A new study examines how intra-household gender dynamics affect women’s articulation of demand for and adoption of labor-saving technologies in maize-based systems, drawing on empirical data from diverse household categories in Ethiopia and Kenya, where both women and men play important roles in agriculture.
Where agriculture relies heavily on manual labor, small-scale mechanization can reduce labor constraints and contribute to higher yields and food security. However, demand for and adoption of labor-saving machinery remains weak in many areas. Paradoxically, this includes areas where women face a particularly high labor burden.
“How do we make sense of this?” asks Lone Badstue, a rural development sociologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “What factors influence women’s articulation of demand for and use of farm power mechanization?”
To answer this question, an international team of researchers analyzed data from four analytical dimensions — gender division of labor; gender norms; gendered access to and control over resources like land and income; and intra-household decision-making — to show how interactions between these influence women’s demand for and use of mechanization.
“Overall, a combination of forces seems to work against women’s demand articulation and adoption of labor-saving technologies,” says Badstue. Firstly, women’s labor often goes unrecognized, and they are typically expected to work hard and not voice their concerns. Additionally, women generally lack access to and control over a range of resources, including land, income, and extension services.
This is exacerbated by the gendered division of labor, as women’s time poverty negatively affects their access to resources and information. Furthermore, decision-making is primarily seen as men’s domain, and women are often excluded from discussions on the allocation of labor and other aspects of farm management. Crucially, many of these factors interlink across all four dimensions of the authors’ analytical framework to shape women’s demand for and adoption of labor-saving technologies.
Demand articulation and adoption of labor-saving technologies in the study sites are shown to be stimulated when women have control over resources, and where more permissive or inclusive norms influence gender relations. “Women’s independent control over resources is a game changer,” explains Badstue. “Adoption of mechanized farm power is practically only observed when women have direct and sole control over land and on- or off-farm income. They rarely articulate demand or adopt mechanization through joint decision-making with male relatives.”
The study shows that independent decision-making by women on labor reduction or adoption of mechanization is often confronted with social disapproval and can come at the cost of losing social capital, both within the household and in the community. As such, the authors stress the importance of interventions which engage with these issues and call for the recognition of technological change as shaped by the complex interplay of gender norms, gendered access to and control over resources, and decision-making.
Read the full article ‘How local gender norms and intra-household dynamics shape women’s demand for labor-saving technologies: insights from maize-based livelihoods in Ethiopia and Kenya’ in Gender, Technology and Development.
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