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Research approaches required for supporting the empowerment of pastoral dairy women

Maasai woman feeding her child milk (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

The especially rich and clearly written results of a livestock-gender-nutrition study in Tanzania deserve wide attention.

As the paper’s authors explain: ‘In the context of empowerment and nutrition studies have found that when women earn an income in the household, child and household nutrition are more likely to improve than when men earn an income . . . . However, the mechanisms through which women’s empowerment affects household nutrition and food security are complex and not fully understood. . . .

‘The empowerment of women increasingly is seen as a strategy to enhance household food security and nutrition  . . . In the context of empowerment and nutrition studies have found that when women earn an income in the household, child and household nutrition are more likely to improve than when men earn an income . . . .

‘Development programs have adopted dairy intensification as a strategy to enhance food security and nutrition among livestock keepers . . ., as it would translate in increased production levels. Dairy intensification is a promising approach to women’s empowerment in poor livestock communities, where dairy products and revenue often are more accessible to women than the revenues of other resources, such as land, buildings, and technology . . . . Improving forage supply is an important component of strategies for dairy intensification in East Africa, where forage shortages are a key reason for limited milk productivity in dry areas . . ., a situation exacerbated by the process of sedentarization . . . .

‘A gender-sensitive approach and the active involvement of women in dairy development have been found to be consistent elements in effective nutrition interventions . . . . Yet, the results of a Tanzanian dairy intensification project illustrate the complex interplay between dairy intensification, empowerment, and nutrition.

The project successfully increased milk production; as soon as higher yields made milk a marketable product its control transferred from women to men; women’s control over milk and revenue decreased, and no improvements were seen in child nutrition . . . .

‘The relationship between empowerment, food and nutrition security, and dairy intensification in sedentarizing pastoral households requires further study to elucidate effective pathways for enhancing maternal and child nutrition . . . .’

Maasai woman milking her cow (photo credit: ILRI).

This newly published paper was jointly published by scientists from Emory University (USA), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley).

Highlights of the paper

  • ‘Frameworks on empowerment should include local and universal definitions.
  • ‘Sedentarization offers unique opportunities to change gender norms towards equity.
  • ‘Claims of control over resources may be more relevant than ownership.
  • ‘Differing quantitative and qualitative results on food security add depth of analysis.
  • ‘Ensuring household’s food and nutrition security are two distinct gender roles linked to women’s empowerment.’

Abstract to the paper
‘This paper presents a mixed-methods study that examines the relationship between women’s empowerment, household food security, and maternal and child diet diversity (as one indicator of nutrition security) in two regions of Tanzania.

‘Indicators across three domains of women’s empowerment were scored and matched to a household food insecurity access scale.

‘Qualitative research helped appreciate the gender dynamics affecting the women’s empowerment-food security and women’s empowerment-nutrition security nexus.

‘In cluster adjusted regression analyses, scores from each domain were significantly associated with women’s dietary diversity, but not with household food security.

‘All three empowerment domains were positively associated with food security and nutrition in the qualitative analysis.

‘This article discusses these findings and shows the pathways by which respondents saw their empowerment to affect their household food security.’

Conclusions of the paper
‘The study presents complementary quantitative and qualitative findings on the association between selected domains of women’s empowerment, household food security, and women’s and children’s nutrition in pastoral communities of Tanzania.

Both methodologies showed a positive correlation between women’s empowerment, their dietary diversity and that of their children, and therefore their nutrition security.

Only the qualitative component indicated a positive relationship between women’s empowerment and household food security.

‘This component also provided an understanding of the processes by which the empowerment of women in a forage conservation and livestock system might affect food security and nutrition of semi-sedentary households. The qualitative component also showed a customary distinction of gender roles between men as guarantors of household food security and women as in charge of nutrition security, and women’s perception that such distinction is detrimental to achieve nutrition security. Such distinction is discussed as a possible reason behind the discrepancy—on the correlation between women’s empowerment and household food security—between the quantitative and qualitative findings.

‘The article also discusses that other reasons behind this discrepancy could be: different definitions, domains and indicators adopted by the two studies; ‘aspirational’ versus ‘actual’ gender roles in guaranteeing food and nutrition security.

‘We suggest undertaking qualitative research into sedentarizing communities to elucidate the complex links between women’s empowerment and food security and nutrition as affected by the interplay of new livelihood arrangements, social and gender norms at societal level, gender roles and relations within the household, and individual characteristics also including age, gender and social status.

The qualitative findings inform and complement the quantitative findings.

‘We recommend that locally relevant domains of empowerment be used together with universal paradigms to engage researchers and respondents in constructive dialogue that challenges assumptions on both ends. In particular, we recommend the adoption of an empowerment–nutrition framework that includes non-economic domains of empowerment (e.g. human and social capital that were not measured by this study but emerged as important for the respondents), and, for nutrition, also control over purchasing, sales and preparation of animal source food (ASF) products.

‘We suggest that future dairy projects assess the need to combine technology and institutional interventions at different stages to enhance women’s empowerment, household food security, and nutrition.

Finally, opportunities to enhance gender equity can be particularly important in communities undergoing dramatic livelihood changes (e.g. sedentarization) and facing new environmental challenges, such as increasing droughts.

‘From a methodological perspective, this paper shows our approach to analysing findings from quantitative and qualitative methods that were, at times, contradictory.

We engaged with the discrepancy (rather then, for example, resolving it by favouring the reliability of one method over the other) and used it to add more depth to the analysis, to improve our tools, and to identify future areas of research.

‘Mixed-method approaches are often recommended but very rarely studies discuss how to address non-alignment of findings that may arise.’

Read the whole paper, Women’s empowerment, food security and nutrition of pastoral communities in Tanzania, by Alessandra Galiè (ILRI), Nils Teufel (ILRI), Amy Webb Girard (Emory University), Isabelle Baltenweck (ILRI), Paula Dominguez-Salas (ILRI), Mindy J. Price (University of California at Berkeley), Rebecca Jones (Emory University), Ben Lukuyu (ILRI), Luke Korir (ILRI), Ilana Raskind (Emory University), Kristie Smith (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and Kathryn M. Yount (Emory University), in Global Food Security, Volume 23, December 2019.

The CGIAR Research Program on Livestock and Fish and the US Borlaug Fellows Program supported the study financially. ILRI thanks all donors and organizations which globally support its work through their contributions to the CGIAR system (


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