Gender equity and women’s empowerment

Previous Human health and nutrition
Gender equity and women's empowerment


Improving gender equity and empowerment of women and girls

Women and men play a central role in the farming, food and health, and natural resource management systems of low- and medium-income countries. However, women’s contributions are often undervalued or unrecognised—and they are often disproportionately affected by poverty.

Gender equality is crucial to alleviating poverty in rural communities. In developing countries, women do much of the manual labour on farms, as well as domestic duties. ACIAR recognises the untapped potential for improved production, income and family nutrition that occurs when women play a more visible and equal role in agricultural decision-making.

If women had equal access to resources, their farms would be more productive and they would be able to feed more hungry people. When women earn an income, they invest in their families, who then become healthier and more educated, which in turn leads to greater prosperity for their communities.

Our work

ACIAR projects change women’s lives by helping them to realise their potential and make their farms more sustainable, productive and profitable, to the benefit of all. We are working to redress gender imbalance by supporting projects that are designed to be equitable, inclusive and empowering. We work with all our project partners to:

  • mainstream gender equity and women’s empowerment into the research portfolio, incorporating principles of gender equity in project design
  • ensure research is undertaken in a way that advances gender equity and empowers women
  • create more equal systems of access and recognition of women’s agency, decision-making and participation
  • deliver outreach and capacity-building activities to ensure equitable access to opportunities for women
  • identify opportunities for gender equity impact and transformation for women’s empowerment
  • boost women’s influence in setting the agendas for research.


Raising the status of women and girls

Global | Impact and evaluation

To reflect the emphasis that ACIAR, and the Australian aid program more broadly, gives to improving the status of women and girls through our activities, ACIAR tracks and reports on how consistently our projects contribute to improved gender equity. In 2019–20, 83% of concluded project reviews were rated as ‘good’ or ‘above’ in relation to making a positive contribution to gender equity. This places ACIAR ahead of the aspirational threshold of 80% established across the Australian aid program.

New fellowship supports women in agricultural research

Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Laos, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam | Capacity building | University of New England

The Meryl Williams Fellowship, which targets women in research leadership, was launched in February 2020 in Sydney. Dr Meryl Williams attended the launch and met the inaugural cohort of 20 Fellows from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Meryl Williams Fellowship is a key initiative in the ACIAR Gender Policy and Strategy (alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Canadian International Development Research Centre, in particular), complementing our leadership in boosting gender research support across CGIAR. It is delivered by the University of New England in partnership with Coffey (International Development). It aims to help more women achieve and succeed in positions of leadership in international agricultural research by strengthening their leadership skills, confidence and networks.

Integrating local expertise and gender responsiveness

Uganda and Kenya | Livestock Systems | International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

Limitations on travel during COVID-19 prompted some research teams to train local community resource people to help them reach out to smallholder farmers, particularly women. The ‘Insect for Feed’ project in Uganda and Kenya used the Project-level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, a survey-based index for measuring empowerment, agency and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector. The researchers found that the pandemic had put wives (when compared to women heads of households and husbands) at a greater disadvantage in accessing resources for their insect feed businesses because of their limited access to training in insect farming. The research team is using the findings to respond to the needs of these women and ensure their participation.

Women gain financial independence through household gardens

Indonesia |Soil and Land Management | NSW Department of Primary Industries

A 16-year presence in Indonesia demonstrates the value of playing the long game to build trust and focus on working with women. An ACIAR project enjoyed great success in changing soil management practices by engaging with women farmers in Aceh. The project helped to introduce dry season crops and improve fertiliser management in these systems, resulting in improved livelihoods for farming families. Vegetable production in household gardens managed by women increased household income by $402 to $2,000 per year. A total of 725 women were supported in the project to develop a home garden, with some of these women gaining financial independence as a result and some creating businesses out of the production.

Empowering women smallholder farmers

Papua New Guinea | Social Sciences | University of Canberra

Previous ACIAR research found that a whole-of-family approach to farming leads to improved livelihoods. Building on this research, ‘family farm team’ activities have been scaled out into five provinces with a focus on working towards a gender equitable and planned approach to farming as a small family business. A total of 266 farmers (165 women and 101 men) trained as village community educators. These educators then trained another 1,622 women and 869 men. A further 45 women and 53 men were trained as family farm team trainers with support from Australia’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development and Pacific Governance Facility. The research has found a marked improvement in gender equity and increased recognition of the role of women in farming.


Empowering rural women to power agriculture

Many women carrying trays of seedlings

An ACIAR collaboration has a strong emphasis on meaningfully engaging female farmers in South Asia, enabling them to thrive in the face of climate and economic change.

The Eastern Gangetic Plains region of Bangladesh, India and Nepal is home to the greatest concentration of rural poor in the world. More than 90 million people depend on agriculture for food security and livelihoods.

Since 2014, the Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project has aimed to make smallholder agriculture more productive, profitable and sustainable. It targets the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly women and girls.

Women farmers are specifically targeted in the scaling project. It is intended that a third of participants will be women and that at least 25% of the households involved will be led by women. Priorities include crop diversification and rotation, reduced tillage using machinery, efficient water management practices and integrated weed management practices.

Mooni Bibi is one of the women benefiting from this important work. She lives in the village of Hawragari in the Cooch Behar district of West Bengal. For most of her life, she has worked as a farm labourer.

In the past few years, Mooni Bibi and other women from her community formed the Mukta Self Help Group. Through the SRFSI project, they were introduced to the new business opportunity of producing rice seedlings for use in mechanical rice transplanters.

Women farmers said rice seedling cultivation is contributing an additional INR 10,000–12,000 ($200–250) per month to their incomes, bringing improved health, education and livelihood benefits at the household level and improved social standing within the community.

‘We are keeping some of the money we are earning from this rice seedling business, and some of it we put in the bank. We are feeling great to be doing this together. We work as a unit,’ said Mooni Bibi. SRFSI is a collaborative venture with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, with more than 20 partners representing the research, development and educational sectors. These partners are key to reaching large numbers of farmers, especially women, and promoting an inclusive and equitable approach to sustainable agricultural production techniques.

This partnership has supported more 70,000 farmers in West Bengal to use conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification technologies.

Our work, funded through DFAT’s Sustainable Development Investment Portfolio, is contributing to much-needed changes to the agriculture sector.

Sustainable development goal - Gender equality


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