Exploring the potential of household methodologies to strengthen gender equality and improve smallholder livelihoods: Research in Malawi in maize-based systems

Elsevier, Journal of Arid Environments,Volume 149, February 2018, Pages 53-61
Cathy Rozel Farnworth, Clare M. Stirling, Amon Chinyophiro, Andrew Namakhoma, Rebecca Morahan


Household methodologies (HHM) intervene directly in intra-household gender relations to strengthen overall smallholder agency and efficacy as economic agents and development actors. Strengthening women's agency is one mechanism for progressing towards collaborative, systemic farm management. It is expected this will contribute to improved farm resilience in the face of climate change, strengthen food and nutrition security, and improve other development indicators.

HHM are built around a vision, gendered analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), an action plan, and indicators. Some HHM - including Gender Action Learning Systems (GALS), the focus of the research - use drawings making them easy to use for low-literate individuals. There is considerable evaluation report evidence of the efficacy of HHM in strengthening value chains, food security, and gender equality. However, this has yet to be complemented by a robust systematic evaluation of the methodology which includes non-intervention communities as controls. Here we report on the findings of a research study into GALS in Malawi where the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi (NASFAM) has been implementing GALS since 2013 with 4274 farmers (2821 women and 1453 men to May 2016). We held sex-disaggregated FGDs with 40 GALS households and 40 non-GALS households, all NASFAM members. Community profiles and a matrix activity focusing on task allocation, asset distribution, and expenditures by gender with 125 non-GALS and 135 GALS respondents were also conducted.

Our analyses indicate a significant shift towards sharing of on-farm tasks and household tasks, and joint realization of the benefits from agricultural produce in GALS households. They are building up portfolios of assets including livestock, houses, ox-carts, and land, unlike non-GALS households. Respondents in GALS households, particularly de facto women-headed households, report an increase in social standing and participation in community life. In both GALS and non-GALS households, men and women agree that men continue to dominate marketing and are final decision-makers. However, financial transparency and intra-household agreement on expenditures characterize households with GALS participants.