7 ways that gender matters in western Honduras

women in discussion group in Honduras
Women in western Honduras participate in focus groups as part of the study led by Penn State and Zamorano. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Hazel Velasco Palacios/Zamorano)
Janelle Larson portrait
Janelle Larson, Penn State associate professor, who leads a Horticulture Innovation Lab project

Editor’s note: This blog post by Janelle Larson was originally a presentation given at the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2017 annual meeting in Guatemala.

Larson is an associate professor in agricultural economics at the Pennsylvania State University and leads the Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on empowering women through horticulture in Honduras.

Gender norms define the roles and responsibilities of women and men at the individual, household, community and societal level. We have found this to be a factor in western Honduras where patriarchy permeates many aspects of life.

Our findings indicate how gender norms influence and pervade seven different key aspects related to our project:

  1. Gender matters in agriculture
    In agriculture production, women’s work is often unrecognized and under compensated. Women’s participation in production — mostly in harvesting and the processing phases of high-value crop chains — is relatively large. According to our household survey conducted in 2016, nearly 20 percent of women in our study area work as day laborers, often for coffee harvest, and approximately 6 percent of women work in their family fields. Women are also heavily involved in home garden production. They are responsible for approximately 54 percent of the activities of home garden production, which is mostly for home consumption.

Young woman and old woman talking in plastic chairs
Gender matters in household decision making: A Zamorano graduate interviews a woman as part of a survey of more than 500 households in Western Honduras.
  1. Gender matters in household decision-making
    Within the household, women have little control over household income, creating the greatest disparity between men’s and women’s empowerment in the area. Fewer than half of women are economically active and most do not have control over income-generating assets of the household. This can have negative implications for dietary diversity and food security. The inability of women to control the economic assets and decisions of the household also pertains to accessing credit. According to a baseline study conducted by IFPRI for the ACCESO-Honduras project, when the household receives credit, men generally decide when to access credit and how the credit is used.
  2. Gender matters in dietary diversity
    One key impact area is dietary diversity, which in this part of Honduras is very limited. Most adults in the region report only 3.2 food groups consumed, on average (IFPRI, 2013). Limited dietary diversity negatively affects women and children. Our findings confirm that dietary diversity can be improved through a home garden, which can increase consumption of  fruits and vegetables. There is still much we hope to learn in order to determine how to best translate horticulture production into improved consumption practices. One potential strategy is to target women’s empowerment, particularly in control over agricultural assets, which links to the increased household consumption of fruits and vegetables and a higher mean number of food groups consumed.
  1. Gender matters in food security
    According to the IFPRI baseline survey, single female-headed households are more likely to experience severe and moderate hunger, although in this region extreme food insecurity is relatively uncommon. Despite this, there are a larger number of households that experience temporary deprivation owing to low income or low resources; this is especially the case for single female-headed households. Households in which women have little control over assets related to agriculture production have a higher likelihood of experiencing moderate or severe hunger, demonstrating the importance of women’s empowerment for food security.


People gathered for meeting in church pews, including you and old, men and women
Gender matters in institutions: Participating in producer groups can mean accessing credit, agricultural inputs, technical assistance, markets and farmer-focused community development. (Photo by Hazel Velasco Palacios/Zamorano)
  1. Gender matters in institutions
    Informal producer groups and formalized producer associations are critical, as they provide access to inputs, credit, markets, technical assistance and even community development for smallholder farmers. However, these groups are dominated by men and not responsive to the needs of female associates and community members. Credit is limited for all small producers, but even more restricted for women. Women received only 16 percent of the loans and 11 percent of the loan value.


Young man wearing a backpack interviews an older man, in rural Honduras
Gender matters to men: The research team interviewed both male and female heads of households, as part of a survey which includes data on asset ownership and livelihood strategies. (Photo by Hazel Velasco Palacios/Zamorano)
  1. Gender matters to men
    When we are considering gender issues, we cannot only look at women’s participation. Gender norms also have negative consequences for men. Based on our experiences in the area and conversations with key informants, men in this region are at great risk for alcohol abuse, a problem that is bound up with expressions of masculinity. This leads to detrimental impacts on family relationships and limits the ability of the household to invest income productively. A healthy conception of masculinity benefits men as well as others in the family.
  1. Gender matters in development
    We have found that gender norms in western Honduras are deeply entrenched. Gender norms and the predominance of a patriarchal structure limit women’s personal and economic empowerment and their ability to effectively participate in community development. This can also influence overall economic, societal and agricultural development.

Whether it is agricultural production, connecting to markets, or improving household nutrition, gender intersects with every aspect of improving livelihoods.

Led by researchers at Penn State in partnership with the Panamerican Agricultural School, Zamorano, this project is supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of the U.S. government’s global Feed the Future initiative.


More information:

Value Chain

Gender considerations

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