Can WFP’s Food Assistance for Assets contribute to women’s empowerment and nutrition?

In 2017, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) published a report on a five-country study on how WFP’s Food Assistance for Assets (FFA) work can contribute to empowering women and improving their nutrition. In this blog, a Senior Consultant for WFP, Zalynn Peishi, highlights some of the study’s findings. Findings from this study will be discussed at the WFP side event at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women on March 14, 2018.

 

Women and men sell the study team vegetables from a WFP-supported community garden in Zimbabwe (Photo credit: WFP)

Women and men sell the study team vegetables from a WFP-supported community garden in Zimbabwe (Photo credit: WFP)

Food Assistance for Assets (FFA) is a key WFP program that contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG2): end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. But can FFA also contribute to progress towards SDG5 – gender equality and women’s empowerment? In a 2016-17 study conducted in Niger, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Guatemala, and Sri Lanka, WFP found that FFA can contribute to empowering women and improving their nutrition. However, this requires concerted and deliberate actions, in addition to a food- or cash-based transfer.

What is FFA? In over 50 countries every year, WFP’s FFA program improves the food security and nutrition of vulnerable populations by addressing the immediate needs of women, men, and their communities while contributing to longer-term improvements in food security. FFA includes ‘core actions’ – food or cash transfers and building or rehabilitating assets – and ‘complementary actions’ – actions typically delivered in partnership with others. Examples of these actions are included in the table below.

Actions of the WFP Food Assistance for Assets (FFA) program

The study methodology. In this study, we held focus group discussions with FFA participants and beneficiaries (women and men) in which we asked, “What changed in your lives as a result of the FFA initiative and complementary actions?”

What did the study find?

FFA can contribute to women’s empowerment. Overall, women reported experiencing changes at the individual, household, and community levels. The changes that were reported included (1) better organization, social cohesion, and mutual support; (2) recognition and strengthening of women’s roles in the public sphere; (3) improvements in intra-household dynamics, including the role of women in decision making; (4) reduced workload and hardship for women; (5) improved skills and confidence in women; (6) improved livelihoods and increased income for women; and (7) greater understanding of, and ability to exercise, their rights.

FFA can also contribute to improved women’s nutrition. The study focused on beneficiaries’ perceptions of changes in immediate, underlying, and basic determinants of malnutrition. These changes were in (1) women’s empowerment and gender equality; (2) better diets; (3) improved household resilience; (4) better care practices; (5) better living and health environments in communities; and (6) better access to health services.

Pathways between FFA actions and women's empowerment outcomes and impact from the Zimbabwe case study. Note that the red box indicates an anticipated change when the dip talk is completed. (Farmers in Zimbabwe dip livestock in chemicals in 'dip tanks' to control ticks and tick-borne diseases.)

Pathways between FFA actions and women's empowerment outcomes and impact from the Zimbabwe case study. Note that the red box indicates an anticipated change when the dip talk is completed. (Farmers in Zimbabwe dip livestock in chemicals in 'dip tanks' to control ticks and tick-borne diseases.)

How did FFA and complementary actions contribute to these changes? Changes in empowerment and nutrition occurred due to several actions working synchronously, rather than one single action.

  • Participatory planning processes can lead to women’s empowerment or nutrition outcomes when women and men are equitably involved and when the plans are developed with strong gender equality and nutrition elements.
  • Management committees can empower women by opening opportunities for them to hold key leadership positions in their communities. Leadership in FFA committees allows women to have a stronger role in community decision-making and governance. When committee members are trained in leadership, management, and conflict resolution, women’s confidence in carrying out their leadership roles increases.
  • Working together on a shared asset allows women and men to form new relationships, establish support networks, and strengthen their sense of self-efficacy and self-worth. Women use new networks to support each other in times of crisis and seek or provide advice. Work sites can model equitable gender relations, though work arrangements must be mindful of women’s nutrition and health needs, particularly those of pregnant and lactating women.
  • Assets can reduce women’s workload and hardship, create opportunities to generate income, and improve diet, when strategically selected to consider the needs and priorities of women and men. For example, dams and ponds can reduce a woman’s workload by up to three hours per day. When layered with additional assets, such as wash basins and nutrition gardens, this can create an ‘asset package’ that yields significant changes in women’s lives and their households' nutrition.

Irrigated vegetable gardens can significantly improve the stability, diversity, and quality of diets when accompanied with good planning, agricultural training, and nutrition messages for a year-round ‘rainbow’ diet. Other assets, such as water reservoirs, latrines, roads, and energy-saving stoves, can promote better health and hygiene.

When women and men have long-term, equitable access to and control of assets, they are more likely to be able to invest their energies and resources in them.

  • Transfers provide immediate relief and provide space for women and men to work on their longer-term food security and livelihoods. Men and women may use cash transfers differently. Targeted messaging increased the likelihood of women being involved in decision-making on the use of the cash. Nutrition messaging can potentially lead to women and men purchasing more nutritious foods.
  • Sensitization on hygiene, nutrition, and gender equality for both women and men can potentially improve knowledge and change attitudes and practices. Sensitization can be used to promote joint household decision-making and the fair distribution of unpaid care and domestic work within households. Government entities, health centers, and civil society organizations also provide messaging, referrals, or service delivery through FFA, which builds participants’ networks and enhances their abilities to seek services beyond the program life.
  • Technical training helps women and men develop knowledge and skills and build confidence and resilience. Many women and men identified the technical training that they received, such as in agriculture, soil-water conservation, and construction, as being the most impactful FFA action.
  • Complementary actions also empower women and improve their nutrition, including agricultural extension, group farming, value chain facilitation, savings and loan groups, and latrine construction.

Based on the study’s findings and recommendations, WFP has updated its FFA Programme Guidance Manual and Gender Toolkit. Countries featured in the study have also taken action to further enhance the gender transformative and nutrition-sensitive potential of their programs.

 

Reference:

  • 2017. The potential of Food Assistance for Assets (FFA) to empower women and improve women’s nutrition: a five-country study. Final Report. Rome: United Nations World Food Programme. [Full report and synthesis report].

 

This post is part of a blog, the Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange, maintained by the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH). To add your comments below, please register with Disqus or log in using your Facebook, Twitter, or Google accounts. You must be signed in or registered to leave a comment.