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Women's Economic Empowerment Working Group Image


(The Women’s Economic Empowerment Working Group)

Technical Briefs



The SEEP Women’s Economic Empowerment Working Group (WEEWG) will develop a series of three technical briefs on topics that are of interest to the WEEWG membership and to USAID. These technical briefs will provide an overview of key issues related to the technical topic, discuss current evidence base and include examples of good practices. Data sources will include quantitative, qualitative, and anecdotal to illustrate and discuss each technical topic.

Audience: USAID mission staff and implementing partners

Brief 1: Unpaid care work

Around the world, women do the vast majority of unpaid care work, whether it is cooking, cleaning, child-rearing or caring for the elderly, neighbors and friends. While unpaid care work is an essential social good that contributes to human well-being, due to prevailing gender norms around women’s work, it is often invisible and undervalued in society. Furthermore, unpaid care work has been largely ignored in economic development programming, and frequently underestimated in how unpaid care work effects women’s market engagement and economic empowerment. Thus, ironically, while care work is a crucial benefit to society, it comes at an increasing cost to undervalued and overworked care providers – nearly always women and girls.

Studies show that unpaid care work is associated with time poverty and limited mobility, constraining women’s ability to participate in and benefit from market engagement and economic empowerment.  The burden of unpaid care responsibilities on women undermines progress towards gender equality and can entrench women and their households in a poverty trap. At the same time, studies show that in some cases women prefer working in the care sphere compared with available economic opportunities—such as women who choose to take on additional unpaid work to care for children instead of seeking full- or part-time paid employment in the market. Also, reducing women’s unpaid care responsibilities does not always sufficiently ease women’s time poverty to increase women’s market engagement and economic independence.

One model, the “3R” approach[1] – recognition, reduction and redistribution – has provided a framework to address women’s unequal burden of unpaid care work, while simultaneously acknowledging the importance of care in human development. For example, men who value their wives’ or daughters’ contributions have a greater incentive to help ease the burden and engage in household activities for the wellbeing of the entire family. In some contexts, this recognition has led to encouraging changes – women’s increased paid work time and participation are being enabled by reductions in unpaid work time, due to men’s increased willingness to take on domestic responsibilities. 

The WEEWG will develop a technical brief on measuring and integrating unpaid care work into economic assessments and on promoting the recognition, reduction and redistribution, as well as women’s agency, around unpaid care work in WEE and market systems development.

The brief will examine the following key questions:

  • What are the appropriate methodologies and tools in understanding and measuring positive changes to unpaid care work as related to market systems programming?
  • What are good practices in recognizing, reducing and redistributing and promoting agency in care-related demands on women’s time as it relates to market systems programming?
  • What are the existing gaps in the current evidence base on the care economy in market systems programming?

Brief 2: Engaging and working with men

Male engagement is a critical strategy in women’s economic empowerment and gender equality. Male champions of gender equality can be a positive force within a community or household, equipping women with the confidence and support to break free of social norms that may constrain their ability to make decisions for themselves. Engaging men in women’s economic empowerment programming can also help to ensure smoother program outcomes. If men are able to understand that gender equality has potential benefits to entire households and communities, unintended, negative consequences, such as GBV or co-option of resources, can be avoided. In the agricultural sector, more inclusive value chains can create greater potential for agricultural growth as well as more potential for employment, entrepreneurship, and income growth in rural areas. Additionally, increasing gender balance in agricultural value chains can help to improve nutrition and health outcomes. However, women entrepreneurs or traders often encounter constraints in engaging in market and value chain activities due to limited access to transportation, lack of proper information, or challenges in accessing resources.

In terms of engaging men, much programming has approached men through household interventions or in their roles as partners/fathers/community leaders, but the WEEWG will look at approaches that engage men through market interventions or in their roles as public-facing market actors.

The WEEWG is specifically interested in documenting approaches in engaging with men at the market level; what that includes—men as employees, employers, traders, association members & leaders, regulators, agro-dealers, and so on; and potential impacts at the market and household level.

Engaging men is being increasingly viewed as a critical strategy for successful women’s empowerment and gender equality results. However, at present, there are still only a handful of USAID implementing partners (IPs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOS) that comprehensively and/or consistently integrate strategies and activities to engage men in WEE programming. This brief will provide an overview of the issue, highlight the importance of engaging men, and discuss recommended approaches, techniques, tools, and activities to engage men on women’s empowerment in agriculture programming. It will also highlight particularly innovative work being done by international and local NGOS and IPs, including Promundo (Brazil), Care Nepal, Rwamrec (Rwanda), HOPEM (Mozambique), Sonke Gender Justice Network (South Africa) and the global Men Engage Alliance.

The brief will examine the following key questions:

  • Why is it important to engage men in WEE activities?
  • What do we know about the benefits of engaging men to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment (e.g., reduction in gender-based violence, increase in household income)?
  • What are promising approaches, innovations, and global best practices to engage men in WEE in the agriculture sector? If there isn’t enough information in the ag sector, what lessons/practices should we try applying from other areas (such as health or GBV)?
  • What are specific examples of successful WEE in agriculture programs projects, and activities that have successfully engaged men?
  • What are examples of tools, trainings, and resources that provide how-to technical guidance on engaging men?
  • What are the existing gaps or areas for further research/consideration?

Brief 3: Promoting Women’s empowerment in Post- Production activities

Women play a vital role in advancing agricultural development, food security and nutritional outcomes. Much of the support offered to female farmers through development programs is concentrated at the production stage. Agricultural labor-saving technologies, as well as efforts to increase women’s income and market access, have often been developed with a focus on production. Such efforts may not take into account the range of post-production activities in which women already (or have the potential to) engage, and may miss crucial opportunities for advancing women’s returns to these activities and women’s ability to upgrade into more profitable and empowering roles.

Indeed, many opportunities exist to increase WEE outside of interventions focused on production, and recent studies are beginning to shed light on successes associated with market systems interventions that take such an approach. A forthcoming literature review developed under LEO on the post-production landscape provides preliminary evidence of the potential economic and empowerment related outcomes (including increased confidence, decision-making, community voice and self-efficacy) associated with successful post-production interventions. Additionally, forthcoming research on gendered social norms in market systems conducted for the BEAM Exchange investigates women’s potential roles (and associated benefits or draw backs) from a very different but equally relevant angle. Findings suggest that supporting women’s functional upgrading into post-production roles can increase negotiating power at home and in markets, but that it also has the potential to increase work burdens and lead to other unintended consequences depending on the strength of norms dictating women’s mobility and the distribution of unpaid household tasks. Further, while women often contribute to post-production activities, they do not always enjoy the economic benefits of their work because men or family elders may control income and decision-making or may take over a post-production activity if it becomes lucrative.

Given this new line of investigation, the WEEWG is interested in researching and documenting promising practices and strategies to empower women, increase their incomes, and promote their capacity outside of the production value chain stage. Such activities may include involvement in the provision of inputs and services, post-harvest handling, processing, and the marketing of agricultural goods.

The brief will draw from recent findings from the literature review mentioned above and examine the following key questions:

  • What are the benefits of interventions focused on post-production activities? (e.g., quicker return-on-investment for women using new technologies, increased ability to support associations and women’s groups that improve voice and negotiating power, ability to increase product value for women also engaged in productive activities, increased income)
  • Are there specific benefits in terms of improving agency-related outcomes among women through promoting greater participation in post-production activities?
  • Are there risks associated with encouraging more women to transition into post-production activities, if they are not already engaged in them?
  • Have there been greater benefits for women’s empowerment arising from particular intervention approaches or intervention in particular phases of the value chain?

 Have any questions or would like to contribute? Email programs@seepnetwork.org

  SEEP Network


[1] Diane Elson, 2008. 'The Three R's of Unpaid Work: Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution,” Presented at the Expert Group Meeting on Unpaid Work, Economic Development and Human Well-Being, United Nations Development Programme.


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