Empowering women farmers takes more than simply making new technologies available to them: it requires a deeper appreciation of the constraints and specific challenges that may prevent them from adopting and benefiting from it. In some cases, in fact, new technologies and interventions can unintentionally create new burdens for women. Hearing directly from women about the impact interventions have on their lives can help us better understand who benefits from them and how we can design them for more equitable adoption.
As part of a research project for the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Irrigation (ILSSI), we asked a group of women in Tanzania a central question: How are women irrigators perceived in this community? Given the benefits of irrigation they had just mentioned—ability to switch to higher value crops, more harvests per year and less reliance on increasingly variable rainfall—we guessed they would hold women irrigators in high regard.
Instead, their answer was striking. Women who irrigate are seen as suffering, they said.
Even as men in the community began to use motor pumps and drip irrigation, many of the women we spoke to were still using labor-intensive manual irrigation methods, including the use of buckets, bowls and their hands to distribute water. Even within the same household, husbands and wives may be using different small-scale irrigation technologies on different plots that they manage separately. With heavy domestic work obligations, women struggled to fit in irrigation duties as well.
In other cases, women worked on irrigated plots with their husbands using the same technology. However, despite jointly contributing to this effort, the rewards of this new irrigation technology were not shared equally...