Women's empowerment in rural Sylhet, Bangladesh


Women's empowerment is of inherent importance as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goal 5 – "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls". It has also been linked to improved women's and children's nutrition and health. In Bangladesh, Sylhet Division has poor indicators of women's empowerment relative to other regions. National surveys have found some of the lowest levels of women's freedom of movement, decision-making, and employment in the country. Surveys of the Food and Agricultural Approaches to Reducing Malnutrition (FAARM) trial population, located in two sub-districts of Habiganj, Sylhet, show a similar story.

Women's empowerment is a complex concept that can vary in interpretation between different contexts and cultures. The Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index, published in 2012 by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), focuses on capturing agency, defined as "the ability to define one's goals and act upon them" by Kabeer. They attempt to measure multiple aspects of women's agency in a systematic way to enable comparisons across countries among agricultural households. The survey includes female as well as male respondents to capture various sub-domains of agency as well as gender parity. The project-level Women's Empowerment in Agricultural Index (pro-WEAI) was established in 2019 through the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project – Phase 2 (GAAP2). To enable the development of the pro-WEAI, a portfolio of 13 projects was assembled, including the FAARM trial.

The FAARM intervention formed women's farmer groups and provided training on homestead gardening and poultry rearing, in addition to counselling on improved nutrition and hygiene practices. Intervention activities focused on connecting and building women's capacity while also engaging other household members to support women and their productive works. It thus had the potential to positively impact several aspects of women's empowerment over the project period.

Through participation in the GAAP2 consortium, we have measured the effect of the FAARM intervention on women's empowerment using quantitative pro-WEAI measures in addition to qualitative pro-WEAI tools. We then expanded our qualitative data collection to delve further into pathways to the empowerment of FAARM participants and examine the relationships between self-efficacy and good health and nutrition practices. 

This project aims to:

  • Describe women's empowerment in the context of rural Sylhet, Bangladesh, through quantitative and qualitative tools
  • Assess the relationship between women's empowerment and women's and children's nutrition
  • Evaluate the impact of the FAARM intervention on women's empowerment indicators

Project team:

External collaborators:

  • Dr. Sheela Sinharoy, Research assistant professor, Hubert Department of Global Health and Gangarosa Department of Environmental Health, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • Abdul Kader and Abul Kalam, Helen Keller International Bangladesh Office, Dhaka, Bangladesh


Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project, Phase Two (GAAP2) work was supported by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This was made possible by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the CGIAR research program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

Key links

Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project – Phase 2 (GAAP2)

FAARM trial as part of the GAAP2 consortium


Waid, J.L.*, Wendt, A.S.*, Sinharoy, S.S., Kader, A., Gabrysch, S. (Under review) Impact of a homestead food production program on women's empowerment: Pro-WEAI results from the FAARM trial in Sylhet, Bangladesh. (*equal contribution)

Dupuis, S. J. N. (2020). Exploring a pathway to women's empowerment through a homestead agriculture program in rural Bangladesh. Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Sinharoy, S. S., Waid, J. L., Haardorfer, R., Wendt, A., Gabrysch, S.*, & Yount, K. M.* (2018). Women's dietary diversity in rural Bangladesh: Pathways through women's empowerment. Maternal and Child Nutrition, 14(1), doi:10.1111/mcn.12489. (*equal contribution)

Malapit, H., Quisumbing, A., Meinzen-Dick, R., Seymour, G., Martinez, E. M., Heckert, J., et al. (2019). Development of the project-level Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index (pro-WEAI). World Development, 122, 675-692, doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2019.06.018.

Johnson, N., Balagamwala, M., Pinkstaff, C., Theis, S., Meinzen-Dick, R., & Quisumbing, A. (2018). How do agricultural development projects empower women? Linking strategies with expected outcomes. Journal of Gender, Agriculture and Food Security, 3(2), 1-19.