Empowering female small-scale stock keepers to make decisions is a smart development path for all

Women at work in India's Himalayan foothills

Women at work in India. Empowering women to own livestock and giving them rights to manage incomes can reduce poverty and hunger and improve family welfare (Photo credit: ILRI/MacMillan)

Throughout the developing world, women tend, feed, raise and care for farm animals without, usually, owing the stock, having a say in the business aspects of livestock production, or having rights to the household income it generates. Redressing these gender inequities would improve family welfare and reduce poverty and hunger levels in these countries, say the authors of a new book, The role of livestock in developing communities: Enhancing multifunctionality, co-published by the University of the Free State South Africa, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

One of the authors, Anne Waters-Bayer, was a speaker this week at a ‘Workshop on Gender and Market Oriented Agriculture (AgriGender2011): From Research to Practice’ that ILRI hosted on its campus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the Workshop, Waters-Bayer described ways to promote gender equality and to empower women through livestock development.

Poverty often has a ‘woman’s face’ and livestock researchers have long known that livestock provide women with a rare pathway out of poverty. Even though it is women who are largely responsible for managing animals, especially small stock, in developing-country communities, their role in livestock production and marketing has long been underestimated, even in livestock projects that aim to improve the welfare of women and their families.

Waters-Bayer, who formerly worked as a socio-economist with ILRI and is now with ETC EcoCulture, in the Netherlands, and Brigid Letty, from the Institute of Natural Resources in South Africa, say women continue to be overlooked in many livestock-related interventions ‘despite the many efforts of gender sensitization’ to include gender in agricultural research and development organizations. They say ‘there is still a strong tendency for project planners and implementers to assume that the major actors in livestock production are men, particularly where large ruminants are involved.’

With recent focus on the role of women in livestock development through initiatives such as an international ‘Challenge Dialogue’ that ILRI convened in 2008, there has emerged a new focus on the important role livestock systems play in enabling women to empower themselves. Small-scale livestock enterprises offer opportunities for women not only to increase household income but also to control larger portions of it, which reduces gender inequality.

Changing economic circumstances in many countries are leading more women to take on responsibilities for types of livestock that were traditionally the realm of men, such as cattle in southern Africa. These changes, as well as women’s access to livestock services and markets, should be considered.

To promote gender equality and women’s empowerment through livestock, successful projects, the authors say, should consider lessons drawn from ‘studies of gender roles and relations in livestock-keeping households and communities learnt over the past several decades in research and development related to livestock keeping.’ These lessons include the value of conducting a gender analysis before implementing an initiative. Another lesson has been that focusing on women is more effective in building women’s capacity than just focusing on integrating women into project activities.

Focusing on women starts with focusing on the livestock they keep. The book notes that the most promising interventions for women in resource-poor households appear to be small-scale, low-external-input, income-generating activities involving goats, dairy cows, poultry and other small-scale livestock such as guinea pigs, bees and silkworms.

Strengthening local women’s organizations and improving women’s and girl’s access to education and training is equally important, especially where these are geared to managing livestock-keeping programs. ‘Reducing poverty for the woman,’ the authors say, ‘means not only increasing women’s economic assets but also increasing their capacity and power to act and to change the rules that govern control of resources and to increase both women’s and men’s ability to question established systems to gain greater say in societal decisions beyond just the home and local community.’

Successful livestock projects, such as those run by Heifer International’s Women in Livestock Development initiative, Farm-Africa in southern and eastern Africa and the National Dairy Development Board of India, suggest that the impacts of livestock interventions on women should be measured not only by any changes in women’s economic status, but also by changes in the amount of work the women do compared to the benefits they get from that work, and by changes in how much the women are involved in decision-making.

Download The role of livestock in developing communities: Enhancing multifunctionality

Anne Waters-Bayer presentation at the AgriGender2011 workshop:

Women and livestock: Global challenge dialogue

Poverty has a woman’s face. ILRI is facilitating a global e-consultation to fight poverty through women and livestock.

Over the coming months ILRI will be facilitating a Global Challenge Dialogue on Women and Livestock. This e-consultation will involve knowledgeable and influential thinkers and doers from around the world. They will be invited to take up the challenge of fighting poverty through women and livestock; to create new ways to empower women livestock keepers to further develop themselves, their families, their communities and their nations.

The Challenge Dialogue is about deepening understanding of the challenge, seeking ideas, and devising a strategy and action plan that will realize tangible impacts.

At the end of six months participants will have developed:
A first assessment of the global value of livestock-keeping by women.
A list of major opportunities in enhancing women’s contribution to livestock development.
A roadmap showing how joint actions will lead to real improvements to poor women’s lives, communities and environments.
Proposals for activities that help poor women get even more benefits from livestock.

Why are livestock so important to women?

Poverty has a woman’s face. Women do two thirds of the world’s work, and produce half the world’s food, yet earn only a tenth of the world’s income and own less than a hundredth of the world’s property. Of the 600 million poor livestock keepers in the world, around two thirds are women and most live in rural areas.

There is a special relationship between women and livestock. Poor women can own livestock when they are denied land. Looking after livestock fits well with their work of running households and raising families. Hundreds of millions of women livestock farmers daily tend sheep, goats and chickens, milk cows, buy and prepare food, plant and harvest crops, weed their plots, look after children, clean their home, fetch and carry water and firewood, prepare every meal for the family, care for the sick and elderly, while often simultaneously running small informal businesses – selling milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables – in market centres and along roadsides.

Women are the great unsung heroes of agricultural development. They are the farm and market managers who make agriculture viable, the glue that holds families and communities together, the stewards who safeguard their environments for the generations to come.

What can be done to better lives through ‘livestock women’?

Broad change will enable women to get more out of livestock. Change is needed in the ways governments, NGOs, and researchers support women livestock keepers. Change is needed in the ways societies value women’s work. Change is needed in service delivery to women farmers.

Patti Kristjanson, leader of this Challenge Dialogue, says:

‘To alleviate severe poverty, we need to change institutions and to engage women. Knowledge and technology is important, but it’s not enough. We have to change our ways of working and give poor people the lead in building their own futures.

‘We already have the skills and tools to bring about meaningful changes. We need the will to make them happen. By working together, we can start to solve a problem too big for any one person, organisation or institution to address alone’ said Kristjanson.

Challenge Dialogue: a new kind of consultation

A ‘Challenge Dialogue’ is a disciplined process of defining a specific challenge, engaging diverse stakeholders in a productive conversation focused on co-creating solutions, and taking action towards the solutions.

It is a proven vehicle for taking groups of more than 100 people through a structured conversation over several months focused on developing alignment and agreement around a plan for solving complex tasks.

‘Challenge Dialogue’ is particularly useful when faced with a significant opportunity or problem to be solved, when you need to bring people together that don’t normally work as a team and get them collaborating quickly and effectively, and you want to move to action within a defined timeframe.

Patti Kristjanson, ILRI’s Innovation Works leader says ‘The idea behind the Challenge Dialogue is that we involve as many diverse participants as possible and engage them in a bigger conversation. Everyone’s opinions are encouraged – thus we get diversity of views and a free flow of innovative ideas and solutions.

The Challenge Dialogue System (CDS) has been developed by Innovation Expedition. See http://www.innovationexpedition.com

The global Challenge Dialogue on Women and Livestock will involve people who are passionate about reducing poverty and improving poor women’s lives. Participants will generate excitement, interest and evidence about how ‘livestock women’ can improve lives and reduce world poverty. It will bring in partners, investments and actions that will better support women livestock keepers and, through them, their vulnerable children, communities and environments.

For more information about ILRI Challenge Dialogues visit the Innovation Works initiative at https://www.ilri.org/innovationworks

If you are interested in participating in the Global Challenge Dialogue on Women and Livestock, please contact Patti Kristjanson. Please provide a brief summary of your background and interests.

Further Information contact:

Patti Kristjanson

Innovation Works Leader
International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)