MEDA promotes gender equality at an impact investing forum in Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala – MEDA was a co-sponsor and presenter of the Gender Lens Investing Forum and the Latin America Impact Investment Forum 2022 (GLI Forum LATAM) in Latin America. This forum took place from November 7th-10th. In partnership with The Latin America Impact Investment Forum (FLII), and co-organized by Pro Mujer and Alterna, the forum served as a key platform for learning, discussion, and networking on impact investing in Latin America and the Caribbean. The event focused on how gender lens investing is an effective driver of equality and economic development in the region.

During the forum, MEDA led discussions related to innovative finance solutions that can spur long-term economic, social, and environmental impact. Jessica Villanueva, MEDA’s Senior Director for Technical Areas of Practice, served as moderator during “The Unattended Segment: Using Innovative Financial Models to Reach Women-Led SMEs in Central America” seminar, with the participation of Veronica Herrera from MiCredito, Lauren Murphy from the International Center for Research on Women, and Maria Denise Duarte from Agora Partnerships. Jessica also represented MEDA in the panel “Reimagining Inclusive Finance with Gender Lens” alongside David Cabrera and Margarita Zaldaña from Centromype, and Alex Silva and Georgina Vasquez from OMTRIX. Catherine Walker, MEDA’s Senior Manager, Global Program Operations, moderated the “From ESG integration to impact: understanding gender-climate nexus in sustainable finance” panel with the participation of Magaly Lamyin from The Deetken Group, Cynthia Leon from Add Value, and Alejandra Ramirez from NESsT.

The forum focused on the access to financing challenges women-owned SMEs face when making their businesses more competitive and environmentally sustainable. Despite SMEs’ vital role in emerging economies, there is still a $300 billion financing gap worldwide for formal, women-owned businesses. Women-owned businesses from the Global South also have difficulty accessing climate finance to become more climate-change resilient. Access to climate finance is critical – women are highly vulnerable to environmental impacts, including climate variability and natural disasters.

By providing women with greater decision-making powers and access to capital, they can act as “agents of change” in their households and communities to foster sustainable development. Access to these resources can also enhance their economic potential, reduce inequality, and strengthen climate finance’s impact and effectiveness.

MEDA ensures its projects create equitable and sustainable economic growth for communities in Central America and beyond. With support from Global Affairs Canada, MEDA’s WE4CA project will reach 5,000 women and young women in Central America, including rural and indigenous populations in the regenerative agriculture and light manufacturing sectors as well as support the continued uptake of GLI approaches within the region. We further support rural people, especially women, in Nicaragua through the Technolinks+ project.

MEDA’s Gender Equality mainstreaming Framework (GEM), provides a practical toolkit for assessing gender equality, and identifying, implementing, and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies while applying an environment and climate change lens. The toolkit was recently updated to include a more integrated approach to Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) with a stronger environmental lens.

Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, enthusiastically supports the role of the forum in facilitating meaningful conversation and ideas among like-minded partners in the gender lens investment space.

“MEDA is pleased to co-sponsor and participate in this forum alongside like-minded practitioners and investors to continue building the business case for gender lens investing,” says Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “With a focus on agri-food systems, MEDA seeks to contribute to sustainable and equitable economic growth, leveraging investment strategically in areas that can promote greater gender equality and empower individuals to manage natural resources sustainably and address climate change.”

– Nadia Guerch

MEDA firmly believes that combining climate and gender policies can unlock huge untapped opportunities, provide good investment returns, and contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes. Using this approach, we can help build healthy and sustainable livelihoods, businesses, and decent work opportunities for small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs.

GROW Project’s multifaceted approach to poverty reduction featured in latest issue of Enterprise Development & Microfinance Journal

Waterloo, ON– Jen Denomy, MEDA’s Technical Director, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion, co-authored the article “Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW): A Multifaceted approach to poverty alleviation at scale” recently published in the Enterprise Development & Microfinance Journal. Co-written with Jennifer Gurbin Harley, an international development consultant and former MEDA colleague, it features a case study that describes the project’s systematic approach to poverty reduction.

The journal article outlines how the project’s approach evolved from focusing on food and nutrition to strengthening the economic capacities of women and leadership by increasing their access to market linkages, agronomic information and practices, and financial services. As a result, over 23,000 small-scale women farmers and their families in Ghana benefitted by participating in GROW.

MEDA’s GROW project was critical in ensuring that families in Northern Ghana could produce nutritious food for themselves throughout the year. During this project, women farmers increased their agricultural production, strengthened their links to markets, diversified the food they produced, and increased their understanding of nutrition. Women farmers also gained technical assistance and financial literacy training to make sound nutritional choices for their families and better manage their financial resources.

“The legacy of the GROW program will be the sustainability of its proven model, which shifted the food security paradigm from subsistence farming to a multifaceted economic empowerment powerhouse for GROW women. It impacted women, their households, their communities, and their region. In 2018, GROW reached 23,368 women farmers cultivating soybeans in rural Ghana’s Upper West Region.”

— Jennifer Denomy and Jennifer Gurbin Harley, “Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW): A Multifaceted approach to poverty alleviation at scale

Jennifer Denomy and Jennifer Gurbin Harley are pleased for their article to be featured in the Enterprise Development & Microfinance Journal to showcase the proven strategies supporting women to launch and grow thriving agri-businesses, assume leadership positions and take a more active role in family and community decision-making.

“Women’s economic empowerment is just the tip of the iceberg. Unleashing women’s potential changes lives. Writing this journal article allowed us to revisit GROW, which was hugely impactful in Northern Ghana and was the foundation for our exciting new work on GROW2. As part of the continuation of this project, we will be working at the level of agri-food systems, to make them function better for everyone, particularly women farmers and agribusiness owners.”

— Jennifer Denomy and Jennifer Gurbin Harley

MEDA has a long history of working in gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, captured in our library of publications, including our Women’s Economic Empowerment: Transforming Systems Through Development Practice, a practitioner handbook, written and edited by MEDA staff.

You can also access more engaging content on GROW, including the GROW Learning Series.

How MEDA is Working to End Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in Ethiopia

Despite some progress, violence against women and girls is still a serious problem in Ethiopia and one which is fueled by persistent gender-biased attitudes and practices. The most recent Ethiopia Demographic and Health Survey (EDHS) conducted by the Central Statistical Agency of Ethiopia found that nearly one third of women aged between 15 and 49 have experienced physical violence and 10% have experienced sexual violence. Women who are divorced, separated, or widowed, those living in rural areas and those with lower education levels are more likely to have experienced violence.

Domestic violence, child marriage, and female genital cutting (FGC) are among the most common forms of gender-based violence (GBV) that women face in Ethiopia. Despite a decreasing trend, FGC is still prevalent in Ethiopia with 65% of women in Ethiopia between the ages of 15–49 years having undergone FGC (EDHS, 2016). Women living in rural areas had a higher prevalence of FGC (68%) compared to women living in urban areas (54%), and women with lower education attainment and wealth are also more likely to have experienced FGC. Nearly half (49%) of the women that underwent FGC were below the age of five while 22% were between the ages of 5-9.

To raise community awareness of GBV, MEDA’s EMERTA project provides useful training for its clients. GBV is one of the topics covered in the training for vegetable and rice producers on gender equality and household financial management. This training is conducted with couples to encourage accountability and power sharing in the household. During a recent training, many couples reported that although most forms of violence against women have decreased, FGC is one of the most persistent practices in their area. By the end of the training, the participants agreed that all harmful traditional practices (HTPs) are wrong and need to be stopped.

Thirty-four-year-old Abebaye Dessie knows firsthand about the practice of FGC. She is a mother of five children who lives in Dera Woreda, Gigna Kebele, in Amhara Region, Ethiopia, where the practice is common.  “Society believes that no one will marry a girl if she is not circumcised. If the community knew that the girl was not circumcised, she together with her family will face stigma where community members say that she is unwanted, making the girl feel shame,” Abebaye said. As a result of this community practice, Abebaye’s daughter was circumcised.

Yet, her perspective on FGC changed after she took a gender training session through the MEDA-EMERTA project last year. “I become so conscious on the negative consequences of FGC. I feel guilty of circumcising my daughter and worry if she will face challenges during pregnancy and delivery. I also advised my brothers and sister not to practice FGC. As a result, my brother-in-law had a baby girl and they decided not to circumcise her which made me happy. I have a plan to have my next child and promised for myself not to circumcise if I give birth for a baby girl. I also will continue to teach others not to do so,” Abebaye reflected.  

During these #16Days of activism, stay connected with us to see how MEDA is working towards creating a more just and equitable world for all people:

Rural Women Face the Double Impact of Gender Inequality and Climate Change

Gender equality and climate change issues are inextricably linked, particularly for farming communities in the Global South. Two-thirds of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is engaged in agriculture, with the vast majority working on family farms where women provide 40-60% of the labour as well as the lion’s share of unpaid care and domestic work. Women and girls are also often assigned responsibility for managing water and biomass for use in the home; 80% of households without piped water depend upon their labour for water collection. Because of these roles and their reliance on natural resources, rural women are at the forefront of climate change impact.

Yet, when raising gender issues as they relate to climate change, a common reaction can be, “Both women and men are equally at risk. Hurricanes and droughts don’t discriminate over whose livelihoods they destroy. So, what does gender have to do with it?”

Climate change will depress agricultural yields in most countries in 2050, given current agricultural practices and crop varieties
Sources: Müller and others 2009; World Bank 2008c.

Climate change does not affect us all equally. For example, projected changes in agricultural yields due to climate change show that an estimated 75-80% of losses will be borne by the Global South until the year 2050 – the countries that contribute the least to global greenhouse gas emissions. Those that are already heavily dependent on agricultural and natural resources for their livelihoods and who have limited capacity to respond to natural hazards are likely to continue to experience vulnerability. As expressed in a widely-held sentiment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, “we may be in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat”.

The impacts of climate change are not only influenced by geographic or economic disparities, but also by social and cultural inequalities. From nearly three decades of gender and climate change research, it was found that women and girls tend to be affected differently, and more harshly by environmental destruction. This is because they already face systemic disadvantages in accessing the resources, rights and power that enable resilience, and because climate shocks tend to amplify existing inequalities.

And yet, women – particularly rural women – have a critical role to play in climate action. They possess important local knowledge and capacities that can influence more sustainable resource management within their homes and communities. Despite this potential, women are most often sidelined from climate change-related decision-making spaces and leadership opportunities.

For MEDA, addressing the intersection between gender and climate change is essential if we want to make real, sustainable impact for our women and men clients in rural communities around the world. This is why MEDA’s Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) Technical Team works closely with other Technical Teams (Environment and Climate Change; Market Systems; Inclusive Financial Services; and Impact Investment) to address not only the symptoms, but the root causes of economic, social and environmental challenges. Our goal is to support women’s empowerment while working to change the underlying systems that produce and reproduce the inequalities that keep them in poverty and vulnerability. For example:

  • On the Jordan Valley Links project, MEDA supported women entrepreneurs in piloting a green composting enterprise, which helps manage waste, improves agricultural practices and creates a potential new source of income.
  • In Bauchi State, Nigeria, MEDA’s WAY project is supporting women sales agents with selling environmentally friendly technologies that reduce repetitive labour for women agri-processors and addressing harmful gendered social norms within households and communities. Devices like the Sun King Boom, a multifunctional solar powered lamp and radio, increase women’s access to information, resources and clean energy.

On this International Day of Rural Women, MEDA continues to leverage its vast technical expertise toward promoting more inclusive and adaptive agri-food market systems while strengthening the livelihoods and climate resilience of farmers, particularly women farmers, in the Global South.

Impact measurement in practice: Creating sustainable business solutions to poverty in Pakistan

Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) is key to reducing poverty and achieving equality between men and women. It helps grow businesses and economies and is central to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. WEE also improves the distribution of labor, wealth, and decision-making within the household which contributes to overall household wellbeing [removed].

Women’s economic empowerment continues to be at the forefront of development efforts because women still face many challenges as they try to engage in economic activities. Patriarchal structures and norms limit women’s access to business resources and opportunities. Even when women do participate equally in ‘productive’ economic activities, women’s primary role is often considered to be a ‘caregiver’ as they spend around 2.5 more times on unpaid domestic work than men. This leaves little time for women to pursue business activities and establish themselves as entrepreneurs. Therefore, women remain under-represented as ‘entrepreneurs’ and frequently earn 30-40% less than their male counterparts.

Development organizations like Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), design and implement various initiatives to promote WEE in low and middle-income countries.

WEE-related interventions increase women’s access to economic resources and agency, or power to make decisions with these resources for the benefit of themselves, their households, and communities.
MEDA uses numerous strategies to enhance the economic empowerment of women to improve:

  1. Financial access;
  2. Market participation and linkages;
  3. Labor participation; and
  4. Technical skills of women.

Currently, very few interventions focus on creating an enabling business environment by addressing systemic barriers that women face to engage in economic activities.

We believe that is a mistake.

One of the important strategies we implement is to develop women’s capacity to become ‘entrepreneurs’ so they can establish their own business leading to greater financial independence.

In the rural context, livestock business contributes to improved food security and can enhance women’s participation in civic activities. Livestock development projects seek to empower women through increased household incomes of women and the nutritional status of women and other members of the households.

Women have a central role in most countries as food producers and providers and control (some) livestock products that are essential for food and nutrition security. According to the FAO, women represent the majority of livestock keepers. Therefore, empowerment of women in the livestock sector is fundamental to achieve gender equality, as well as for increased household productivity and improved household health and nutrition.

While women assume much of the responsibility for raising livestock in many developing countries, they often face financial and cultural barriers to maximizing their potential.

By investing in women farmers, women, their families, and their communities can benefit.

MEDA, in partnership with Engro, implemented a project titled: “Women’s Empowerment through Livestock Development (WELD)” from 2009-2014 in nine districts of Pakistan.

WELD focused primarily on the dairy value chain by providing technical support to its two client types:

  1. Women milk producers and
  2. Extension workers/milk collectors.

Extension workers/milk collectors were referred to as ‘women entrepreneurs’ and included Female Livestock Extension Workers (FLEWs).

In 2020, Engro and MEDA conducted a study to assess the sustainable impact of the WELD project as reported by participating livestock extension workers.

There were four main outcomes of the study:

One: Increased Incomes

At the end of the project in 2014, 322 women were mobilized with an average income increase of 702% in just two years’ time.1

The study also found that the improved income of FLEWs was sustained and even grew from the end of the project in2014 to 2020 by 305%, bringing a total income increase of 3,000% from the beginning of the project (2012) to now (2020). The increased income is staggering, and qualitative findings validate this as 98% of respondents stated their income increased from the beginning of the project to the end.

Two: Increased Assets of Female Livestock Extension Workers

The assessment also found that 66% of FLEW respondents indicated an increase in their household assets from project end to present.

Three: Increased Family Support

Three-quarters of respondents (75%) also affirmed they were able to support their children or family in educational endeavors by using their income from WELD activities. Many FLEWs surveyed expressed their gratitude for the project and embraced the increased recognition both within their households and within their communities. 

Four: Change in Perception

In addition to the impact on women entrepreneurs, livestock is seen differently by the participating communities. Livestock is now viewed as a viable economic activity and source for income diversification for households in rural areas.

Although the assessment was largely positive, there are findings to help improve future WEE and gender equality programming.

Things we’d do differently next time

One: Involve male members of the community

Despite the positive recognition from households and communities, about 50% of FLEWs said they faced threats from the male community and even encountered sexual harassment.

The MEDA team recognizes the importance of involving male community members in these types of programming to sensitize them to the benefits of women in the workforce to mitigate feelings of intimidation by actively involving them in the project as advocates.

Future programming should include elements for Male Gender Activists (MGAs), which have succeeded in MEDA’s GROW project in Ghana and have continued to be adapted in other MEDA project countries, including Myanmar.

Two: Introduce transportation to combat mobility issues

FLEWs also faced some challenges with mobility and expressed it was difficult to travel between locations in one day. Introducing a transportation element could have been helpful to ease the stress of travel for project participants.

Three: Provide training on finance and markets

In addition to conducting robust gender analysis to inform project design, future such projects could benefit by providing advanced training to FLEWs. Market linkages and access to finance-related activities could have been included to produce even better results.

Through implementing this project, MEDA learned that effective local partnership is key to success for any intervention. The project might not have been so successful without Engro’s ground presence and relationships of trust with women entrepreneurs and their families.

1Please note most entrepreneurs were not working before the WELD intervention. This has largely attributed to the big increase in incomes for FLEWs.

How briquettes made from recycled agricultural waste could tackle air pollution and deforestation in northern Nigeria

The daily quest for firewood which serves as a major source of cooking fuel in many households in rural Nigeria has become a daunting and gruelling task. In Bauchi State, where MEDA runs their Nigeria WAY project the quest for cooking fuel has forced women to walk further to find resources, pay more for fuel, and risk being exposed to high levels of pollution.

Like many rural regions, Bauchi is contributing to the depletion of their forests, leading to desertification in their quest for fuel. In 2006, the Annual Collaborative Survey of Socio-economic Activities in Nigeria reported that 82% of households in Nigeria were using firewood for cooking.

The use of firewood is not sustainable. Sources are becoming scarce. The limited supply of firewood has driven prices up and made it difficult for people to access fuel. Although cow dung is also used as fuel, trees are the most heavily exploited fuel resource. With the exploitation of forests, the soil is losing its nutrients and protection from wind and rain. The drastic desertification of northern Nigeria is an increasing concern for local governments.

According to a report by the International Centre for Energy, Environment, and Development (ICEED), the smoke from open fires significantly increases indoor pollution. Concerns over air pollution are heightened during the dry season especially with the coming of the harmattan – the process of farmers burn agro-residues like rice husks, peanut shells etc. This widespread of air pollution according to ICEED, has been associated with a wide spectrum of health effects ranging from eye irritation to death.

From the outside, the burning of agricultural waste might seem puzzling, but this practice is prevalent because farmers have limited use of shared storage spaces and also compete for the storage spaces within the grain houses.

Although some of the agro-waste is sold as feed for domestic animals, the demand outstrips the supply. This means that they are sold at a very low market value. Sometimes the waste pile grows so large, they become sources of methane during the early onset of the raining season due to anaerobic digestion. At one rice husk pile in Warji, some children were found winnowing the chaffs to get some rice for their homes. This has become a regular exercise for them when they have nothing else to do.

With the end of the rainy season and the beginning of harvest of most annual crops, the Nigeria WAY Project in partnership with Xpediant Global Vision and Roshan Global Services launched a briquette project to harness the agro-waste associated with peanut shells and rice husks.

This was done through business development training to build the capacity and develop the skills of 150 entrepreneurs to produce fuel briquettes from agro-waste and other agricultural by-products. Through the training, farmers and micro business owners were taught how they could re-use farming waste to earn an income, decrease waste, and create safe fuel.

Out of 150 trainees, 92 women between the ages of 15 and 45 were selected to attend the program. This combination of men and women was more effective for overall group learning as women have more experience about quality and burning efficiency of fuels than men.

Although this training was primarily to provide women and youth with the opportunity to learn how to earn an income by recycling agricultural waste, the underlining aim was to address the growing hazard women face from indoor gas pollution when cooking, reduce the conventional practice of burning agro wastes, and economically empower women and youth in the process. The main recommendation is to continue to develop a business model training for youth who have their skills built in briquette production so they can begin a small enterprise around briquette production. It is believed that with the raw materials termed as agro wastes which are available to them in the communities, briquette making will also contribute to tackling air pollution and deforestation in Bauchi State.

More Briquette producers means an improved business environment.

Changing constraining gender norms in northern Nigeria

In Bauchi state, northeastern Nigeria, some businesswomen operate their small businesses in an environment where social and gender norms value domestic and care work for women over business activities.

This means that alongside the more well-known obstacles for women-owned businesses such as access to finance and financial support and other business supports, that these businesswomen have restricted public relations, limited access to market information and constrained mobility. The result is an overall lack of family support for their businesses and they are required to operate through proxies, including their sons and daughters or “intermediaries to market their products, purchase raw materials or find inputs.

Women in Gender Action Learning System or GALS for short is an empowerment tool to address women’s rights and gender equality. It is a community-led and household methodology that aims to give women and men more control over their personal, household and community development.

The Nigeria WAY project in northern Nigeria and two partners – Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Fahimta Women and Youth Development Initiative (FAWYODI) – use GALS to support businesswomen and their families to address some of the social and gender constraints which are hampering women’s businesses. GALS stimulates more collaborative planning and supports more equitable intra household decision-making in businesswomen’s families as a means to strengthen their capacity to conduct their businesses.

The GALS methodology is new to FOMWAN and FAWOYDI and to most businesswomen and their families in Bauchi. It uses role playing and visual tools to help individuals and couples reflect and gain insights into their lives and businesses. It makes visible how social and gender norms are embedded in stereotypes, relationships driving household behaviours such as women spending all their time on domestic work or needing permission for every business decision that might be hampering women’s capacity to conduct their business. It introduces a more collaborative mode of household decision-making and often results in increased agency on the part of the women including more time and family support engendering more harmonious family relationships and strengthened capacity for business.

Ten GALS champions from the WAY project were selected by FOMWAN and FAWOYDI to explain the impact of GALS to a visiting delegation from a new project in Northern Nigeria called Climate Change Adaptation and Agribusiness Support Program (CASP). The ten presenters who are community members who have been trained in GALS methods explained various GALS tools illustrating how they are used and explaining the impact they themselves had experienced using this tool.

The delegation found it quite unimaginable that a husband was proudly speaking out in public about helping his wife with household chores, or that families were sitting together in the community setting as traditionally, these are not the way things have been done. The WAY GALS champions had the opportunity to tell the delegation what they were doing such as joint planning and joint budgeting for the household and why they were doing this. The results they spoke about was how it had helped with harmonious family relations, more collaborative decision making in the home and better use of resources.

Peer education and learning such as GALS uses is a powerful tool of empowerment for community development and in the private sector for business development. While many training methodologies rely on expert technical advice, often learning from a colleague who has experienced and understood the impact of an activity can add to people’s knowledge in a way that is easier to adopt particularly around the gender-specific considerations which hamper women’s business, more than more technical expert advice.

Impacts of COVID-19 on women and youth at MEDA: Learning from our projects

There is a threat to the gains made on furthering gender equality around the world – the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have written about the global consequences of the novel coronavirus on communities experiencing oppression where the socio-economic effects have laid bare the fissures in our social safety nets and market systems, but have since taken the opportunity to learn more about the localized effects on gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) in MEDA’s programming.

Several of MEDA’s projects undertook rapid assessment telephone surveys to better understand how risk mitigation strategies such as national lockdowns and other measures have affected the ability of projects to function, and smallholder producers and business owners to earn a livelihood. These assessments featured intersectional, gender-related criteria to gather information and paint a picture of the gendered issues that have emerged for women, men, and youth staff and clients across our projects. Below is a snapshot of significant findings and strategies:

Impacts of COVID-19 on Household Decision-Making and Responsibilities

The impacts of the pandemic varied across projects regarding joint household decision-making and responsibility sharing on issues pertaining to business and family. In the PAVE (Pakistan) project, results revealed that 96% of partnered women reported a change (increase or decrease) in domestic workload versus only 43% of women who identified as household heads. This may be because women as household heads have more say in decisions concerning household and farm responsibilities or may be single and thus their workload remained the same. In the M-SAWA (Kenya) project, 80% of both women and men respondents noted a change (increase and/or decrease) in decision-making between spouses on issues such as household financial management with men reporting a higher decrease (70%) versus women (61%). Moreover, 58% of women noted an increase in familial assistance on household duties (64% of women reported the same in the Jordan Valley Links project). In the UHBDP (Ukraine) project, these duties included more time spent on childcare, supporting home schooling, and cooking. These shifts were also felt by staff as shared by our JVL (Jordan) and WAY (Nigeria) project teams. Both JVL and WAY staff, particularly women staff, reported the impact of the “triple burden” (home schooling, work, and domestic tasks) on their well-being. In the FEATS (Ghana) project, these shifts in workload also impacted men staff who took on more domestic tasks while their spouses were at work.


Several projects provide gender awareness training for both staff and clients addressing gender roles, responsibilities, and norms to highlight the inequitable care burden and promote equitable decision-making. Further assessment of the impacts of COVID-19 on gender relations will be undertaken in various projects.

The JVL team promoted flexible work hours for office resumption as well as the opportunity to bring children to work with consideration for collective childcare in the office. Work-from-home protocols enabled pregnant and nursing staff in the WAY project to maintain social distancing, and the FEATS project also promoted flexible work schedules for staff.

Impacts of COVID-19 on Mobility and Communication

The pandemic resulted in national lockdowns in many countries, combined with increases and shifts in familial responsibilities, have limited mobility particularly for women. In the EMERTA (Ethiopia) project, women respondents noted that leaving the house for business, personal and family reasons decreased (67%, 78% and 74% respectively) during COVID-19. In the WAY project, this lack of mobility impacted women’s access to essential services, and only 42% of women Savings and Loan Group (SLG) members could purchase their shares1 from their WAY-supported SLG. Communication regarding the pandemic, between family members, and regarding the state of the market was also affected. In the PAVE project, while some women received COVID-19 updates from the media, others were dependent on their spouse as men have greater access to the public sphere. In the JVL project, 67% of women noted an increase in intra-household communication with more family at home sheltering in place. In the M-SAWA project, 61% of women versus 39% of men noted a disruption in communication from their farmer groups.


The UHBDP team successfully leveraged communications platforms to ensure greater reach to rural women including Viber, the project Facebook page, and partner use of ICTs to collect data. The team considered mobility constraints for women by scheduling events outside of peak hours and conducting one-on-one consultations. Future phone-based data collection approaches are also being explored by both JVL and EMERTA.

The FEATS project utilized radio campaigns and engaged women to deliver information on post-harvest handling and storage tips to ensure greater reach to rural women clients. Other projects are also leveraging radio programming to improve consistency and reach of information (WAY).

Impacts of COVID-19 on Household and Community Conflict

Lastly, an area that was assessed in several projects was the impact on intra-household and community well-being. In WAY the team found that 1 in 4 women reported experiencing an increase in gender-based violence (GBV) resulting from the economic stress experienced by families sheltering in place. In JVL, 31% of women respondents noted an increase in fights and/or arguments related to men’s responses to financial pressures. In M-SAWA, both men and women reported an increase in verbal disagreements, community unrest and physical abuse, yet women reported these issues at higher rates than men, suggesting a potential uptick in GBV experienced by women. In the EMERTA project, both early marriage and divorce rates are on the rise, the latter attributed in part to instances of economic abuse. Some projects reported no change in rates of unrest and/or violence which is a positive finding. In the PAVE project, some women noted how happy they were to have their husband at home more often. Nevertheless, project teams acknowledged that enabling women clients to disclose personal information over the phone can be difficult and can affect data accuracy.


The M-SAWA project has provided information on existing national and regional GBV response services to partners to enable them to disseminate information. The UHBDP project has publicized similar resources for easy access on their project website.

The EMERTA project is partnering with a women’s rights organization (WRO) to provide training on rights issues including GBV and is also preparing training materials. In WAY, one of the WRO implementing partners is focused on addressing early and forced girl child marriage and promotes community dialogue on gender issues. The project will continue to support them to identify COVID-related gender risks as they arise.

Stay tuned for a more detailed learning summary on the GESI Impacts of COVID-19 coming out soon, as well as an expanded MEDA toolkit on understanding and addressing market resilience during shocks.

Measuring impact: How MEDA measures progress on gender equality within households

MEDA’s Jordan Valley Links (JVL) project has been using Gender Progress Markers (GPMs) as a measurement tool, supplementing its other monitoring and evaluation techniques, to thoughtfully and deliberately observe the changes in social and gender dynamics affecting women and men in their families and local communities. These markers help us move beyond numbers and quantitative data; they let us look at how attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to gender progress changes over the life of a project.

The JVL project first implemented gender progress markers in early 2019 with approximately 35 women entrepreneurs in the food processing and tourism sectors and 30 men in the Jordan Valley. The interviews and discussions with these women and their families (husbands, fathers, brothers and/or sons), as well as with community leaders, revealed so much to all those involved. With MEDA’s facilitation, these groups finally had conversations about what an empowered woman looked like, what were her characteristics, who supported her and how.

The characteristics of an empowered woman as defined by the women and their families

Based on further discussions and validation with the women and their families, the project developed outcome statements against which progress is monitored every six months with the same set of women and families. These statements are truly developed in the spirit that everyone benefits if women and their families are engaged in defining gender equality for themselves. Below is an outcome related to family and community recognition set by and validated with women entrepreneurs themselves.

The GPM process has proved valuable not only for monitoring progress for women and their households, but it has also proved valuable in raising awareness on gender equality issues and for facilitating sensitive discussions through focus groups and individual home visits within families, and particularly between wives and husbands.

Khloud, a women entrepreneur from Southern Shounah and her husband Adel shared their insights during one of the project’s GPM visits:

“Sharing household chores is now a topic that is open for discussion and not a taboo as it was used to be,” Adel said, “I’ve reached a point that whenever I found her busy, I start doing the needed cleaning. I’m doing this and I’m proud of it.”

Other MEDA projects, including ones in Nigeria and Senegal, are now adopting GPMs to both monitor and facilitate gender equality changes within households and communities. The JVL project has integrated GPMs as a critical tool to determine whether women and men are benefiting from changing gender relations as a result of women’s economic empowerment – changes that should lead to reduced barriers for women to engage in economic activities. The project encourages other organizations and projects to adopt this process, which can lead to more holistic, community-wide, locally-driven progress to women’s economic empowerment. If interested in adopting GPMs into other organizations and projects, please refer to the project’s Summary OverviewTechnical Brief, and Implementation Manual.

Yasmin Taba’a, Gender and Youth Specialist, Jordan Valley Links project, Jordan

Yasmin has a Masters Degree in Information Technology Management. She is passionate about working with women and youth. She started her volunteering journey in 2003 with one of the national organizations for women and youth, until she became head of the organization in 2012. She has also served UNFPA for about four years as a Youth Program Officer. Yasmin believes that National and International organizations should play a complementary role for the good of Jordanian women, men, girls and boys.

Farah Chandani, Senior Project Manager, West Africa/Middle East and North Africa Program

Farah is responsible for promoting increased financial access, entrepreneurship and employment opportunities for women and men in West Africa/Middle East and North Africa. She currently manages the Jordan Valley Links project which focuses on women and youth entrepreneurs and will run until 2021.

The truth about the global gender wage gap

At age 15 I got my first job as a cashier at a Farmer’s Market. One day, after working there for about two years, I overheard a new hire, a boy, make a comment about how much money he made. I was shocked. He made a dollar more than me an hour for the same job and with less experience. Even as a teenager, I knew this was wrong, and promptly put in my two-week notice. Over the years, I’ve heard countless personal stories similar to my own, and this gender wage gap isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, which looks at gender gaps in economic participation, education, health and politics, revealed that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years.

According to the International Labour Organization, the weighted global gender pay gap ranges from about 16% to 22%.

So, why does this gap exist and why are we having such a hard time closing it? How is it that the same work, when done by a woman, is somehow valued less? Why do women, who are equally responsible for caring for themselves and their families as men, work more hours and make less money in literally every country in the world?

Let’s start with what we know.

The gender wage gap is about more than just making less money for the same job. It’s about the wage gaps throughout the lifecycle (including the so-called motherhood penalty, sector choice, and the choice of whether to be full-time or part-time etc.), wage gaps between and among different racialized populations, historical labour force participation, education attainment, and pay transparency.

The wage gap through the life cycle

The wage gap first begins in childhood. A study in Australia found that girls are given 11% less pocket money than boys, and a study done by MEDA in Ethiopia revealed that young women were less likely to be given cash by their parents than young men. Historically, lower educational attainment for women contributed to the wage gap and this is still the case in some contexts. However, even in countries where women are graduating from university at higher rates than men, young women still begin their careers earning less than their male colleagues.

Sector choice

The sectors women and men choose as their careers is also a major contributing factor. Healthcare, service, and hospitality jobs are most commonly held by women, but these sectors see lower levels of investment, growth, and remuneration. World Bank research notes that, “A hierarchy of earnings — “the profitarchy” — emerges whereby men in male-dominated sectors are the top earners, women in male-dominated sectors and men in female-concentrated sectors in the middle tier, and women in female-concentrated sectors at the bottom.” Interestingly, the same study found that women with certain characteristics are more likely to enter male-dominated sectors including younger women, married women, and those who inherited a business and/or have substantial support from a male role models or partner.

The motherhood penalty

As explained in greater detail in a former MEDA blog, the motherhood penalty (referring to the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers as well as between mothers and fathers) also significantly impacts women’s wages over their lifetimes. In general, women’s wages are negatively impacted by motherhood, while men’s wages are positively impacted – though these gaps are also influenced by socio-economic status. Many working mothers have no access to paid leave and are more likely to have or take on part-time employment status or breaks in employment due to unpaid carework. While men may also take advantage of flexible work arrangements to contribute to childcare, they are less likely to take unpaid leave or reduce their hours. The cumulative effect is fewer years of experience and seniority, which negatively impacts earnings over a women’s lifetime.

The wage gap is exacerbated for racialized women

In North America, racialized women are particularly underrepresented in higher-paying jobs, roles, and careers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the wage gap for Latinas, Native American Women, Black Women, White Women, and Asian American women is 54, 57, 62, 79 and 90 cents, respectively, to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes. In Canada, women of colour earn an average of 56.7% of what all men earn.

Preliminary evidence also suggests that COVID-19 will only deepen the gender wage gap. For example, the female dominated sectors of accommodation and food services; real estate, business and administrative activities; manufacturing; and the wholesale/retail trade are projected to be at higher risk of job losses and declining work hours. Specific jobs in healthcare and social work, characterized by long hours, low pay, and challenging conditions are also more essential now than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has not brought new inequalities, but it did bring existing inequalities to surface.

This brings me to the central point. There are a number of contributing and exacerbating factors to the gender wage gap. But, ultimately, the gender wage gap is a product of patriarchy and sexism. Plain and simple. In fact, a recent study featured in Harvard Business Review revealed that previously explored arguments related to women’s behaviour do not adequately explain the level of gender inequality in treatment of women in the workplace. The data suggests that bias occurs when women and men, “act identically but are treated differently” and that, “gender differences may lie not in how women act but in how people perceive their actions”.

So what can we do?

In addition to advocating for legislation to guarantee equal pay for work of equal value and greater mandated pay transparency, businesses and organizations should commit to doing the following:

  1. Conduct regular internal pay equity studies or analyses and be transparent about the results.
  2. Use analytical and objective job evaluation methods which rely on gender neutral criteria.
  3. Publish salaries or salary ranges for all employees and encourage staff to negotiate to be paid equitably
  4. Establish an employee diversity performance management system by regularly measuring, analyzing and actioning gender disaggregated data including key performance indicators such as recruitment, hiring, promotions, performance, compensation, attendance, absenteeism, etc.
  5. Do not request salary history. Research has shown that salary histories can negatively and disproportionately impact job advancement for women and racialized people.

Taken together, these steps will contribute to greater pay equity – and begin redressing some of the persistent inequities we see in economics, politics and society. Together, we can achieve gender equality.