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Time-Saving Technologies Open Doors for Female Leadership in Zimbabwe

When the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index was launched under Feed the Future in 2012, it became the first ever measure to directly capture women’s empowerment and inclusion levels in the agriculture sector across five different domains. One of these domains is time use, or how much time women are spending on productive and domestic tasks versus the time they have available for leisure activities. Initial pilots of the Index have shown that women in developing countries frequently have less leisure time relative to men, and that time burdens can contribute significantly to women’s disempowerment.

As part of Feed the Future’s commitment to empowering women, the initiative strives to bring time- and labor-saving technologies to women farmers around the world. That’s why a USAID program in Zimbabwe that strives to increase food security and incomes for smallholder farmers throughout the country is ensuring women are among those receiving the technical assistance that can help them reach their full potential in the agriculture sector. Half of all Zimbabweans receiving assistance under the program are women, and to date more than 37,000 participating women have adopted new time-saving technologies.

The technologies that are likely to make the biggest difference in the daily lives of women are the ones that address their specific needs based on the division of labor in developing countries. For example, since women tend to handle the majority of weeding on small-scale farms in Zimbabwe, using herbicides can be a major time-saver.

Similarly, technologies that transport and use water more efficiently can have a big impact on women and girls, who tend to bear the primary responsibility for water collection in their families. In Zimbabwe’s Honde Valley, a small group of farmers combined resources to install a pipe and sprinkler to access water from the hills to irrigate their crops, saving countless difficult treks to bring the water to their fields by hand. Mulching is another example of a simple agricultural best practice that conserves water and reduces the number of times a crop needs to be irrigated.

For women in particular, these technologies have benefits extending beyond increased productivity and income; when their labor burden is reduced, women have more time and confidence to take on new leadership roles in their communities, which in turn can help ensure the benefits of improved agriculture are shared more equally among women and me.

One of the ways the USAID program promotes women’s leadership in Zimbabwe is by encouraging their participation in farmer governing bodies that make decisions about cultivating crops. For example, smallholder farmers who successfully implement agricultural best practices are designated as “lead farmers” who play a mentorship role among other farmers in their communities. Across the program, more than 40 percent of lead farmers are women and 35 percent of all leadership positions are held by women. In Honde Valley, one banana farmer group recently held elections for their steering committee and four out of the nine positions went to women, marking the first time women have held such a position in this traditionally male-dominated region.

At a field day event recently held to celebrate some of the program’s top performers in high-value horticulture crops, women took six of the ten top prizes. “It feels great,” says Violet Dhliwayo, the first place winner at the field day. “This is going to be an inspiration to all women in this community.”

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