This blog describes exciting new work being done to tackle two problems: First, there is a long-standing gap in tools that can measure the collective agency of groups, such as farmers’ organizations. As governments and NGOs increasingly use women’s groups as mechanisms for delivering services and information to women, understanding how groups operate and bring about collective agency is critical. Second, high-frequency data collection has recognized value; the authors discuss their efforts to develop a short and high-frequency monitoring and evaluation (M&E) tool for projects that can permit nuanced tracking of impacts over time. —Katrina Kosec, EnGendering Data Blog Editor, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI
The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) and its project-level version (pro-WEAI) are recognized as important tools both to measure women’s empowerment and to understand the underlying processes leveraged by agricultural development projects to empower women. However, these indices are primarily centered on individual-level experiences and barriers in small-scale production. There remains an unmet need to understand and measure empowerment along value chains in high-value or internationally traded commodities, especially those that are based in farmer’s collectives like Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs). In addition, there is a need for agricultural value chain projects to be able to monitor progress toward their own goals at a frequency of their choosing, as would be possible with shorter M&E tools that can be incorporated seamlessly into existing monitoring systems.
IFPRI’s new project, Applying New Evidence for Women’s Empowerment (ANEW), aims to fulfil both these needs. The project will adapt the pro-WEAI for market inclusion (pro-WEAI+MI) to suit market-oriented agricultural value chain projects, including additional indicators of collective agency, and will also develop a new M&E tool for WEAI. The ANEW core team consists of researchers from IFPRI and Cultural Practice, LLC (CP) with expertise across multiple disciplines, who will use both quantitative and qualitative methods to develop and refine these tools.
Funded by the Walmart Foundation and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, ANEW will develop these new modules in collaboration with a portfolio of four separate projects: PRADAN (India), TechnoServe (Guatemala), Root Capital (Mexico), and the Grameen Foundation (India). Target products range from largely export-targeted coffee in Mexico, to high-value vegetables in Guatemala, to horticultural products destined for domestic urban markets in India. FPO structure also varies in gender composition, size, and organizational principles. However, each project includes an explicit focus on improving women’s empowerment in the context of high-value collective-based agricultural value chain interventions. These operate through gender sensitization trainings for members and their families or the institution of policies to strengthen women’s participation and leadership in FPOs. In addition, projects provide FPO members training on agricultural practices, financial literacy, and credit access.
Across this diverse portfolio, ANEW will generate evidence on whether and how producer and marketing associations empower women while improving market linkages. The development of the tools under ANEW will be a dynamic process of collaboration between implementing project partners, researchers, and the larger community of practice. Qualitative data collected over the course of ANEW will help contextualize and refine the metrics further.
To better understand specific data needs, the ANEW research team held a virtual kickoff workshop from June 8-10, 2021 with over 40 partners and collaborators. The workshop aimed to arrive at an agreement on the concepts and dimensions of women’s empowerment to be studied, a common understanding of the implementation and study designs of the four projects, and the identification of opportunities for collaboration and information sharing across projects. The group also discussed how to gather and use qualitative and quantitative data through the process of indicator development, the pros and cons of different approaches to sequencing qualitative and quantitative work, and how best to use a mixed-methods approach to fully understand the impact of each project.
A key outcome of the workshop was that participants identified priority themes and outcomes where additional women’s empowerment metrics should be developed under the ANEW project. The next section highlights these.
Adapted Pro-WEAI+MI: Projects in this space need women’s empowerment indicators for impact evaluations that focus on: bargaining power and negotiations with input suppliers, purchasers, and hired labor; access to, knowledge of, and use of new digital and financial products; ability to be linked with optimal markets; worker safety rights and access to safe and healthy work environments; resources and aspirations that enable them to engage in more lucrative activities and livelihoods; and experiences with sexual hostility and harassment in the working environment. These are all in addition to existing indicators that have been developed for pro-WEAI and pro-WEAI+MI.
Project partners also expressed a demand for new modules to measure collective agency by collecting data at both the individual and group levels. Ideally, these data would be supplemented with organizational information, such as bylaws, commitments, and policies, as well as the perception of the members of the collective on existing procedures, safeguards, and labor standards. The combination of these data collection activities will allow for the analysis of important questions on the linkages between organizational structures and activities and collective agency outcomes.
M&E WEAI: There was wide interest in an M&E tool as a means for diagnostics and mid-term course correction. This tool would be integrated into the implementing organization’s management information system. Once validated and compared to impact evaluation indicators and results, these indicators could be an important and useful data collection instrument for projects that aim to continue or expand their program activities and need an M&E tool after already showing strong impact evaluation results. Notably, projects expressed a need for such instruments at both the individual beneficiary as well as at the FPO- or cooperative-level, to track information on training, leadership, participation, negotiation, and other services provided by the implementing organization to the FPOs, and by the FPOs to their members.
To develop this tool, the ANEW research team reviewed existing M&E tools from all four projects, identified common themes and questions within those themes, mapped the gaps relative to the identified priority areas from the workshop, and then developed questions to fill those gaps. Projects were given flexibility to add or remove optional modules, and to sync the data collection frequency with their existing MIS timelines.
In the months following the kickoff workshop, the ANEW research team has added additional indicators to the existing pro-WEAI+MI, including those specific to high-value value chains and collective agency at the individual and group levels, and designed the new M&E WEAI instrument for project use. All four projects have provided their feedback on these new tools and are now preparing to pilot the revised versions in the field. Once data become available, the ANEW research team will lead a process of indicator validation that follows the Alkire-Foster method used in multidimensional poverty measures, as with the validation of other WEAI indicators.
It is anticipated that the metrics piloted in the context of the ANEW project portfolio will help answer critical questions about how market inclusion focused agricultural development projects can help foster different aspects of women’s empowerment. All information and pertaining documentation will be shared on the ANEW project webpage as it becomes available, and we would welcome any feedback and comments on these tools.
Jessica Heckert and Kalyani Raghunathan are research fellows, and Florencia Paz is research analyst in the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division (PHND) at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Deborah Rubin is co-director of Cultural Practice, LLC.
This story is part of the EnGendering Data blog which serves as a forum for researchers, policymakers, and development practitioners to pose questions, engage in discussions, and share resources about promising practices in collecting and analyzing sex-disaggregated data on agriculture and food security. If you are interested in writing for EnGendering Data, please contact the blog editor, Dr. Katrina Kosec.
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown