Gender in agriculture: creating opportunities for women

March 14, 2017

Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, gender specialist, World Agroforestry Centre.

By Susan Onyango, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry World Blog

By the year 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9 billion. To meet this increasing demand for food, agricultural productivity must be sustainably improved. The Sustainable Development Goal no. 2 on agriculture, food security and nutrition demonstrates global commitment towards realizing this ambition.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017, Women in the Changing World of Work: Plant 50-50 by 2030, reiterates the importance of gender equality and empowerment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ana Maria Paez-Valencia, gender specialist at the World Agroresty Centre, talks about gender in agriculture and how women’s participation can be enhanced.

How has the World Agroforestry Centre’s work helped integrate gender into agricultural programmes and policies? A lot of our work on gender has been done with implementing agencies, NGOs and local governments. The Agroforestry and Forestry in Sulawesi project in Indonesia, for example, led the implementing local extension agents and NGOs to consider social, cultural and even gender differences in the communities in a systematic way across all the activities. Similarly in the Drylands Development Programme, we are currently supporting the integration of gender dimensions to make the programme more gender responsive and likely to contribute to women’s empowerment. We also develop capacities of different partners in the project to understand gender and its relevance to their work.

At the policy level, in 2016,  our team in Peru contributed to the National Climate Change Gender Action Plan led by the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable People. For three to four years now, the World Agroforestry Centre in Latin America has been working on gender issues in value chains and climate change adaptation and mitigation. All this work fed into that action plan.

What are the key gender issues in agriculture and food security? There are many issues and they vary according to geographic and socio-economic context. But in general, they include access and control of productive resources including land, extension services, inputs and markets. Participation in decision-making is also an important issue. These challenges take different forms at different levels. At the household level, for instance, intra-household relationships have important implications on who takes part and who benefits from agriculture and food security interventions. For example, programmes looking to improve women’s productivity might end up adding to their already overloaded workloads. Women worldwide work more hours than men as they not only participate in productive activities like tending to the farms, but also look after their families and household affairs. These various roles need to be recognized, valued and even challenged to be able to provide suitable options to improve the lives of women and their families.

What are the gaps in research that need to be addressed to achieve optimal gender inclusion in agriculture? Look at intra-household relations – how can we involve men in the conversation? Identifying gender roles and needs in different contexts is important but we need to move forward. We need to find ways to ensure that both men and women benefit from our research and the practices that we promote are not adding to women’s drudgery. We need to work around power relations at the household level, considering cultural contexts, so that women have a meaningful participation in the decision-making processes.

Would closing the gender gap in agriculture generate significant gains? A lot of studies have been done on economic benefits and potential increases in production with regards to the gender gap in agriculture. Some statistics claiming that women produce 60-80% of the world’s food have been questioned. Studies that have seriously looked at the statistics actually concluded that it is impossible to find a precise measure of women’s contribution to food production, as women do not produce food separately from men. Even when looking at women’s labour participation in agriculture, the results vary significantly from region to region. According to FAO, in sub-saharan Africa as well as southeast Asia it is close to 50% while in Latin America it is about 20%. There are also significant variations from country to country.

What is important to note is that although women are greatly involved in agriculture, they face unequal access to resources that are critical for agricultural production. There should not be a need for an economic argument pointing at the benefits of reducing this gap. Although there are plenty of debates on this, it should be about the right of women to have the same opportunities to gain from this activity.

What opportunities are there for women to benefit more as active participants in the agriculture sector? There many opportunities! Women can achieve more if they have access to fair markets and if they are allowed to have a say on how resources are spent, how they can improve production and how available resources are utilized. They can also benefit if carefully targeted for trainings that fit their schedules and mobility restrictions, and if they could keep control over crops and resources when these become commercially viable.

But many of these opportunities are curtailed by traditional gender norms and roles about what women can or should do. These norms and roles also determine gender relations and power dynamics that are more effectively addressed at the household level.

We have to always remember that gender is about the relationship between men and women. Transforming those traditional norms that are the root of women’s disadvantaged position requires challenging the distribution of resources and allocation of duties within the household, and more importantly involving men and boys to encourage collaboration and discourage conflict.

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