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.
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:
- Financial access;
- Market participation and linkages;
- Labor participation; and
- 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:
- Women milk producers and
- 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.