Invisible helpers: Voices from women

The voices from women research project was initiated by Brooke to explore the contributions of working horses, mules and donkeys to the lives of women from the perspectives of the women themselves. It aimed to give women who live and work with these animals a voice and a platform to express their personal experiences and opinions, their needs and wants.

During 2014, the data were collected in four countries, these included Ethiopia, Kenya, India and Pakistan. The main aims of the project were to understand from a women’s perspective the specific roles that working donkeys, mules and horses play in supporting the lives of women across four countries, the role of women in the use and management of working equids. And finally, how the welfare status of working equids affects the amount and type of support they provide to women. Qualitative data were collected using questionnaires and focus group discussions. Between five and seven FGDs of up to 12 women were held in each country and individual interviews with women identified during the FGDs were carried out to form case studies. 259 women took part in the research with the following representation: 58 women in Ethiopia, 88 women in India, 53 women in Kenya, 60 women in Pakistan.

Key findings

  • When asked to rank their livestock, including working equids, 77% of the groups interviewed (17 out of 22 groups) across all four countries put their horses, mules and donkeys in the first position. All groups in India and Kenya ranked working equids first.
  • The role of working equids extends to the social sphere of women’s lives, as they raise women’s status in the community and provide them with opportunities to make their voices heard and to access loan and business opportunities.
  • There were differences between countries in the role of women in caring for sick equids. In Pakistan and India all groups said that in male headed households, both women and men are involved in taking care of a sick animal and decisions regarding treatment are taken jointly.
  • There was reported to be little or no access for women to education and training on equine health and welfare. A large majority of the women interviewed expressed a strong interest and motivation in getting information and training that would enable them to better look after their animals


  • A clear link in policy and practice should be drawn between working equine welfare and human development.
  • Working donkeys, mules and horses must be recognised in gender and livestock policy and programming.
  • Greater emphasis should be put on gender analysis and women’s participation in the development of livestock-related interventions aimed at women.
  • The body of evidence on the roles of working equids in women’s lives must be increased.
  • Women’s access to training and extension services must be improved.