Applying a metrics to women’s empowerment: experiences in using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index

Several low- and middle-income countries have demonstrated significant progresses in measuring and promoting women’s empowerment in agriculture

© FAO/Haji Dirir


Thanks to the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), an aggregate index launched in 2012 that measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agricultural sector. Combining data from interviews with women and men in the same household, the index has evolved through multiple versions containing different number of indicators and modules, having been used by over 230 organizations across 58 countries.

To mark ten years since its launch, development institutions reported the outcomes and lessons from the field experiences using WEAI during a virtual event held by FAO and partners on 24 March 2022, at the sidelines of the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66). Speakers highlighted how impactful the use of the WEAI has been in different countries, sharing examples from Bangladesh and Africa.

The United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Feed the Future programme in Bangladesh adapted its activities in terms of gender, after conducting a pioneering WEAI-based survey in 2012 that indicated that only one in three women in Bangladesh were empowered. “This was the first time we had a benchmark to measure progress and guide our work. And we have tailored our approach to help women reach their full potential,” said Randy Ali, Deputy Mission Director at USAID-Bangladesh, explaining how reshaping their work brought very satisfying outcomes. “In 2019, we witnessed remarkable changes: two out of three women were empowered and gender parity significantly increased. The index has been a valuable tool to help us track this progress.”

In its pilot phase, the WEAI was used in the International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) Bangladesh Integrated Household Survey (BIHS), which provided findings about the nexus between women’s empowerment and Zero Hunger at national scale. “When we analyzed the data, we found how much women’s empowerment improves household nutrition, promotes agricultural diversity and helps people move out of poverty,” said Akhter Ahmed, Country Representative at IFPRI-Bangladesh. “Solid evidence is very important for including women’s empowerment and gender issues in policy.”

Findings from the BIHS were then used to design another study called the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Gender Linkages (ANGel), a three-year initiative that aimed to identify actions and investments in agriculture to promote agricultural diversity, increase farm household income, improve nutrition, and empower women. “The Ministry of Agriculture is now scaling up the best practices from the ANGel’s findings in hundreds of upazilas (Bangladesh administrative regions),” celebrated Md. Zahidul Hassan, Managing Director at Data Analysis and Technical Assistance (DATA).

Dr. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Speaker of Bangladesh’s Parliament, shared her optimism about the potential of the WEAI since her remarks at the inauguration of the index in 2012. “It was the first of its kind to directly measure women’s empowerment in agriculture. Now, after ten years of using this tool in Bangladesh, I am pleased to share that we have learned so much about women’s empowerment and how it is linked to important outcomes in agriculture and nutrition. I am even more pleased that this information has been used to design and implement gender- and nutrition-sensitive agricultural programmes in Bangladesh,” stated Dr. Chaudhury, the first-ever woman to lead Bangladesh’s legislative chamber.

‘Mainstream policy making’ in Africa

References were made to African countries, where many are dedicated to measuring and promoting women’s empowerment. Dr. Pranati Mohanraj, Deputy Director of Gender, Youth and Livelihoods, Food and Water Systems at CARE USA, highlighted that her organization has used WEAI metrics to measure progress on women’s empowerment in the context of various projects in Ghana, Tanzania, Mali and Malawi.

While acknowledging the need for more gender-disaggregated data, Lizzie Chikoti, Acting Commissioner of Malawi’s National Statistical Office, emphasized that in the future, her institution plans to embed such data in more national surveys.

Paulina Addy, Director for Women in Agricultural Development at Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture, acknowledged that her country has come a “long way with women’s empowerment” and underlined the key role of metrics systems, commending IFPRI for “spearheading the implementation of the WEAI.”

John Ulimwengu, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, noted a widespread understanding by African heads of state that “the road to agricultural transformation goes through women’s empowerment because more than 60 percent of those feeding Africa are women”. He highlighted that 31 out of 55 African countries are using WEAI or WEAI-like metrics to measure women’s empowerment. “We do not look the WEAI just as an index. It is part of the mainstream policy making in agricultural development across the continent,” complemented Mr. Ulimwengu, who is involved in research and policy advisory on issues related to the implementation of the African Union’s Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Program (CAADP).

Watch the event: