Measuring Women’s Empowerment in Pathways

There has recently been an increased focus of energy and funding on measuring women’s empowerment in agriculture, from the World Bank’s Gender in Agriculture work to USAID’s adoption of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) across Feed the Future. The WEAI provides a standard tool that obligates practitioners to measure (and therefore value) changes in empowerment as well as productivity. However, vigorous debates still circulate about how best to capture meaningful change and meaningful definitions of empowerment. From the beginning of the Pathways program, CARE has grappled with these questions on how best to measure the degree to which women are or are not empowered as a result of our interventions. One tool we developed and applied during the Pathways baseline study has recently been drawing attention and is particularly promising. After reviewing the best tools out there, CARE and our evaluation partner (TANGO International) developed a Women in Agriculture Index. This tool incorporates many dimensions of USAID’s WEAI tool but also integrates factors that, in CARE’s analysis, are considered to be critical measures of women’s holistic empowerment, including women’s mobility, women’s political participation, and self-confidence. Adjusted indicator thresholds by country are another unique feature of the index. The early results from the Pathways baseline have shown us a few things about the interventions we need to pursue and how to measure empowerment in agricultural development programs. These include the importance of complementary qualitative inquiry, striking the right balance between standardized and contextualized tools, and considering appropriate and more nuanced response options when measuring joint decision-making.

Last month Elizabeth Kruger from CARE and Laurie Starr from TANGO International presented some of the highlights of experience and learning from the multi-country Pathways baseline, including the development of CARE’s Women in Agriculture Index and the adaptation of the WEAI at a learning event hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, D.C. This one-day event was organized to share key advances in the use of the WEAI, exchange information on challenges in field implementation as well as solutions that have been developed, and for IFPRI and USAID to obtain feedback on potential tool modifications. Participants included staff from IFPRI, USAID, FAO, International Livestock Research Institute, Oxford, and multiple universities.

For evaluators working in international development, there is a growing need to be knowledgeable in appreciating the complexities and nuances of measuring changes in women’s empowerment. Beyond that expertise, they need the capacity to integrate this measurement into evaluation practice, influence program design, and improve existing monitoring, learning, and evaluation (MLE) systems. The Pathways MLE system was cited as an example during two presentations at the American Evaluation Association conference in Washington, DC on October 18th. The first session, chaired by Richard Caldwell of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, brought together a multi-disciplinary panel of evaluators discussing measuring women’s empowerment in agriculture. It featured presentations by panelist Laurie Starr on the methodology of the Pathways baseline; Agnes Quisumbing of the International Food Policy Research Institute, highlighting the results and design of the multi-country Gender Assets and Agriculture Project; and Pranati Mohanraj from CARE India, who presented on the local perspectives of measuring women’s empowerment. Highlights of this presentation include discussion on measuring the domains of empowerment using various mixed methods and indices, as well as sharing on the ground experiences of what empowerment means to rural women in the Indian context. Excitingly, both CARE’s Pathways Program and the Strengthening the Dairy Value Chain Project in Bangladesh were featured during the discussion as innovative efforts in women’s empowerment measurement.

Later that day, Pathways was presented as part of a panel, chaired by Nidal Karim, Gender and Empowerment Impact Measurement Senior Advisor from CARE USA, entitled “Evaluation of Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality: Learning, Innovations and Challenges of an International Non-government Organization.” The Pathways program was presented to illustrate how CARE’s multi-dimensional women’s empowerment framework was applied in the design and implementation of the program. The presentation highlighted the methods CARE used to assess women’s degree of inclusion, equity, and empowerment in the agriculture sector.

The learning about measuring women’s empowerment will continue with Pathways as additional analysis of our baseline data is ongoing and our country-level monitoring efforts are underway. For now, we are excited to see growing attention and resources being invested in this important dimension of CARE’s work.

Submitted by: Elizabeth Kruger and Christian Pennotti