Confronting the wall of patriarchy: Does participatory intrahousehold decision-making empower women in agricultural households?

Els Lecoutere and Eva Wuyts
IOB Working Paper 2017.13

This study investigates the impact of introducing participatory intrahousehold decision-making on the empowerment of women in agricultural households in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Ugandan coffee farming households. Participatory intrahousehold decision-making is expected to empower women through increasing their voice and lifting collective action problems, which otherwise compromise efficiency and equity of the household farm. With a mixed methods approach this study captures the impact on multiple dimensions of empowerment, including women’s perceptions of the process, meaning and value.
Women portrayed three possible pathways towards empowerment in their household: “Breaking through the wall of patriarchy” – the preferred pathway but conditional on being married to a cooperative husband - “Circumventing” it, or having “No choice but to take full responsibility” in case of husbands who are ill or migrant workers.
On the basis of a randomized encouragement of couples to participate in an intervention introducing participatory intrahousehold decision-making, we quantitatively demonstrated the catalyzing effects on different domains of women’s empowerment, including involvement in strategic household decisions, women’s control over household income, personal income and assets. Women’s decision-making power about cash crop production, another strategic domain that women value, increased to some extent. These impacts support women in following a pathway to empowerment by “Breaking through the wall of patriarchy”, but are also valuable for women for whom that pathway is out of reach.  
Policies and programmes introducing participatory intrahousehold decision-making have the potential to empower women in domains they value and should be combined with effective ways to accomplish women’s wish to gain economic power to actively contribute to the development of their household.

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