Helping women help themselves

Photo Credit: Prasenjit De/GALVmed

Compared to other wealth and income opportunities, livestock are inflation-proof, self-perpetuating assets that women can own and benefit from. In addition to wealth accumulation, they provide income and nutritious food for their families.

While women assume much of the responsibility for raising livestock in many developing countries, they often face financial and cultural barriers to maximising this potential. By investing in women farmers, women, their families and communities can benefit.

Women’s role in livestock enterprises

Two-thirds of the world’s 600 million poor livestock keepers are rural women who do most of the day-to-day farm animal management as well as the processing, marketing and selling of animal produce. But due to social norms, women’s control over the income generated often remains substantially less than men’s.

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Women’s empowerment

Women who access and control livestock assets improve the health, education and food security of their households. 90% of income under the control of women is channeled back into their households or local communities, compared with only 30-40% for men.

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Women and household nutrition

Women’s decisions about what they themselves eat while pregnant, and what food they provide their young in the first 1,000 days of their lives, generates lifelong health, growth and cognitive benefits or costs for those children.

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Livestock and gender - impact evidence on the ways investments in livestock systems can positively impact people, communities, and the environment:

While it is generally recognized that women play important roles in feeding and caring for livestock, they often do not participate in more strategic decision making on livestock management.

Here we present evidence on the positive impacts of a range of livestock-related interventions on gender. These include:

A project among Kenya pastoralists found that increased women’s participation in decision making leads to better management of livestock for drought risk. A project that provided pigs to poor households in conflict affected Democratic Republic of Congo demonstrated that livestock asset transfer programs can also improve gender equality. Directing training and development efforts specifically towards women can also lead to positive outcomes.

In an extensive area of Tajikistan, a project found that targeting livestock interventions to female-headed households can increase their income and lead to greater participation in decision making. In some parts of East Africa, where smallholder dairy systems are already well-established, it was demonstrated that new investment in capacity development and awareness can increase benefits to women. Dairy cooperatives have generally been found to improve opportunities for the rural poor.

An example from India shows that dairy cooperative membership can improve income and employment among women, and those outcomes were found to benefit entire households. Another important livestock enterprise for women has been poultry, given women’s traditional roles in managing the small stock in many cultures. In Bangladesh, it was demonstrated that small scale poultry development can be particularly important to women, and not just for likelihoods but also leading to an increase in social status.

Download a report with this and other impact evidence showing why livestock matter