FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Strengthening ASEAN’s agri-industry through the empowerment of women

23/11/2015 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

ASEAN countries could boost productivity of their agribusinesses simply by improving opportunities for women to participate in the sector on an equal footing with men, a senior UN official said.

“Women account for half of the world’s population and about a quarter of its agricultural labour force, yet many rural women remain marginalized and their productive potential in many countries of the Asia-Pacific region is woefully underutilized,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Kadiresan made the remarks during a Voices of Women side event at the 27th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders’ summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

“Women are the backbone of rural economies, especially in developing countries, yet they often have unequal access to credit or decision making processes, when compared to men in similar agricultural occupations,” she added. “There are also wide disparities in their agricultural participation rates, from a low of 16 percent in Afghanistan to 79 percent in Nepal. Yet even where participation rates are higher women’s comparative lack of access to credit and resources often result in lower productivity.”

Another issue holding agribusinesses back from achieving their full potential is the ‘feminization of agriculture,’ a situation often occurring when men who traditionally worked in agriculture migrate, and the work they’ve left behind shifts to women who do not possess the same skills, access to credit, technologies or resources.

Agro-industry, as a whole, is an important generator of employment and income, especially for women, in most ASEAN countries and the wider Asia-Pacific region. But steps must be taken to ensure that women in agriculture have the tools and support they need to become more productive, participate in the decision-making processes and enjoy an equal share of the rewards.

“We can improve education and opportunities for girls in rural areas. We can leverage information and communication technologies to reduce the educational disadvantages faced by older rural women and we can encourage greater participation of rural women in cooperatives, farmer’s groups and collective action,” Kadiresan said. “These are things that, together, we can do.”

FAO, in collaboration with member countries and other partners, are empowering women through work in ASEAN countries. In Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cambodia, employment for women has been generated in processing and packing facilities of organic agricultural products. Empowerment and leadership skills have been fostered through participation in cooperatives.

Kadiresan pointed out that ASEAN’s inherent policy leadership and coordinating role make it well placed to create a sustainable environment in which women in rural areas could become more productive in agriculture. Through carefully implemented gender-responsive and pro-poor policy development, a win-win-win situation could emerge for women and their families, through enhancing livelihoods and nutritional well-being, improvements and increases in food production, and ultimately economic gains for ASEAN’s member countries.

Kadiresan concluded by saying there is a role for all of us to play. “We can all contribute to making this possible by raising awareness and increasing knowledge, advocating, reaching out across and beyond sectors and strengthening collaborations.” 

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