Testing tools to measure women’s empowerment in fisheries and aquaculture

4 minutes read
Mst. Shilpi Begum, an award winning woman entrepreneur and fish farmer. Photo by WorldFish.

To measure the impact of fisheries and aquaculture projects on women's empowerment and nutrition, it is important to have a reliable tool for data collection. 

In response, we at WorldFish and our partners have developed the project-level Women's Empowerment in Fisheries and Aquaculture Index (Pro-WEFI), which is based on the Pro-WEAI (the project-level Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index). But, this version is specifically designed to capture the empowerment, agency and inclusion of women in contexts where livelihoods are largely based on fisheries and aquaculture. 

The productive resources that are covered in the Pro-WEFI questionnaires include assets that are related to production of fish, such as ponds and tanks. The tool has both quantitative and qualitative questionnaires. The quantitative tool has 12 pro-WEFI indicators that are measures of intrinsic, instrumental and collective agency. 

The Pro-WEFI also includes a set of qualitative tools drawn from the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP2), led by the International Food Policy Research Institute, the CGIAR GENNOVATEresearch and other studies conducted in the fisheries and aquaculture context by WorldFish and partners, especially KIT Royal Tropical Institute. 

Validation through the IDEA project

ishing-dependent communities in southern Bangladesh. Photo by WorldFish.
Fishing-dependent communities in southern Bangladesh. Photo by WorldFish.

We validated the Pro-WEFI tool, along with the Pro-WEAI's Health and Nutrition (HN) module, through the IDEA project in Bangladesh. The IDEA project was implemented to enhance the incomes, diets and nutrition of smallholder families, and to increase opportunities for women’s empowerment through aquaculture in Bangladesh. The project applied a nutrition-sensitive perspective, given that fish is a highly micro-nutrient rich food, to ensure that women’s empowerment in fish production leads to improved nutrition, especially for women and children. 

The Pro-WEFI was used to measure the extent to which the IDEA project’s intervention contributes to reaching, versus benefiting (particularly nutritional benefits), versus empowering women, and/or shifting restrictive gender norms. The Health & Nutrition add-on module was included to explore the empowerment-nutrition pathways resulting from the intervention. We applied an intersectional lens to explore differential effects among women from various socioeconomic backgrounds (including various wealth groups, religions (i.e., Hindu and Muslim) and age groups). The tool also collected information on the unintended consequences of intervention activities on diverse groups of women.

To conduct the measurements, we grouped the project beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries into different ‘treatment arms’: (i) women and men who received aquaculture, nutrition and gender training, (ii) landless women and their spouses who received aquaculture training only and (iii) a control group. 

Data collection process

We first used cognitive interviews in Bengali-speaking communities in West Bengal, India, in late 2021, to test and improve the Women's Empowerment in Fisheries and Aquaculture Index (WEFI) –  on which the Pro-WEFI is based. The cognitive interviews revealed that respondents had some difficulties understanding or defining some of the words (e.g., “active member” of a group) or concepts in the questions (e.g., access to gleaning areas). Some of the questions asked were also perceived as being similar to each other. 

Findings from the qualitative and quantitative analysis of the cognitive and WEFI data as well as observations by the field researchers helped us modify the Pro-WEFI tool by changing words in or omitting words from a question. We also removed some questions, made others optional, and added explanations for concepts that people did not understand. 

Then, in 2022, when COVID-19 restrictions were no longer in place in Bangladesh, we carried out the validation study on the Pro-WEFI tool using a mixed-methods approach. Quantitative data measured the level of women’s empowerment within the IDEA project context, while qualitative research uncovered the causes, reasons and circumstances that facilitate or inhibit changes in women’s empowerment status. Data collection was sequenced so that the qualitative study was conducted before the quantitative survey to gain insights about the project, people and community context. The sequence also allowed us to test people’s ability to comprehend and provide answers to the survey questions. 

Tips if you are looking at conducting a similar study

When identified and understood in advance, many logistical and technical issues can be addressed by piloting and validating the study instruments in the local context, making data collection more efficient and accurate. It is also important for researchers planning similar studies to identify the households prior to the visits and fix appointments through local partner organizations. 

Researchers should also let respondents answer questions in any sequence they find more convenient within each module without affecting the data quality. These steps will ensure that similar studies are conducted with fewer challenges. A validation process is important to improve the dependability of any tool, including to ensure that it is psychometrically sound and to avoid errors in data collection, leading to more accurate and valid results. 


This post originally appeared on CGIAR GENDER's News Section and was written by Surendran Rajaratnam,  Afrina Choudhury and, Rahma Adam.

Afrina Choudhury

Research Fellow/Sr. Gender Specialist

Rahma Adam