Do men and women benefit equally from technology adoption? New paper explores


by Evgeniya Anisimova | May 18, 2018

Pumps and sprinkler irrigation in Ghana. Photo credit: Joe Ronzio/IWMI

Pumps and sprinkler irrigation in Ghana. Photo credit: Joe Ronzio/IWMI

Agricultural technologies can help smallholder women farmers produce more, manage risks better, and use less resources. These production and quality improvements can enable women to maximize the returns to their limited time, labor, land, and capital. Given these expected benefits, researchers have sought to understand what keeps women’s observed rates of agricultural technology adoption low. But what happens after a new technology is adopted by a household? Do women’s lives really become better? Are they more empowered? A new paper by Sophie Theis, Nicole Lefore, Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Elizabeth Bryan explores these questions using the example of adopting small-scale irrigation technologies in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania.

Lead author Sophie Theis explains: “The paper takes a different approach to address the puzzle of persistent gender constraints to technology adoption. Drawing on qualitative research in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania, we examine dynamics that determine who within a household can benefit from a technology once adopted – and who bears the costs. The paper presents a framework, building on the property rights literature, for analyzing these intrahousehold gender dynamics. Our hope is that the framework will help us more meaningfully measure the gendered effects of technology adoption, rather than using observed rates of uptake, in which we do not know who within the household uses it, manages it, controls its outputs, or decides on its sale or rental.”

Citation: Theis, Sophie; Lefore, Nicole; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth Suseela; and Bryan, Elizabeth. What happens after technology adoption? Gendered aspects of small-scale irrigation technologies in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania. Agriculture and Human Values. Article in press. First published online on April 25, 2018.

A few quotes from the article:

“Although it is important to consider these factors, the emphasis on gendered constraints to access effectively treats technology acquisition as the end goal. Without attention to household structure and intrahousehold dynamics, it is only an assumption that the woman who appears to adopt the technology actually controls and benefits from it.”

“As previous studies have found, in the absence of complementary institutional or social change, targeting women with technology alone is unlikely to confer full rights over the technology to women, since the rules of the household often override any norms or expectations promoted by projects, and historically men have been adept at interceding to appropriate a technology or economic activity once it is shown to be profitable.”

Manual bucket irrigation in Ghana. Photo credit: Joe Ronzio/IWMI

Manual bucket irrigation in Ghana. Photo credit: Joe Ronzio/IWMI

“Of the set of rights in this framework, use rights are most commonly measured by projects and fructus rights are most often overlooked. So-called “female-friendly technologies” aim to design products for women’s ease and comfort in use. However, the right to use a technology does not necessarily confer other rights. In the absence of other rights, the use right may simply represent greater labor burden for women.”

“Irrigation technologies can generate new livelihood opportunities, enhance resilience, and increase productivity. Development partners promoting these technologies could strengthen development outcomes by understanding how technologies are used, by whom, and for what purpose. Some interventions assume that simply reaching women with technology—for example, distributing motor pumps to women—leads to empowerment, and so less attention is given to monitoring if or how this happens. Instead, investigating how rights are distributed can shed light on how technology adoption affects women and men differently within a household. This evidence will help ensure that technology adoption strategically advances development objectives such as food and nutritional security, resilience, and women’s empowerment, rather than taking technology adoption as an end in and of itself.”

Related reading:

Who benefits and who bears the costs of small-scale irrigation? (Agrilinks blog by Sophie Theis)

Integrating gender in small-scale irrigation  (Practitioner guide)

Can Small-Scale Irrigation Empower Women? (Agrilinks Webinar, October 31, 2017)

Ensuring women’s access to irrigation: Beyond quotas (Thrive Blog by Nicole Lefore)

This work was undertaken as part of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and forms part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Water, Land, and Ecosystems (WLE) and Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).



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