The international development community has focused on women’s empowerment in agriculture as a means of achieving development goals such as the eradication of poverty and increased food security. In practice, however, what has emerged is an over-emphasis on the economic dimensions of empowerment and a preoccupation with individual agency and choice as the primary drivers of change. Research in Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture in Ghana developed out of concern over the proliferation of individualistic, economic asset- and choice-based frameworks for understanding and measuring women’s empowerment, particularly the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), a survey-based assessment used to track changes in women’s empowerment that are a direct or indirect result of Feed the Future programming. By exploring the limitations of economic-based approaches to empowerment and individualistic decision-making and choice frameworks, the goal of this research was to contribute to an evidence base that could be used to expand the way development programs conceptualize, implement, and measure women’s empowerment.
Activities and Impacts
Fieldwork was completed in two farming communities in northern Ghana in May of 2016 by a team of three UW researchers and four Ghanaian research assistants. Data was collected through individual interviews, focus group discussions, transect walks, and participant observation. Findings suggest that the economic and material dimensions of women’s lives are only one important element of change embedded in interdependent social and familial relations, cultural practices, and power structures. When economic and material dimensions of empowerment are privileged over others—as they often are—it is less likely that we will see and respond to empowerment from a perspective of deep social embeddedness, or as an open-ended process of social change. Research findings have been presented at UW-Madison and the 2017 American Anthropological Association annual conference, and a publication is under review.