such as the question of who should be interviewed and whether the appropriate unit of analysis is an individual or household. Furthermore, the indicators and data collection methods chosen must strike a balance between conceptual clarity and logistical feasibility, particularly if the goal is to track the indicators over time.

This paper explores whether, despite these difficulties, it is possible to define simple, robust indicators of gender gaps in use and control over resources that are likely to impact and be affected by agricultural innovation.


Note: The first in a series of working papers to be launched by the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network, it was prepared by Smriti Rao (Associate Professor, Economics and Global, Assumption College Worcester and Resident Scholar, Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center). The views expressed in this document are solely those of the author and cannot be taken to reflect the official opinions of the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Research Network. Support was also received from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM). The author wishes to thank Jacqueline Ashby, Senior Advisor for Gender Research, CGIAR Consortium and Cheryl Doss, Gender advisor to PIM for their review of this working paper and their extensive and helpful comments on previous versions.

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