By Jordi Vaqué, Information and Communications Manager at FAO
"We are aware that this is a challenging time for Latin America and the Caribbean," said Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, last February in Panama, pointing at the region's somewhat reticent economic progression and slightly daunting predictions for 2017. She then contrasted that affirmation with a gender perspective: "It is widely acknowledged that empowering women can unleash the full economic and productive potential of our societies and economies. Feminization of poverty is an impediment to eradicate it from the continent".
Puri delivered her speech in the context of the regional consultations prior to the 61st Forum of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), to be held this month in New York. This previous meeting in Panama had a special relevance for two reasons. Firstly, there was a large participation of ministers and senior officials on gender issues in 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. And secondly, it implied the unanimous adoption of the Declaration of Panama, a document that unifies problems, needs and proposals in support of gender equality, calling for decisive measures to facilitate the economic empowerment of women throughout the region. In other words, it formally states that the link - increasingly visible - between women and poverty has an adverse effect on the development of societies, conditioning the prosperity and well-being of the entire region. Seen this way, it would suffice to break that link in order to move in the right direction.
The data is certainly there. In Latin America and the Caribbean, about 40% of women over the age of 15 do not have income of their own despite working on a daily basis. 8 out of these 10 women work in the agricultural sector, a percentage that becomes even higher among indigenous, Afro-descendant and youth. Economic, social and political inequalities between men and women in the region are palpable. With this in mind, it seems logical that the Declaration of Panama should propose the adoption of macroeconomic policies that can address this issue, considering structural aspects, from social protection to the reduction of the wage gap between men and women. "We must break down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology and the markets," said Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, in a recent interview. "It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process about the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments."
The region faces an increasing feminization of agriculture
Although on the one hand there is an ongoing discussion about the link between women and poverty, that of the link between women and agriculture is growing increasingly loud. Partly due to the diversification of labor, and partly because of the tendency of men to migrate to cities for work, many women take over their families' reins and agricultural labor. This phenomenon, known as "feminization of agriculture", is especially striking in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, in 2013 FAO reported that more and more women were increasingly in charge of agricultural holdings in the region. In Chile and Panama, for instance, 3 out of 10 farms were in the hands of women. The data was, however, far too heterogeneus to generalize at that point: at the opposite end of the list, Belize, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador barely reached 10%.
The feminization of the agricultural sector implies a number of advantages and opportunities for women, particularly in regards to their decision-making capacity and participation, empowerment, and the perception of a salary for their work. However, it also entails risks, such as a limited access to credit, the market, and to assets such as water or agricultural equipment. As a rural woman, there is very little chance for higher responsability roles and higher wages. It could be argued that the feminization of agriculture could be an opportunity as long as policies react in time - promoting, protecting and accompanying their work. Otherwise, the fact that women are in charge of farms can lead to a difficult economic situation for them and their families, often making them more vulnerable to poverty and jeopardizing their food security.
This article is incomplete. To read the rest (in Spanish), click here.
Information and Communications Manager at the FAO Investment Center, Division of Latin America and the Caribbean (TCIC)
Photo 1 Alex E. Proimos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo 2 - Ibar Silva via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo 3 - CAFOD Photo Library via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo Bulletin - Alex E. Proimos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)