In our extensive combined fieldwork experience, all of us have noted ways in which women’s empowerment could potentially be a crucial factor in nutritional outcomes in resource poor and gender-inequitable settings. Yet, little research helps to identify the factors of empowerment that are important for women’s nutritional outcomes. Moreover, many interventions that seek to address empowerment in the agricultural arena implicitly assume that successful interventions will have positive impacts on women’s nutritional health. Yet, studies suggest that the linkage between agricultural and nutritional empowerment are more complex.
In this project, therefore, we ask:
When does empowerment in the agricultural realm translate into empowerment in the nutritional realm?
Are women who are empowered to make agricultural decisions also empowered to make optimal nutrition decisions in ways that enhance or protect their own nutritional status and the status of others?
Do to what extent nutritional social norms and cultural practices facilitate or limit this translation?
New metric - Women’s Empowerment in Nutrition Index (WENI)
We propose to address these questions by developing a new index, the Women’s Empowerment in Nutrition Index (WENI), a robust metric that will aggregate factors that reflect nutritional empowerment across rural agricultural contexts. WENI will thus provide crucial insights in nutritional empowerment’s role in mediating the pathway between agriculture and nutritional outcomes.
We conceptualise the notion of nutritional empowerment as the capacity for a woman, and not just her children, to be well fed and healthy; to have a meaningful say in household nutritional practices; and to receive support in implementing them. We expect to develop a metric that encompasses different nutritional domains reflecting factors that enhance individual agency, and the availability of supportive structural conditions and social infrastructure, such as: different uses of time; nutritional knowledge; cultural practices; access to both food and non-food resources (e.g., access to healthcare and sanitation practices); and control over resources and income.
“Empowerment” is a complex concept that is difficult to measure. Participatory, community-based qualitative research will help us identify which factors are most relevant for inclusion and develop a survey to populate the index. After we produce WENI, we will validate it against anthropomorphic and anaemia measures. We believe that combining qualitative research with a standardized index will provide nuance that can otherwise be masked in indices.
How WENI can be used
A metric such as WENI can help us understand when and why agricultural empowerment translates into improved nutritional outcomes. We thus plan to examine the complementarities to the existing robust Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). WENI provides a crucial complement to WEAI, potentially illuminating linkages and disjunctures between the domains of agricultural and nutritional empowerment.
This project will translate important aspects of women’s nutritional empowerment into an innovative index, which will dramatically enhance our understanding of the drivers of nutritional outcomes. Such an understanding will provide a critical roadmap for predicting the outcomes of new development interventions aimed at improving the lives of rural women in the Global South.