Why women need indicators: Spotlight on measuring women’s empowerment at the Milan Expo

by Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Lead Technical Adviser, Gender and Social Inclusion, Policy and Technical Advisory Division

Accurate evaluation of results and impact has become a top priority for IFAD and our partners over recent years but in the field of gender equality there is still a long way to go. To measure women’s empowerment in a meaningful way, data have to be not only disaggregated by sex but also to reflect the reality of women’s lives. 
In May, the Rome-based agencies participated in an Expo event organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation focusing on “Measuring the empowerment of rural women”. The event was opened by a think-piece on the key issues and challenges of measuring rural women’s empowerment by Marco Zupi from Centre for International Political Studies. Other panellists were from ACRA-CCS Foundation and AIDOS.

On behalf of IFAD, I reported on the Fund’s special interest in this topic in recent years, both at the global and corporate levels.

At the global level, we have contributed substantially to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) discussions around rural women’s empowerment. The need for active engagement drew on the experience from 2012 when the RBAs, together with UN Women and other agencies, set out to report on the progress of rural women against the eight MDGs.

However, there were challenges. Many of the data were not disaggregated by sex, yet alone by rural-urban dimensions – hence the information available was patchy and incomplete. More importantly, many of the indicators did not resonate with the lives of rural women.

© Alessandra Gabero
Women farmers are major producers of food and yet their efforts are regularly hampered by their lack of access to productive resources, inputs, technologies, services and markets. And it is about more than just the role of women as economic actors. We also want to know if there have been improvements in the quality of their lives, in terms of nutrition, health, gender-based violence and the use of harmful traditional practices.

This lack of valid, useful data spurred us on to play a more active role in ensuring that the new SDGs would reflect more meaningful change from the perspective of rural women, with a focus on economic empowerment, decision-making and voice, workloads and quality of life. We were active in the drafting of proposed indicators for SDG2 on Hunger, food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture. We also ensured that rural women’s perspective was reflected in SDG5 on Gender equality and women’s empowerment.

At the corporate level, there are gaps in the data we regularly collect from the field. We are good at collecting sex-disaggregated data at the activity and output level: in terms of the number of women and men trained, who are savers or borrowers, or are members or leaders of various groups, etc. However, we lose the gender perspective as we progress to project outcomes and final impacts.

The gender team in PTA has been working with PMD Front office and SKD to fill this gap. We have adapted the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), which was launched in 2012 by IFPRI, USAID Feed the Future and OPHI. The index measures women’s empowerment in five domains, which can be grouped to tie in with the three strategic objectives of IFAD’s policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment (see figure below).

WEAI Dimensions of Empowerment
WEAI Indicators
Objectives  of
IFAD’S Gender Policy
1. Input in productive decisions
Economic empowerment
2. Autonomy in production
3. Ownership of assets
4. Purchase, sale, or transfer of assets
5. Access to and decisions on credit
6. Control over use of income
7. Group member
Decision-making and representation
8. Speaking in public
9. Workload
Equitable workloads balance
10. Leisure

We have undertaken statistical analysis on various WEAI datasets to experiment with fewer indicators, fewer questions per indicator and the introduction of additional questions to capture dimensions of empowerment relevant to IFAD’s work. These revised questionnaires are being piloted in some ongoing impact assessments, the updates to the Results and Impact Management System (RIMS) and a NEN grant.

And why is there so much attention on indicators? A lot of work has already been done yet there is a great deal still to do in the area of indicators for women’s empowerment. This is because it is vital to find out the extent to which IFAD-supported projects contribution to gender equality and the empowerment of women. This is significant as an end it its own right. 

However, perhaps of more interest to an international financial institution such as IFAD and our drive towards evidence-based investments and policy dialogue, is the crucial link between women’s empowerment and improved, deeper and more sustainable project outcomes and impacts.

A special event will be held later in the year to discuss IFAD’s adaptations to the WEAI.