Gender, equity, and empowerment: Harnessing agricultural research for better nutrition outcomes

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Virginia Tech

Large disparities in nutrition and health outcomes exist between different social groups, and resources and processes related to these outcomes are often distributed inequitably. These differences between groups intersect with gender, the socially determined roles of men and women, in some cases compounding gender differences, and in others, offsetting them. How can paying attention to gender, equity, and empowerment issues enable agricultural research to be more effective in achieving better nutritional outcomes? How can nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects be designed to be gender-sensitive? What metrics do we need to make sure that nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects not only reach and benefit women, but also empower them? The presentation will begin with an overview of agriculture-nutrition linkages, identifying linkages where gender dynamics play a key role, and where disparities in wealth, caste, ethnicity (among others) may interact with these differences. Drawing on a widely-used classification of nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions (Ruel and Alderman 2013), the presentation will pose the challenge of evaluating these interventions for their impacts on empowerment and gender equity. It will use the “reach, benefit, empower” framework to illustrate the types of indicators to use in evaluating nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects and discuss the family of indicators based on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). It will then illustrate how nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects can use these indicators to assess projects’ impacts on empowerment. It will also discuss how these indicators can be decomposed to examine other factors that underly inequities such as age, caste, or ethnicity. The intent is to challenge the audience to think more broadly about: (1) agricultural research, not only as a means for improving nutrition, but also as a way to empower women and men; and (2) how the “reach, benefit, empower” framework can be extended to other social categories beyond gender, to diagnose and understand other processes that underlie persistent inequities in nutrition and health, so that appropriate solutions may be proposed.