The ILRI 2019 Annual Report

ILRI/Stevie Mann
Drying cattle dung for household fuel in West Bengal

Introduction to this year's theme

A gendered lens for a better future for the developing world’s many livestock women and men

By Nicoline de Haan

Picture a livestock keeper in the developing world. In all likelihood, you are visualizing a man, perhaps herding cows and goats across a savanna or ploughing a piece of farmland with bullocks. The very term ‘animal husbandry’—which refers to the care, cultivation and breeding of animals—denotes masculine qualities, deriving as it does from late Old English (‘male head of a household’). But of course, it is not only men who keep livestock.

In fact, some two-thirds of the developing world’s hundreds of millions of poor livestock keepers are women, not men. In these countries, women, not men, perform most of the work in farm and herding households that goes into caring for animals. It is these women, not their menfolk, who do most of the day-to-day farm animal management as well as the processing, marketing and selling of the milk and eggs their animals produce. And it is developing-country women, not men, who typically make daily household decisions regarding a family’s chickens and other small stock.

These may appear to be mundane facts but they are big matters for women. Due to prevailing social norms, developing-country women are often unable to own land, to obtain title deeds or credit from banks, or to control household income generated from agriculture. Most women food producers in low- and middle-income countries thus rely on animal stock as a major, and often sole, asset with which they can meet their households’ everyday needs. Have an occasion to celebrate? A chicken can be surrendered to the pot. Trouble finding this semester’s school fees? A goat or two can be sold in the market. Need anti-malarial tablets for a sick child? Milk can be traded or sold for medicine.

Consider some of the many other ways that women benefit from livestock:

  • Livestock are ‘living assets’ that grow themselves; while they need daily care and maintenance, they require few or no major capital investments.
  • Women can own animals more easily than they can land, which typically requires a title deed, which is often difficult for women of the South to obtain.
  • Livestock and their high-value milk and egg products function like ATMs, providing regular or daily sources of income that women use to pay for necessities such as food and school and medical fees.
  • Women can often take some livestock with them if they get divorced or have to flee conflicts or natural disasters.

If women benefit in many ways from livestock, it is just as true that livestock systems benefit significantly from women’s work and inputs. Understanding the gender-specific opportunities and challenges women livestock keepers face in specific social, cultural, nutritional and economic contexts can help women not only to enhance their financial independence and social status, worthy goals in their own right, but also to significantly improve the livestock systems of their households and communities.

Notwithstanding the daily intimate involvement of women in their families’ livestock matters, most interventions made to enhance small-scale livestock development in the world’s poorer countries continue to revolve around the particular needs, roles and circumstances of men. Interventions implemented ‘gender blind’—with no consideration for gender norms and relationships—are interventions bound only to help maintain the status quo. What’s needed for more equitable as well as more effective development outcomes is changing the systems—in society and in research—that favour men and male realities.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and its partners are applying gender-responsive approaches to sustainable livestock development. They involve both women and men, and they acknowledge that gender plays a role in all kinds of technologies and interventions. Equally, such approaches understand that women are not a monolithic group and that the relationship between women and men is constantly evolving. Adopting a ‘gender lens’ helps scientists to understand, navigate and change the whole system of relationships and power dynamics that determine the roles and opportunities, and the gains and losses, of women and men.

By always considering gender dynamics when designing livestock technologies and other interventions, ILRI is recognizing the vital role that women play in rearing, trading and using livestock. Ensuring that both women and men can participate in and contribute to advancing livestock development benefits not only women—and men—but also their families, their communities and their nations.

This year’s annual report focuses on gender issues in livestock development. The articles and stories herein showcase the value in increasing women’s access to, and greater control over, their household’s productive physical and financial assets. Doing so is key to realizing the full dynamic potential—social, economic, nutritional—of urban and rural livestock communities across the global South, now and in the future.