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Power in Numbers W

hen the US government wanted to make sure its global hunger

and food security initiative Feed the Future was having a positive impact on women in the countries it was serving, it called on IFPRI to help. Te result is the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), an innovative tool that was collaboratively developed by IFPRI, the Oxford Poverty and Human Devel- opment Initiative (OPHI), and the US Agency for International Development.

“When we were commissioned to do this work, we were mandated to design,

Measuring women’s empowerment

develop, and test an index to measure the greater inclusion of women in agriculture-sector growth resulting from the Feed the Future initiative,” explained Agnes Quisumbing, a senior research fellow at IFPRI. Quisumb- ing, Senior Research Fellow Ruth Meinzen-Dick, and Research Fellow Amber Peterman served as the key IF- PRI researchers developing the index.

Te WEAI actually comprises two indexes, both based on individual interviews with women as well as the men in their households. Te first index

© 2005 A. Hinton/Panos

assesses women’s empowerment in five areas: decisions about agricultural production, power over productive re- sources such as land and livestock, de- cisions about income, leadership in the community, and time use. Te second index measures gender parity—that is, whether women are as empowered as the men in their households.


Three generations of women in Guatemala, where the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index was piloted.

As Meinzen-Dick explained, most gender indexes are based on national data and do not really capture the reality that individual women face. Te WEAI, in contrast, is a composite measure that indicates women’s control over critical parts of their lives in the household, community, and economy, through one- on-one interviews. “It’s a simple, techni- cally robust index that gives powerful insight,” she said.

Sabina Alkire, OPHI’s director, is co- creator of the Alkire Foster method for measuring multidimensional poverty, which was used to construct the index. She called the index “a major advance in our ability to measure empowerment.”

Piloted in Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Uganda, the WEAI is being rolled out in 19 countries hosting Feed the Future programs, where it will be used to understand the connections between women’s empowerment, food security, and agricultural growth.

Although women make up 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force, their yields are up to 20 percent less than those of men. By identifying women who are disempowered and the areas in which they are disempowered, the WEAI can help show program leaders where they should focus their work. Ultimately, using the index to help em- power women could not only increase global food production, but also have far-reaching benefits for families and future generations.

– Marcia MacNeil 4

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