Solutions to improve women’s access to livestock vaccines
Women livestock smallholders are critical players in food systems around the world and represent two-thirds of livestock smallholders. Yet the gender-specific needs, preferences and constraints of women livestock smallholders are often overlooked as part of efforts to eradicate devastating livestock diseases that threaten food security, harm livelihoods and undercut opportunities for economic empowerment.
To address this gap, a set of four IDRC-supported projects are researching the barriers faced by women in livestock vaccine systems across six countries — Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda. Together, they are generating new evidence on how women can better benefit and participate in these systems, and how livestock-based interventions can shift community gender norms.
The research is supported by the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund (LVIF), a partnership between Global Affairs Canada, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and IDRC that supports the development of affordable livestock vaccines, targeting diseases that impact women and men livestock smallholders, and facilitates their access and use at scale.
Emerging across the four projects is evidence that three types of interventions, implemented together, are critical to impact: First, ensuring the availability and affordability of effective vaccines to livestock smallholders, including those in rural areas; second, interventions aimed at increasing women’s knowledge about livestock vaccines; and third, community sensitization activities on gender.
This combined approach ensures that women are informed about the benefits of vaccinations, as well as how, when and where to access vaccines, which increases the likelihood they will get their livestock vaccinated. Then, in order to change behaviours, including vaccine uptake, women need to be able to make decisions related to their livestock and have the resources and the support of their spouses and their communities to take action.
This requires challenging gender norms in the community that restrict a woman’s decision-making power, her control over household finances (including from the sale of her own livestock), her mobility or the roles she is expected to play in the household and on the farm.
“Empowered with both knowledge about vaccines and with the full support of their community, women can therefore be empowered to make better production decisions, leading to improved livestock health, reduced mortality, greater income and, importantly, an improved self-efficacy,” said Evelyn Baraké, program officer with IDRC’s Climate-Resilient Food Systems program.
These projects are producing evidence that three types of interventions, implemented together, are critical for impact:
- First, ensuring the availability and affordability of effective vaccines to livestock smallholders;
- Second, interventions aimed at increasing women’s knowledge about livestock vaccines; and
- Third, community sensitization activities on gender.
SheVax+: A women-centered vaccine delivery business model
The SheVax+ project is working in Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to identify ways to improve women’s access to livestock vaccines and enhance their participation in vaccine distribution, delivery and use. The project is working directly with business owners and vaccinators to reduce gender barriers through training and to increase women’s access to formal paid work as community-based animal health workers, veterinarians, livestock advisors and other roles in the community.
“We implement interventions challenging and changing gender relations so that we can enhance women’s agency and improve their position as vaccine users and distributors while also contributing to increasing productivity,” said Hellen Amuguni, the project’s principal investigator and an associate professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University in the United States.
The project has so far trained 24 women animal health service providers (AHSPs) on vaccination processes, improving the services they provide to some 140,000 households and improving the ratio of AHSPs from one per 30,000 households to one per 6,000 households.
The AHSPs have also been equipped with solar-based refrigerators. By November 2022, at least 30 solar-powered fridges had been installed in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda to improve vaccine access in rural areas.
SheVax+ is enabling a holistic and economically self-sustaining model that empowers women both as farmers making better use of vaccines to support their livelihoods and as service providers who are trained and equipped to provide services to smallholder farmers in their communities. This model creates a cycle of empowerment that benefits women and their livelihoods, improves animal health and boosts livestock vaccination rates.
Breaking barriers in Nepal, Senegal and Uganda
Gender is far from being the only factor that constrains access and ability to benefit from livestock vaccines. Using a gender intersectional transformative approach, the “Advancing women’s participation in livestock vaccine value chains in Nepal, Senegal and Uganda” project has documented how gender barriers can differ across contexts based on factors, such as ethnicity or caste, age, marital status and geographic location.
“In Senegal, women were discouraged to drive a bicycle or motorbike which was regarded as inappropriate women’s conduct in public,” said Nargiza Ludgate of the University of Florida and the project’s principal investigator.
“In Uganda, the socio-cultural norms prevent the Pokot women from approaching livestock,” Ludgate said, citing a cultural belief that menstruating Pokot women are a bad omen for livestock.
Clara Chamusungun is from the Pokot community and lives in the Amudat district of Karamoja in northeastern Uganda. She initially worked at an agrovet in Amudat but was frustrated by high prices for livestock drugs and an inability to access migrating herders.
She became a research assistant on the project led by Ludgate and later opened her own agrovet shop, while also working as a community animal health worker and advocate for girls’ education in male-dominated areas, such as veterinary studies, medicine and engineering.
“I reach many livestock keepers – thousands,” she said, adding that for the women, “I will do everything to support, encourage and advocate for their rights to own assets, including land and livestock, among others.”
This project demonstrates that understanding how gender norms are affected by overlapping identity and geographic factors in livestock-keeping communities is a key step in developing interventions to support women like Clara to overcome entrenched and longstanding barriers.
Using technology to support women farmers
The Women Rear project is a partnership between CARE Ghana, the International Livestock Research Institute and Cowtribe Technology, which aims to increase women farmers’ access to livestock vaccines and increase the participation of women in the vaccine value chain in Ghana.
The project found that women in Ghana rarely vaccinate their animals, even when they know about the vaccines, in large part because men have the authority to eventually sell those animals and keep the money.
Agnes Loriba of CARE Ghana, and co-principal investigator of the Women Rear project, said they engaged community leaders, women and men to reflect on the effect of cultural norms and the need for change, adding they are seeing “some progress in this area” and that more women are being supported “to declare ownership of their livestock.”
The Women Rear project also trained female vaccinators and provided improvements to the vaccine distribution infrastructure, including improved refrigeration. In 2020, Cowtribe rolled-out a vaccine delivery app that enables farmers — women and men — to access vaccinations. The app also transmits voice messages in local languages about the benefits of vaccinations to enhance uptake.
By the end of 2022, at least 4,000 women had registered with the app and more than 10,000 vaccine doses had been delivered via the app.
“Based on a post-vaccination survey in March 2023, 82.5% of farmers reported having healthier livestock due to vaccination,” Loriba said.
The combination of increased access to vaccines via technology, increased knowledge on livestock management and vaccines and community dialogues on gender norms are producing changes in practices and contributing to increased vaccine uptake.
Increasing women’s participation in vaccine distribution in Kenya
In Kenya, the Gender-Inclusive Vaccine Ecosystems (GIVE) project works to increase women’s participation in livestock vaccine distribution chains by reducing the barriers they face, such as gender and socio-cultural norms and practices.
The project, which focuses on poultry and small ruminants, trains women in animal husbandry and recruits many of them as community vaccinators for Newcastle disease in poultry.
“Training on improved chicken-rearing techniques, vaccines, entrepreneurship and the benefits of vaccination equipped the farmers with knowledge and skills to better rear their chickens and goats,” said Salome Bukachi, the principal investigator and an anthropologist at the University of Nairobi. “A post-training evaluation showed that farmers had applied some of the knowledge, which resulted in better productivity outcomes and incomes.”
The GIVE project has also developed a farmer-centered vaccine supply model that brought vaccines and vaccination services closer to smallholder farmers.
“Farmers were trained as community vaccinators to offer door-to-door services to other farmers,” Bukachi said. “Through the service, the women earned extra income and gained confidence and earned respect in the community, which contributed to their agency.”
The project is demonstrating the impact of a holistic approach to producing behaviour change and increased vaccine uptake through improving vaccine access, equipping women farmers with knowledge about livestock production and vaccines and conducting community sensitization on gender. The success of this model has project leaders engaging local governments about scaling-up the work.
“We are engaging the County Government of Makueni on the farmer-centered vaccine supply model with the view of having it adopted and rolled out in the county for greater impacts,” Bukachi explained.