Data gaps on gender in livestock value chains must be overcome to tackle rural women’s disadvantage

Gender in livestock value chains: Community Conversation discussion summary

Globally, 70% of the world’s livestock keepers are women, but data on gender and livestock is rarely collected. Data is an integral tool to understand what is working, where improvements are needed, the extent to which impact is being achieved, and how better decisions can be made to improve outcomes.

Women face a multitude of barriers in rural settings, including learned norms for accepted behaviour for men and women, leading to constraints in finance, education, knowledge, information, and mobility. Gender equality is essential for development interventions to benefit children, the household and the environment, to ensure the human rights of women themselves and to empower women in rural communities. Capturing and using data on women’s perspectives and experiences in the livestock value chain is the first step to overcome these challenges.

Watch the meeting recording


Perpetuating the gender gap

Although the importance of rural women and girls is well established, data must be collected along the livestock value chain to ensure equitable impact. On average, national surveys today capture 75% of men’s economic activities, but no more than 30% of women’s. A recent Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) analysis found that of 500,000 articles and publications on agricultural interventions, just 10% considered gender differences in the outcomes. 

Agricultural projects can seem successful if data on outcomes is limited to just household productivity or financial return, but sometimes a closer look can tell a different story. An agricultural development project for smallholder farmers in Bangladesh, for example, prioritised women in its activities. It also increased milk production and processing, and resulted in higher productivity and incomes for households. 

However, an independent evaluation on the gender dynamics of the project found that the higher workload for women resulted in daughters being pulled out of school to meet the increased demand for labour. Education for girls is essential for them to use and apply information of all types, including agricultural production, human health, and legal knowledge to protect themselves and their families, and is key to smaller and healthier families. 

Collecting data on women and girls intentionally is not yet a standard practice, and this raises a key question: are we perpetuating the status quo that leaves women behind?

Measuring women’s empowerment

Monitoring and measuring women’s empowerment in livestock value chains helps practitioners understand to what extent a particular project is closing the gender gap, and if not, why this may be the case. Investing in livestock projects or programmes should not only intentionally include women, but should have a positive impact for both men and women across the value chain as producers, processors, sellers and consumers. Projects should clarify their objectives at the outset – women’s empowerment is not an automatic outcome, and rarely occurs without explicit planning. 

To do so, three levels of improvement need to be specified, monitored and measured: reach, benefit and empowerment. Reach is the easiest to measure and is usually monitored by recording the number of men and women taking part in project activities, such as attending a training or applying for credit. 

Benefit is not as easy to monitor as reach and involves conducting research to understand who is using income, assets or higher quality food, for example. It requires both qualitative and quantitative data to fully appreciate not just the number of beneficiaries in a project, but what came next for them. 

Empowerment is the most important level of impact, but also the most challenging to measure. It involves the extent to which both the women and men affected by the project are able to make decisions about their lives, and this is where women’s disadvantage compared to men begins. There are no universally accepted tools to measure benefit or empowerment, but two particular tools have been developed to measure empowerment in livestock investments: the Women’s Empowerment in Livestock Index (WELI) and Project level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (Pro WEAI)

WELI measures women’s empowerment in livestock and crop agriculture through qualitative and quantitative data across six different domains. It assesses the ability of a woman to make decisions within the household and how much control she has over resources including her own income, time and mobility. In a similar vein, Pro WEAI is a survey-based index designed to measure the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agricultural sector. In particular, it measures the ability of women to make decisions, their workload, whether their voices are heard, and their ability to travel, compared to men in their households.

Online attendees

Improving outcomes through data

Adequate gender data increases opportunities for learnings and improved outcomes in a number of ways. First, it helps us to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypes, which is essential given the vast diversity of gender norms globally. One misconception about women in low-income countries is that they have minor roles as businesswomen. But in fact, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region in the world where there are more female entrepreneurs than male. Most of these women are running their own informal enterprises, but are earning over 30% less than their male counterparts. Such data can inform project and programme planning for better social and financial outcomes, and to avoid assumptions and stereotypes on gender roles.

Using gender data can influence planning for livestock services to improve accessibility for rural women. Project Mesha in India, for example, trained community women to provide low-cost preventive health services for livestock. The project not only lowered goat mortality rates, but led to increased income and some financial independence for these “animal nurses,” as well as a positive role in the community for women where none had existed before.

Closing the gender gap

Reach does not equate to benefit, which does not equate to empowerment. Measuring benefit and empowerment provides more insight, but requires resources and expertise. Collecting data on the impact, cost and benefits of a project model can help inform best practices for implementation in other settings. Closing the data gap on gender in livestock across the value chain can help us understand inequalities so project interventions address root causes of poverty and marginalization, rather than reinforce them. To help women overcome the obstacles they are facing in rural livestock communities and improve their livelihoods, we must first have an understanding of what these barriers are. And to understand these barriers, we need data. 

Stay in touch!

Join the Gender and Livestock Data Community of Practice (next conversation August 25th 2022). Please email Johanna Wong for details.


This summary was written by Nathalie Versavel (Marchmont) and edited by Beth Miller, Anni McLeod and Johanna Wong.

Header photo: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu (source)