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September 2006

Gender equity in agriculture in light of economic globalization

by Zoraida Garcia-Frias

Gender analysis is frequently perceived by most development planners and researchers as a separate field of study. Even today, most assessments of economic development focus attention almost exclusively on variables and indicators related to economic growth and productivity. This measurement has proved not only to underestimate human beings’ contribution to the economy - usually restricted to labour, consumption, and production related issues - but, moreover, to undermine the understanding of the scope of economic development, as a result human development and well-being seem to have vanished as developmental goals.

This restricted approach of the human dimension of the economy also questions the accuracy of national statistics, given that significant contributions to social and human development are omitted in the system of national accounts, since no market value is given to the labour and outputs involved in those activities. Yet, there is a significant contribution of the so-called reproductive economy, especially in agriculture, where most female and family’s labour is generally associated with non-economic and unpaid work. Shouldn’t economic analysis acknowledge the contributions of the reproductive economy in terms of the supply of labour and social capital to the economy at large and as the reservoir and transmission of social and cultural values?

The globalization of the economy and the associated market liberalization strategies have tended to undervalue these essential issues of human development and social reproduction, in which the other crucial economic factors – such as the nurturing of human capital and labour, knowledge, social stability, and of individuals’ active participation in the economy as producers and consumers – are also rooted. Hence, current economic development strategies tend to widen the existing socioeconomic and gender gaps.

As agriculture further integrates into the global market, countries and rural households become more sensitive to global economic changes. The progressive reduction of protective measures for domestic farming in developing countries impose a broader challenge to small farmers, among whom most women farmers are found. Farmers who can not compete in the new liberalised environment are gradually excluded from the global markets and the economy. In this new context, national policies to compensate the loss of the population groups that are displaced and driven out of their farms due to external shocks and market reforms, acquires increasing relevance as an instrument to ensure social equity, stability and development.

(Available in Spanish)

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