Navigating the Intrahousehold Survey in Gender Studies
Written by: Mariola Acosta (Gender and Climate Change)
When including a gender perspective in research studies and in national and international policies, it is important to fully understand the nature of women’s and men’s participation in agriculture. Traditionally, the man has been considered the main farmer in the household and policies have been designed primarily to meet his needs, neglecting the ways in which women contribute to agriculture. It is therefore of great importance to interview both the male and female farmers when trying to understand the whole range of agricultural production, rural livelihoods, ownership of assets, division of labor, decision-making processes and the relationships between the members of the household. Analyzing gender differences in climate change vulnerabilities and in the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices means exploring all aforementioned aspects and thus considering gender beyond the level of the household head.
Intra-household surveys are an important tool to ensure that both male and female farmers are interviewed and thus both perspectives are equally represented. By doing the same survey separately, the researcher can create a secure space in which women and men can talk freely and express their perceptions and ideas. However, throughout our work with the CCAFS-CIAT project of Gender Dynamics in the Adoption of Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices in Cauca (Colombia), we have realized that doing intra-household surveys is not always an easy task. The first challenging part of doing intra-household surveys is being able to find a time of day when both spouses are at home. This becomes even more difficult when trying to coordinate several intra-household surveys in the same day. Common to this region, oftentimes one spouse is either working, buying or selling in the market, or running some other errand outside of the household. This means that either we need to come back to the same household another day (which creates considerable delays for the research plan) or accept that it was not possible to get both perceptions. Saturdays proved to be the best day to carry out the intra-household surveys as both spouses are normally home. However, understandably, Saturday is not always the farmers’ first option to welcome researchers at their houses.
Even when both spouses are at home, doing intra-household surveys is not always straightforward. In some cases, even when the woman is present at home, the man has said that she is sick and is not able to answer a questionnaire (even though we can actually see the woman in the kitchen cooking and not looking sick at all). In other cases, men openly express their apprehension with us asking their wives questions, suggesting that they do not understand why we would need to talk to her too. It was challenging trying to explain to the men the importance of getting both perceptions and why it was necessary that we also interview their wives. Handling these kinds of situations became very delicate, as we did not want to create any conflicts or force the participation of both spouses. At first we admitted the fact that we could only interview one head of the household, but after a considerable amount of these cases, we decided to change our strategy. We explained to our local guide the importance of doing intra-household surveys to meet our research goals and asked her to help us introduce the idea in a way that was culturally sensitive. In this region of Cauca the concept of gender is not widely understood and generates a certain degree of apprehension that our local guide lessened by changing it to the concept of family roles. This strategy turned out to be effective and we significantly increased the number of intra-household surveys.
The last challenging part of intra-household surveys comes with the analysis. It is common during this process to find incongruences and inconsistencies in some of the data and it becomes difficult to establish the “real” values for some of the more quantitative data. Some of these discrepancies (i.e. the number of cows or different crops grown in the household) were sometimes easily verified with a farm visit that we decided to conduct prior to the surveys specifically to deal with this kind of disparities. However, for some other discrepancies as ownership of the different plots, verification of the data becomes more difficult and public records need to be consulted. Notwithstanding all these challenges, our preliminary analysis of the intra-household surveys conducted so far has revealed interesting results that makes overcoming these difficulties all worthwhile.