It is often argued that it is extremely difficult to engage very poor people, especially women, in market and value chain development – at least in a manner that brings them dignity and sustainable benefits. The project Samriddhi has tackled this challenge, looking at both key success factors and challenges.
How Samriddhi addressed gender and women’s empowerment
Including a WEE perspective from the start
The experience of Samriddhi echoes the wider recommendation of the M4P-WEE guidelines, that it is necessary to make women's economic empowerment an explicit goal in order to make tangible progress in this regard. This means including WEE in the project cycle from the beginning, in the logical framework, the indicators and in the baseline data (ensuring that data is sex-disaggregated). Monitoring and evaluation must then be done in a sexdisaggregated manner. Gender awareness on the part of men and women is undoubtedly necessary in preparing the ground, and its importance should not be underestimated: a focus on women will not be successful if it is opposed by men.
One of the most crucial aspects dictating the involvement of women in a market support project – as clients and as service providers – is the choice of value chain. In Samriddhi, this choice was originally partially dictated by earlier project activities. Thus 12 value chains were taken up, spanning a very wide range of producers – including rearers of livestock large and small, fruit and vegetable growers, basket weavers, and garment manufacturers. An analysis of these value chains reveals that there are major differences between them regarding their overall economic potential – both for achieving added value for the producer and for sustainable growth. At the same time, there are major differences in the level of involvement of women and the extreme poor (inclusiveness).
The graph below makes clear the correlation between financial potential and women's involvement, with women tending to be involved in value chains that have the least potential for added value. Value chains that are considered socially appropriate for women are generally those that
- are located close to, or at least not far from, home
- require particular dexterity or patience,
- and/or include a degree of nurturing
Unfortunately most of these value chains (bull fattening is an exception) are not highly profitable.
From a gender perspective, the value chains on which Samriddhi decided to focus and build the engagement of women were of two types:
- those generally regarded as “suitable for women”: cotton crafts, medicinal herbs, traditional poultry, ducks and goats; and
- those in which women have some involvement, and there is potential for women and men to work together: milk production, bull fattening, and fruit and vegetable production.
In the latter case, it is important that women are explicitly supported and trained at the start to ensure that they are able to play an active role that is respected by men.
The business case for women's involvement
Cheap, willing and flexible labour
Rural women in Bangladesh do not have a huge range of opportunities to earn money, and all the value chains supported by Samriddhi provide a more desirable way to do so than agricultural labour. In many ways, women make a desirable labour force as far as outside companies are concerned (particularly in the garments and medicinal plants sectors), one which is generally compliant, flexible, and inexpensive. There is an obvious downside of this – the potential for exploitation. The important challenge of ensuring that women receive a fair wage for the work they do should not be underestimated.
Although the skills that women are widely acknowledged to possess – dexterity, patience, care – are not highly valued in financial terms, they can be used to make a business case. Furthermore, given the quite strong gender differentiations in roles in Bangladesh, there is also a preference for women to receive services from other women. In service provision, women report no difficulty in attracting clients or being paid the same for the same or similar services; they consider their specialist skills to be in considerable demand.
In the micro-credit industry, women are known to be more reliable in timely repayments on loans than men. The reliability of women in producing goods or services according to agreed deadlines is probably a business case that could be argued more strongly.
Partnership and capacity development
900,000 poor farmers have benefitted from the project. with almost 170,000 extreme poor households directly involved. By including some value chains (medicinal plants, chicken rearing, jute crafts) which are particularly relevant for poor and women farmers, Samriddhi has reached both women (47% of producers engaged) and those who are poor or extremely poor (35%).
Download these publications and learn more about the scaling up potential of the Samriddhi project, about how to address the constraints experienced by women, about our general findings and the methods applied: