Remarks: Administrator Samantha Power Commission on the Status of Women Side Event: Measuring What Matters

Speeches Shim

Thursday, March 24, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Jemimah, for that kind introduction and for your lifelong commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality. Congratulations to you on your recent appointment as Chief of Economic Empowerment at U.N. Women. No pressure.

Big job, though. I’d also like to pay tribute to the government of Bangladesh for adopting the Women’s Empowerment and Agriculture Index. As we heard, Bangladesh was the first nation to fold the WEAI into its national survey of rural households and agriculture work led by the government of Bangladesh and the honorable Dr. Shearing Sharmin Chowdhury, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the leadership and local staff of USAID Bangladesh over the last 10 years.

I want to start with a short story from here in the United States, one that shows the impact of measuring data and improving the way we do so. For decades, data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that America’s farmers – America’s farms, excuse me – were primarily run by men. But in 2017, the survey recorded a 27 percent increase in women farmers – 27 percent over five years. In that time, USDA had changed the survey to make it more accurate. For years, the survey allowed farms to list only one principal operator, and that operator was often male, and though women could do just as much of the work, in the data that just hadn’t counted. You all know the truth, the purpose of this panel here today and so much of the work that so many of you are doing outside of Zoom. We show what matters to us by what we measure. That idea was central to the launch of Feed the Future in 2010 and the creation of the WEAI.

At the time, the world was signaling that empowering women in agriculture just didn’t matter very much. At USAID we knew that women farmers made up a majority of the world’s smallholder farms. We also knew that they struggled to access loans, to inherit land, to make their own decisions about which crops to plant and how to farm. But before the WEAI, we couldn't measure how our work in food security was actually empowering those women. That’s because historically, empowerment has been difficult to quantify. So we set out to measure that which is hard to measure because women’s empowerment matters. Together with the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, we designed the WEAI. We identified five areas that signified empowerment: production, resources, income, leadership, and time. And we asked questions designed to reveal women’s agency in each. Across the world, the index has made an enormous difference.

In Nigeria, WEAI data helped demonstrate the success of a Feed the Future initiative that gave money directly to women. The WEAI showed that the money gave women more control over their income. They could work more, spend and save more, and buy more food. They could independently purchase farm equipment and household necessities, making them more powerful decision makers in their families and communities.

WEAI data also helped Nigeria improve its national cash transfer program. Incorporating elements of the Feed the Future Initiative made the national program more effective and less expensive.

From Dr. Chowdhury and the USAID Bangladesh team, we heard about Bangladesh’s extraordinary success in using the WEAI to address disempowerment among women farmers. That work included giving women access to training and technology, helping them speak up in public, and providing options for childcare during work hours. Bangladesh now tracks women’s empowerment and gender equality in other national surveys, modeling for other countries what it means to prioritize women's empowerment in agriculture.

But most importantly, the index has made clear that women’s empowerment matters. Its data doesn’t just help design solutions to combat disempowerment, it forces us to acknowledge that there is a problem in the first place. In the last 10 years, the WEAI has faced its share of criticism, that it’s too long, too complicated, too expensive. Integrating the WEAI into the government of Bangladesh’s national survey helped us see the index in practice and to then invest in making it more accurate, more streamlined and more accessible. We have more work to do, needless to say. But the only way to improve the WEAI is to use it, and that’s why we're continuing to make women’s empowerment a critical part of our Feed the Future food security initiatives. And that is why we urge all of you to build women’s empowerment metrics into your national surveys and other agricultural data collection efforts.

Without complete, accurate data, entire groups of people are invisible to us. All too often, they are the ones we most need to see, and all too often they are women. Together, we can make women’s empowerment a top priority and close the gender data gap in agriculture. If we expand the WEAI, streamline it, improve it, if we measure what is hard to measure, we won't just make women visible; we will serve them. We will empower them. We will learn from them. We will prove that they matter. Thank you so much.

Last updated: November 09, 2022

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