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Putting gender into livestock work

Jac Davis on why knowing the gender context of livestock projects can make a difference to outcomes.

There is strong evidence that the success of agriculture and development projects can depend on how well they account for, and address, gender differences. These include differences between men and women relating to power, income, social roles, the work they perform and many other areas.  For projects targeting small-scale livestock producers, the gender context may influence factors like disease control, genetics and food quality.

For these reasons, gender has been identified as a priority area for funding in agricultural development projects. But data on gender and livestock projects is still lean. What do we know so far?

Gender reflects a project’s social context

Gender affects livestock projects partly because it reflects the social context of the project. Social contexts change from place to place – there is no single pattern that applies across all societies and locations, so gender is likely to affect livestock projects differently in different places. Some patterns have been identified, however, in specific geographic and social contexts.

Gender differences shape the control of income from livestock.

In some contexts, women have little control over the sale of productive assets such as livestock and animal products, and are likely to see less cash income from it than men. However, in other contexts, women may be more likely to participate in sale decisions, especially where they are named on the land title. This dynamic needs to be understood when designing interventions that improve livestock productivity, to ensure that women and men can benefit equitably from projects.

Gendered household roles must be understood

In many contexts, livestock feeding and care is regarded as housework, which means that women are likely to be responsible for feeding and care of livestock. This can cause problems if interventions are targeted to men (for example, as the head of a household), and important information may not be communicated between men and women. For example, a project in Mozambique transferred dairy cows to households, but did not take into account the gender context. The project evaluation found that men were likely to attend project events and training, but because the work of caring for the cows was typically done by women, the information and training about appropriate fodder and husbandry was not typically passed on. The end result was that the cows were often not adequately fed or cared for, and several participants dropped out of the programme entirely.

Women’s workload may be increased by livestock projects

This effect can lead to unforeseen consequences of livestock interventions. For example, a project supplying cattle to women in Bangladesh had the unforeseen consequence of decreasing women’s mobility outside the home, because women had to spend more time at home caring for the new cattle

Such examples show that livestock projects can fail or have unintended harmful consequences if they are designed without any attention to the gender context. But not every project exists in the same context, and not every project will have the same outcomes. How exactly to integrate gender into livestock projects is an ongoing challenge.

A first step is to collect and analyse gender-disaggregated data about the social context. Guidance is available, for example, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Project-specific indicators, such as ownership of locally relevant productive assets, may also be useful.

As more data becomes available, collaborative efforts like the Livestock Data for Decisions (LD4D) community of practice, can build a picture of the variable role of gender in livestock projects. By piecing together evidence from different interventions, and different contexts, future efforts may discover high-level patterns in the way that gender affects, and is affected by, livestock projects around the world.

*Jac Davis [2014] did her PhD in Psychology. This is an edited extract of a blog written for the Livestock Data for Decisions website.