Gender norms agency and innovation in wheat-based systems and livelihoods: synthesis report of four community case studies in Afghanistan


This report illuminates how gender norms and agency advance or impede capacity to innovate and adopt technology in agriculture in four wheat-growing villages from two provinces (Kabul and Nangarhar).1 The report covers perspectives and experiences of 132 males and 128 females from wheat-growing households.2 The norms surrounding agriculture provide women and men with different roles and opportunities in farming and often result in unequal access to and control over resources. This study is designed to show evidence-based relationships among gender norms, capacities for agricultural innovation and other key constraining and local opportunity structures that affect the achievement of the CGIAR’s3 development objective to achieve equitable improvements in agricultural outcomes. Gender segregation and strict gender roles exist although there are some variations in responses between males and females across the villages. It was noted that females are not expected to have productive roles on the farm, although many do especially if from a low socio-economic class. Females do all the household work and manage some post-harvest activities, such as cleaning wheat and vegetables inside the house, due to mobility restrictions. Women add value to agriculture products that men sell and yet, only men are identified as “farmers.” The results show that men and women benefit from development innovations differently. Women’s normative gender roles pose major barriers to their access to information that would help them contribute to agriculture. Women do not participate in agriculture meetings, training sessions and other public events that promote new technologies which limits their capacity to be good farmers. Whenever a husband is not around or is deceased, it would be the brother or oldest son who would then be responsible for all the farm work and for the family in general. Gender identity and social norms that govern this behavior result in whole communities policing women’s behavior and mobility. This inhibits women’s ability to access information and play more substantive roles in agricultural improvements. This research illustrates that, in many cases, male and female farmers require different forms of assistance to be productive and to innovate. The two most important factors that support innovation for men are improvements in the economy and larger farm sizes. Many men identified the lack of provision of improved seeds as a barrier to improving wheat yields. Women ranked financial support, education, consultations with elders and workshops as the most important factors that support innovation. Financial problems and poverty hinder innovation for both women and men. Additionally, women cited the lack of agriculture information and training as a barrier to improving their economic situation and hinted at their lack of mobility as a barrier. Innovation and getting agriculture information is considered a man’s role. Even though religious devotion is considered a contributing factor in poverty, barriers to innovation are associated with governance, gender norms and other cultural practices. Responses vary greatly among research sites, suggesting extreme heterogeneity across the country. Some women are ready to take on work to improve their households, and some men would be supportive. However, there is a lack of opportunity in these communities to earn an income. The barriers facing rural Afghans is a combination of a lack of economic opportunity and the lack of willingness to change traditional gender norms. A better understanding of these issues could help identify opportunities for expanding the benefits of wheat-related innovations to many more female headed and poor households. The findings show that norms governing household relations are opening slightly with rising access to information, more education and awareness of women’s rights. This is mainly attributed to improved governance and the Karzai government. However, these improvements aren’t enough to achieve gender equality nor to improve household wellbeing. Household decisions are mainly made by male elders, husbands, brothers or in-laws, depending on the issue. Female respondents generally emphasized that a woman’s freedom to make important life decisions depends on whether her husband would allow her to do so. Therefore, some females can hold decision-making roles, particularly around how much of the wheat harvest to allocate for household consumption versus how much to sell, but others cannot. Females generally feel that they do not have the rights and the confidence to make decisions while males have the full entitlement to make decisions on any household matter. Young males have more power and freedom to exercise decision-making than their young female counterparts. Young females and girls are under full control of their parents and brothers when they are single and remain under full control of their husbands and in-laws after they get married. If R4D programs continue to overlook gender norms then men will benefit more than women from innovations and thus, gender inequality will worsen. The findings indicate the need for creative solutions, collaboration with diverse groups of stakeholders and progressive opinion leaders to change women’s positions in society. When combined with the lack of economic opportunity, the perpetuation of gender norms provide a barrier to increased agricultural productivity and growth in wheat production. Future R4D programs should consider the following points: Mechanization is well received in the study communities and should be accompanied with new opportunities for women. Harvesting equipment has replaced women’s paid labor. Changes are observed in some communities highlighting the potential to change gender norms exists. Careful programing is needed, and this requires intensive male engagement strategies. Afghanistan’s development challenges require all its citizens to engage in productive pursuits. There is value in collecting qualitative data. Data can show how the social, cultural, geographical, economic and historical aspects of a community affect men’s and women’s opportunities to advance and improve agriculture productivity. It reveals how this all interacts with other statuses (age, religion, class etc) which can help to highlight entry points for each community. More context-specific data on women’s role in agriculture crops is needed to ensure tailored programming. • Collect case studies of villages where women report enhanced rights and mobility. Study the history of gender programming in those areas. Identify the appropriate, safe pace of change for men and women and successful interventions, and then, replicate. Acknowledge that men and women have different preferences, needs and interests - ask women and men from the same household about their preferences and crop/livelihood choices