Workshop on gender and agriculture in Bangladesh a success

Chiara Kovarik, IFPRI, presents on the WEAI Global Synthesis Report

Guest contributors: Chiara Kovarik and Shalini Roy, IFPRI


On Wednesday, June 18th, IFPRI hosted a one-day workshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh, entitled “Gender and Agriculture: A Focus on Bangladesh,” attended by more than 90 participants. The workshop included presentations on multi-country agriculture and gender projects, with an emphasis on research results from Bangladesh.


Chaired by Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, a senior research fellow in the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division at IFPRI and co-Principal Investigator for the Gender, Agriculture & Assets Project (GAAP) and BMZ project, the workshop was sponsored by United States Agency for International Development (USAID); the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ); the GAAP, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM); and IFPRI.


The day was broken into three technical sessions: one on the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), another on GAAP, and the third on women and climate change. All session Chairs and the Chief Guest, Dr. Shelina Afroza, Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, were all prominent Bangladeshi women from the Government of Bangladesh, civil society organizations, or the international development arena.


Workshop panel, from L-R: Dr. Akhter Ahmed, Chief of Party, Policy Research and Strategy Support Program, IFPRI-Dhaka; Chief Guest, Dr. Shelina Afroza, Secretary in the Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock; and Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, senior research fellow at IFPRI and workshop Chair


Throughout the day, important findings were presented to attendees. The Chief Guest, Dr. Afroza, reminded participants that fisheries and livestock are often excluded from discussions on agricultural policies, whereas they are central to rural Bangladeshi livelihoods and Bangladeshi diets. Other highlights include the following:


  • Women’s empowerment in agriculture is positively associated with household calorie availability and dietary diversity in Bangladesh;
  • Increasing women’s empowerment in Bangladesh (in particular group membership) increases technical efficiency not only of their farms but of all plots cultivated by the household;
  • Across 13 Feed the Future countries, the biggest gaps in empowerment were lack of credit, high workload, and low group membership;
  • Dairy value chain projects that are designed with consideration for women’s gender roles have the potential to build women’s assets, through joint asset ownership, and to increase women’s decisionmaking over areas related to value chain participation, but may unintentionally increase workload;
  • While assets transferred to ultra-poor women may remain under their control, it is difficult to predict how control of income and ownership of other assets within the household will be affected; because gender norms do not favor working outside the home, women may choose to reduce participation in outside labor markets and take care of the transferred asset at home.  However, many of the gains to asset transfer programs may be through improved social status within the community.
  • Men’s and women’s assets are not equally affected by climatic and other shocks, with weather shocks generally affecting husbands’ assets, and negative non-weather shocks affecting both men’s and women’s assets. Sale of livestock is commonly used as a coping mechanism, but assets needed for generating income (such as land, husbands’ vehicles and agricultural assets) are generally protected
  • Men and women are different in terms of their perceptions of climate change, their types and sources of types of information regarding climate change, how they use this information, and what kinds of adaptations they make.


The presentations generated a stimulating discussion on a range of topics. Dr. Anwara Begum of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies commented that one distinct contribution of the WEAI was the attention paid to women’s time use, because women’s workload is often neglected by development agencies.  She also pointed out that gender norms differ according to one’s position in the family and society and that these norms are upheld by both men and women.  Mothers-in-law, for example, were singled out as perpetuating patriarchal attitudes in Bangladesh.  Ms. Riti Ibrahim, former Secretary in the Government of Bangladesh who was responsible for the last national census, commented on how time use surveys could be better adapted to capture men’s and women’s workloads, by asking men and women about one weekend day and one working day.


While discussing the GAAP projects, Dr. Nazneen Ahmed of BIDS, pointed out that control of resources and mobility are very nuanced.  The following questions arose during this discussion:  Is increasing women’s control over livestock empowering or exploitative if women still have limited control of generated income but now must take care of livestock as well as household chores?  What does mobility mean, if women themselves prefer to stay at home to avoid stigma from sociocultural norms of female seclusion?  Implications for young girls were also discussed; Dr. Begum commented that even until very recently, the girl child was regarded of lower value than livestock.  Farah Kabir, Country Director of ActionAid Bangladesh, commented that even the concept of women’s exclusive ownership is transient, because a woman’s jewelry, even if considered her own, is the first to go in times of crisis, and then is given to her daughter upon marriage.


Despite the progress in Bangladesh towards improving social indicators, workshop participants agreed that much remains to be done.  Deep-seated patriarchal values—which many attendees are working to combat—are aptly captured in Bangla sayings such as “The unfortunate man loses his cattle; the fortunate man loses his wife” or “Educating a girl is like watering another man’s field.”  Development interventions may increase women’s income and assets, but for women to be truly empowered, gender norms in Bangladesh need to change at the community and societal levels.


*Workshop presentations are available at this link.