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Cambridge Global Food Security

An Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge

To celebrate the 2022 International Women's Day theme of promoting women's equality, and to honour the work that women do to help make our world more food secure, this year we are profiling women who work in gender development. In this interview, Alessandra Galiè reflects on how gender norms in Ghana impact female livestock farmers' access to veterinary services, and how the project she is working with is approaching this challenge. 

I am Alessandra Galiè. I currently work as the Team Leader: Gender at the International Livestock Research Institute based in Nairobi Kenya. I joined ILRI in 2013 and contributed to our research on the links between gender equality and livestock development with a focus on women’s empowerment. Before joining ILRI, I worked with another CGIAR centre, ICARDA, on women’s empowerment through plant breeding in Syria with an exploration of seed governance from a gender perspective. Our research work mostly consists of exploring gendered constraints, opportunities and benefits in agricultural development, and then using these insights to develop and test agricultural innovation interventions vis-à-vis gender equality. I obtained a PhD from Wageningen University and an MA from University of London.  

‘Transforming the vaccine delivery system for chickens and goats in Ghana: what approaches and what benefits for women?’ (in brief ‘Women Rear’) is a project, part of the LVIF Program in collaboration between CARE International in Ghana, Cowtribe Technology Company (a private animal health service provider) and ILRI. The project is led by Agnes Loriba from CARE. Women Rear aims to institutionalize a gender-responsive animal vaccine delivery system for chickens and goats. While women are the main keepers of chickens and goats in Ghana, their access to animal health services (AHSs) is very limited, with negative consequences on their ability to benefit from their animals, which often die of NewCastle (ND) or Pest the Petit Ruminant (PPR). The constraints to accessing animal health services are mostly gender-based. Women Rear engages with gender accommodative (GAA) and transformative approaches (GTA) to test which are better able to support the access of women livestock keepers to ND and PPR vaccines, and their empowerment. The ‘technical part’ of the project improves the vaccine cold chain infrastructure and digital services needed to reach the remote areas we target.

One of the main challenges we faced was identifying and engaging women vets. Because women livestock keepers explained that a main hindrance to their access to AHSs was the difficulties of interacting with male vets, we decided to engage women vets from the public system to collaborate with our project. It soon became apparent, however, that there was only one woman vet in one of the project districts and none in the second district.  We therefore had to identify women vet graduates - and hire them through Cowtribe.

The male vets we talked to explained the social disapproval they faced when dealing with women clients. Gender norms were affecting the vets’ ability to reach many potential customers (women rearing chicken and goats) as much as these women’s ability to save their animals from disease. We engaged male vets, community leaders and policy makers together with women vets and livestock keepers to develop approaches to overcome these gender norms (and also address the ‘technical constraints’).

Multiple gender norms play a key role in women’s access to AHSs in our project. Gender norms - associating women to chicken and goat rearing and control - provided an opportunity for women farmers to benefit from these species. Other gender norms, however - limiting women’s mobility and interaction with un-related men, and trust in women’s decision-making capacity- hindered the ability of women farmers to access the AHSs they need to successfully rear and benefit from these species. Informal gender norms about ‘who is a vet’ are likely to have been institutionalized in the public system that mostly only hires men in rural locations.

Gender transformative approaches that engage men and women in communities to 1. question norms that may limit progress on gender equality and household wellbeing and 2. discuss solutions together, have shown initial shifts in some of the gender-based perceptions affecting the project women farmers (e.g. around ‘who is a vet’ and ‘women farmers’ need to access AHSs’). We will only be able to assess the efficacy of GTAs, in relation to or in combination with GAAs at the end of the project, in 2023. The sustainability of such change (both beyond the boundaries of our project activities and after the end of the project) will also need to be assessed.

Text: Alessandra Galiè, with additional input by Agnes Loriba, Program Team Leader and Interim Head of Programs, CARE International in Ghana.

Image: Two of the women vets working in the 'Women Rear' Project. Image supplied by Alessandra Galiè.

The International Livestock Research Institute marks International Womens Day.