Use, control, and ownership of productive assets – land, money, livestock, and education, to name just a few – are essential stepping stones on the path out of poverty. But this pathway can look very different depending on whether you are a man or a woman. Growing evidence suggests that women typically have fewer assets than men, and that they use those assets differently. What’s more, agricultural development programs may impact men’s and women’s assets in different, sometimes unexpected, ways. A new series of project notes from the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP), jointly led by IFPRI and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), takes an in-depth look at how nine agricultural development interventions impacted women’s access to, control over, and ownership of physical, financial, and social assets in South Asia and Africa South of the Sahara.

Project Note 3 finds that while direct asset transfers can benefit households as a whole, they can have mixed effects on individuals within those households. The note examines BRAC’s “Targeting the Ultra Poor” program in rural Bangladesh, which provides livestock to women in very poor households. The program also provides training on how to use the livestock for income generating activities. GAAP’s analysis shows the nuance that is required in studying issues around women’s empowerment and asset use. On the one hand, women’s ownership of livestock increased significantly as a result of the intervention, even in the case of cattle, which are typically thought of as “men’s assets.” This finding suggests that the intervention may have been successful in transforming gender roles at least in the dimension of livestock ownership. On the other hand, in terms of many other assets, men’s ownership increased more than women’s, suggesting that new investments out of generated income remained largely controlled by men. Moreover, the intervention caused more women to shift work inside the home, reducing their mobility, and women’s decisionmaking power regarding how to spend generated income in fact decreased. These results indicate that changes in gender roles were limited. At the same time, however, women themselves reported that the program had “intangible” benefits such as increasing their social capital, satisfaction, and confidence, particularly since they no longer faced the sociocultural stigma associated with working outside the home. Taken together, the findings highlight that interventions can have complex impacts on women’s empowerment and that sociocultural context plays an important role.

Project Note 8 also stresses the need to take into account cultural norms, preferences, and constraints when developing and disseminating agricultural technologies. The note looks at the ownership and use of human-powered irrigation pumps in Kenya and Tanzania. While the improved irrigation offered by such pumps can increase agricultural yields and investment in higher value crops, the study found that only 6 percent of pump sales in Tanzania and 18 percent in Kenya were made to women between 2005 and 2013. This low uptake by women can be explained by three main factors: lack of information, lack of financial resources to purchase pumps, and cultural norms that limit women’s ownership of assets. Because women in these areas tend to be less educated and have less access to information outside the home, many were unaware of the benefits of the KickStart pumps, highlighting the need for marketing efforts targeted specifically to overcome these constraints. Relative to men, women also tend to hold fewer financial resources to purchase pumps, which aren’t subsidized. In addition, many women thought it inappropriate to use the leg-powered pump. This latter result clearly shows the need to acknowledge cultural norms when designing any type of intervention geared toward women. On the plus side, households that did adopt a KickStart pump reported a general improvement in overall household well-being. Women reduced their time spent carrying water and were able to join women’s groups as a result of their household’s increased income, leading to an increase in their social capital and self-perceptions.

Read the full series of project notes and learn more about GAAP.

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