Ownership and control of assets have become increasingly recognized for their role in reducing poverty and improving individuals’ and households’ long-term well-being. In addition, research has shown that women’s ownership and control of assets can have important development outcomes both for women themselves and for their families.

Despite this growing recognition, most agricultural interventions still do not explicitly consider their impact on assets at the individual or household level, specifically their impact on women’s assets. To fill this gap, the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP) built gender and gendered ownership of assets into the monitoring and evaluation plans of eight agricultural development projects in Africa and South Asia. A new article in World Development synthesizes these projects’ findings and provides some lessons on how to better incorporate gender and assets into program design, implementation, and evaluation. The GAAP conceptual framework used illustrates the relationships between gender, assets, and well-being in the context of agricultural development.

Four projects were conducted in Africa (by HarvestPlus in Uganda, Hellen Keller International in Burkina Faso, Kickstart International in Kenya and Tanzania, and Land O’Lakes in Mozambique) and four in South Asia (by Landesa and the International Rice Research Institute in India and BRAC and CARE in Bangladesh). The projects took varying approaches to gender, ranging from gender-blind to gender transformative, and assets, ranging from distributing agricultural assets (land, livestock, and machinery) to providing access to agricultural inputs and training. Each project evaluation included both qualitative and quantitative methods to look at how project participants understood gendered use, control, and ownership of assets; how assets influenced who participated in and benefited from projects; and how projects impacted women’s access to and control over assets, among other outcomes.

The evaluations find that, in all projects, men clearly own the majority of individually owned assets; however, the data also reveals a considerable amount of joint asset ownership. For instance, a significant share of household land is reported to be under joint ownership in Africa. Overall, the article suggests that when deciding on the use of assets, joint decision-making (between husbands and wives) is often more common than individual decision-making. The projects find many instances in which husbands and wives discussed what to do and made decisions together. However, when spouses could not agree, it was almost always the man who had the final say. For example, a respondent from the KickStart project in Kenya and Tanzania, which focused on increased distribution and access to water pumps, highlighted that ‘men have the right to sell all assets, even those owned by women.’

The article also finds that the assets of targeted households increased over the life of all of the projects. In addition, four of the projects documented significant increases in women’s assets (three of these projects distributed assets directly to women). For instance, female participants in the Landesa project in Odisha, India reported significant improvements in tenure security as a result of land transfers facilitated by the project. However, only the project conducted by Hellen Keller International in Burkina Faso, which worked with mothers to establish homestead gardens, found evidence of a decrease in the asset gender gap. In this case, it was found that women’s agricultural assets increased throughout the project, while those of men decreased.

The study highlights that while it is possible to increase women’s control and ownership of assets, there are some common barriers that the projects faced, including: cultural norms that view certain types of assets as men’s; uncooperative attitudes of local government officials or project staff toward female asset owners; and possible dilution of the net effects of asset transfer as proceeds are reinvested in assets owned by men. The authors highlight that recognizing and emphasizing joint ownership (including how it is measured and designed into project implementation) could help overcome some of these barriers.
Several projects found evidence that suggests that the gendered distribution of assets within a household influences the uptake of technologies and livelihood strategies by household members. For instance, the HarvestPlus project in Uganda found that orange sweet potato was more likely to be adopted on plots of land that were jointly owned by men and women but where women played the leading role in decision-making.

Additionally, an evaluation of the Landesa project in Odisha found that having a woman’s name on the title was significantly associated with an increase in that woman’s reported participation in decisions regarding the purchase of productive assets and the use of agricultural land. These results provide some evidence that strengthening women’s assets will increase their role in decision-making about livelihood strategies.

In general, projects reported that when assets were transferred to women and when improved technologies were adopted, production of target crops and livestock products increased and most households reported increases in income; however, these increases were not always statistically significant compared with control groups. All of the evaluations of asset-transfer projects reported that the transfer of assets had impacts on women’s time use. For instance, all projects that transferred livestock to women (BRAC in Bangladesh, Land O’Lakes in Mozambique, and Hellen Keller International in Burkina Faso) found that caring for livestock demands more time from the household’s members. This could be a concern if women take the time previously devoted to childcare, which is a determinant of children’s nutritional outcome, and use that time for to income-generating activities. The article suggests that women are aware of and willing to make sacrifices in terms of time because they value the benefits that the various projects provide. The article recommends that projects should further monitor their impacts on time, and where there is evidence that dedication of time to project activities is having negative impacts on other outcomes, targeted activities should be undertaken to mitigate possible negative impacts.

The article also discusses the impacts of the projects on women’s and household’s welfare, looking specifically at women’s motivation for participating in the projects given their relatively limited control over the outputs and income from the project interventions. Broadly, women report that they value benefits at the household level and that they perceive many intangible benefits from participating in the projects, some of which could be related to changes in broader social contexts, including gender norms. For instance, in both Bangladesh projects (BRAC and CARE), women mentioned that they valued being able to contribute to the maintenance of their households. Participants in the BRAC project specifically mentioned the improved social standing that came from the increased income generated by owning a cow. This suggests that the impact of women’s asset ownership on gender roles and norms could be an important area for future research.
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that the projects operated in different contexts that can explain the variations in outcomes. Of particular importance is the underlying social and gender norms that exist in each region, as well as their implications for rural women’s ability to participate in and benefit from development projects. Based on the various findings, the article suggests that greater recognition of the importance of assets, and greater attention to issues of gender and asset ownership in project design, implementation, and evaluation, could improve the ability of development projects to benefit women. In addition, the article suggests that placing a greater emphasis on joint ownership and decision-making to increase women’s control of assets is a potential avenue that deserves further study.

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