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The gender perspective looks at the impact of gender on people's opportunities, social roles and interactions. Successful implementation of the policy, programme and project goals of international and national organizations is directly affected by the impact of gender and, in turn, influences the process of social development. Gender is an integral component of every aspect of the economic, social, daily and private lives of individuals and societies, and of the different roles ascribed by society to men and women.

Social scientists and development experts use two separate terms to designate biologically determined differences between men and women, which are called "sex differences", and those constructed socially, which are called "gender differences". Both define the differences between men and women, but they have very different connotations.

Sex refers to the permanent and immutable biological characteristics common to individuals in all societies and cultures, while gender defines traits forged throughout the history of social relations. Gender, although it originates in objective biological divergencies, goes far beyond the physiological and biological specifics of the two sexes in terms of the roles each is expected to play. Gender differences are social constructs, inculcated on the basis of a specific society's particular perceptions of the physical differences and the assumed tastes, tendencies and capabilities of men and women. Gender differences, unlike the immutable characteristics of sex, are universally conceded in historical and comparative social analyses to be variants that are transformed over time and from one culture to the next, as societies change and evolve.

Gender relations are accordingly defined as the specific mechanisms whereby different cultures determine the functions and responsibilities of each sex. They also determine access to material resources, such as land, credit and training, and more ephemeral resources, such as power. The implications for everyday life are many, and include the division of labour, the responsibilities of family members inside and outside the home, education and opportunities for professional advancement and a voice in policy-making.


For several years now, governments and development agencies have given top priority to gender issues in development planning and policies. Gender equity, concerning resource access and allocation as well as opportunities for social and economic advancement, has been a prominent item on the agendas of all recent international meetings, which have also investigated the basic link between gender equity and sustainable development, defining specific mechanisms and objectives for international cooperation.

The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro (known as the "Earth Summit") explicitly included gender issues in Agenda 21, its platform statement. The World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna in 1993, also made significant progress in recognizing the rights of women and girl-children as an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights. This principle was taken up again by the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994. Discussions focused on gender issues, stressing the empowerment of women for equitable development: "...the objective is to promote gender equality in all spheres of life, including family and community life, and to encourage and enable men to take responsibility for their sexual and reproductive behaviour and their social and family roles." The World Summit for Social Development, held in Copenhagen in 1995, took gender equity as the core strategy for social and economic development and environmental protection. The 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, reiterated the importance of these new options, drawing up an agenda to strengthen the status of women and adopting a declaration and platform for action aimed at overcoming the barriers to gender equity and guaranteeing women's active participation in all spheres of life. Governments, the international community and civil society, including NGOs and the private sector, were called upon to take strategic action in the following critical areas of concern:3

· The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women;

· Inequalities and inadequacies in, and unequal access to, education and training;

· Inequalities and inadequacies in, and unequal access to, health care and related services;

· Violence against women;

· The effects of armed or other kinds of conflict on women, including those living under foreign occupation;

· Inequality in economic structures and policies, in all forms of productive activities and in access to resources;

· Inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and decision-making, at all levels;

· Insufficient mechanisms, at all levels, to promote the advancement of women;

· Lack of respect for, and inadequate promotion and protection of, the human rights of women;

· Stereotyping of women and inequality in women's access to, and participation in, all communication systems, especially the media;

· Gender inequalities in the management of natural resources and the safeguarding of the environment;

· Persistent discrimination against, and violation of the rights of, the girl-child.

3 UN. 1995. Critical areas of concern. In Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 4-15 September 1995, Chapter III, Item 44, p. 23, United Nations A7CONF.177/20.
Governments and international organizations were urged to promote the search for, and the dissemination of, information on the main aspects of gender issues, and to encourage the production and dissemination of gender-specific statistics for programme planning and evaluation.

Specific recommendations concerning statistics were formulated. Strategic objective H.34 of the Platform for Action in Annex 1 states that all statistics concerning individuals should be gathered, compiled, analysed and presented as gender-disaggregated data, mirroring the concerns and issues of women in society. Data should, therefore:

4 Ibid, p. 106, Strategic Objective H3: Generate and disseminate gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation.

· Measure the full contributions of women and men to the economy;

· Measure unpaid work in agriculture, particularly subsistence agriculture, and other types of non-market production activities included in the UN System of National Accounts;

· Develop methods for the quantitative measurement of unremunerated work that is outside the UN System of National Accounts, such as caring for dependents and preparing food, for possible inclusion in satellite or other official accounts that may be produced separately from the National Accounts;

· Develop an international classification of unremunerated work activities for measurement in time-use studies;

· Measure underemployment of men and women;

· Define concepts and methods to measure poverty and access to resources;

· Strengthen systems for gathering essential statistics and incorporate gender analysis;

· Develop data on morbidity and access to health services;

· Develop improved data on all forms of violence against women;

· Develop data collection on women and men with disabilities, including data on their access to resources.

The Platform also formulated specific recommendations concerning national statistics. Governments were urged to review their statistics systems' coverage of gender considerations, disseminate statistics periodically in appropriate published forms for a wide range of users and utilize gender-specific data in the formulation of sustainable development policies and programmes.


2.3.1 Work
2.3.2 Poverty
2.3.3 Family life
2.3.4 Health and nutrition
2.3.5 Education
2.3.6 The environment
2.3.7 The public and policy-making spheres

Planners and policy-makers must be mindful of the major aspects of socially ascribed gender functions and the specific needs of men and women. If development policies are to be sustainable, they must consider existing gender disparities in employment, poverty, family life, health, education, the environment, public life and decision-making bodies.

2.3.1 Work

Households in all societies differentiate various household activities and responsibilities by gender. For women, production and reproduction are two interlinked activities, and much of the work women do, although productive, is unpaid. Men have always played a minor role in domestic work; societies tending to assume that they have paid work outside the home.

Gender disparities in access to economic resources, including credit, land and economic power-sharing, directly affect women's potential for achieving the kind of economic autonomy they need to provide a better quality of life for themselves and their dependants.5 Limited access to agricultural inputs, especially for food crops, severely curtails women's potential productivity.

5 Sections A and B of the Beijing Platform for Action recognize women's lack of access to productive resources and limited access to economic power-sharing as being major causes of poverty. The 1995 FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development identifies women's lack of access to land and other agricultural inputs as one of the major obstacles to productivity.
Discrimination against women in employment is also frequent outside the agricultural sector, and has an impact on the kinds of work, careers and career advancement that women can expect. Over the past 20 years or so, women all over the world have increased their participation in the labour market, but they continue to work in less prestigious jobs, are paid less and have fewer opportunities for advancement.6
6 UN. 1995. The world's women 1995: trends and statistics. Sales No. E.95.XVII.2. New York.
Women face a number of disadvantages in the labour market. As well as coping with sexist prejudices, they must reconcile the twin roles of homemaker and money-maker. This often affects their work status, the length and structure of their workday and their salary level. In addition, the employment sector offers less scope and potential for women than for men, as well as lower pay for the same work.

2.3.2 Poverty

Poverty can be defined as the combination of uncertain or non-existent income and a lack of access to the resources needed to ensure sustainable living conditions. It often goes hand-in-hand with hunger, malnourishment, poor health, high mortality and morbidity rates, insufficient education and precarious and unhealthy housing.

Studies have revealed an increasing feminization of poverty. Compared with men, the number of women living below the poverty line increased between 1970 and 1980. By 1988, an estimated 60 percent of poor people were women.7 As well as sexism in the employment sector, contributing factors included the economic restructuring imposed on many countries, government budget cuts and the adoption of neo-liberal economic models. Women have borne the brunt of cutbacks in civil service jobs, social services and benefits. Their workload has increased as welfare structures have broken down, leaving them in sole charge of children and of elderly, ill and disabled people who were previously looked after, at least partially, by the social services sector. While trying to cope with the impact of the crisis of the welfare state, women are also desperately trying to juggle their meager resources. The feminization of poverty is much more visible among female-headed households. In a male-headed household, both the man and the woman contribute to the family's welfare; the man brings in income and the woman, in addition to the goods and services she provides the family, may also seek paid work outside the home.8

7 ILO. 1995. Gender, poverty and employment: turning capabilities into entitlements. Turin, Italy.

8 The indices of even limited studies show that the status of female heads of household with dependent children is comparable to that of older widows living alone - both tend to be poorer than men.

In rural areas, where services and job opportunities are even fewer than in urban areas, poverty is also more acute. The situation is worse for women, who are less likely to have access to production factors, services and resources such as credit, land, inheritance, education, information, extension services, technology and farm inputs, as well as a say in decision-making.

Another reason for the persistence of female poverty is gender vulnerability within the home. When poor families cannot afford to send all of their children to school, parents favour investing in the boy-children, keeping the girls at home to help with domestic work or some income-generating activity.

2.3.3 Family life

In all societies women are the prime carers of children, the elderly and the ill, and do most of the domestic tasks.9 Women's lives are greatly affected by reproduction, which has an incisive and direct impact on their health and on their educational, employment and earning opportunities. In societies where women marry very young and much earlier than men, wives defer more to husbands, and this has a substantial bearing on women's chances of finding paid work and receiving an education.

9 Op. cit., footnote 6, p. 6.
Growing male migration in search of work has combined with unstable conjugal arrangements to increase the number of female-headed households. There are also more widows then widowers because women tend to live longer and men are more likely to remarry or seek alternative living arrangements. The 1990 censuses showed that 21 percent of Latin American households were headed by women while, in the Caribbean, the figure was 35 percent - the highest of any region worldwide.10
10 Women in developing countries are estimated to do between two-thirds and three-quarters of the domestic work (op. cit., footnote 6, p. 106). A study of three cities in Mexico showed that women spent an average of 56 hours per week on household tasks, while men spent seven hours. The sexes also did different tasks; men mostly shopped and took the children to school and women did the remainder of the work in the home (Pedrero, M. 1996. "Organización familiar"; familias con futuro. Mexico, GEM.
The differences between female- and male-headed households usually have a bearing on all aspects of family life: the size and composition of the family and how it is run; nutrition; raising children; and available income.11 A single female head of household has a double responsibility - she must earn a living and, at the same time, run a home.
11 Whoever bears the family name is usually listed as the head of household. Stereotypically, an adult male is often automatically considered to be the head of the family even when a woman is economically and otherwise responsible for that family. Most female-headed households are, therefore, also one-parent households. M. Pedrero's study (op. cit., footnote 10) showed that only 1.4 percent of female heads of household lived with a partner.

2.3.4 Health and nutrition

Biologically, men and women have different health needs, but lifestyles and socially ascribed roles arising from prevailing social and cultural patterns also play a part in the health picture. Men are more likely to be the victims of occupational diseases, accidents at work, smoking, alcohol and other forms of substance abuse. Men12 have a higher incidence of cancer and of cardiovascular lesions and diseases (the principal cause of male mortality). Women's health risks, which are mainly linked to reproduction, make them more vulnerable during pregnancy to anemia, malnutrition, hepatitis, malaria, diabetes and other illnesses.

12 For a more detailed analysis of causes of mortality and morbidity, see: Murray, C.J.L. & López, A.D. 1994. Global and regional cause-of-death patterns in 1990. WHO Bulletin, 72 (3): 447-480.
Women's life expectancy is greater than men's - women live for five to 12 years longer than men in Europe, North America and some countries of Latin America. There are a number of hypothetical explanations for this phenomenon, ranging from genetics and biology to environmental and social causes, but no definitive consensus has yet emerged.13 Female life expectancy does not conform to this pattern in some Asian countries, where cultural norms and religious precepts restrict women's access to medical care and health services.
13 Ibid, p. 65-66.
Despite the generally poor provision of health services, particularly in rural areas, there has been a surge of interest in the family planning, maternal and child health care services offered by NGOs, which have benefited mothers, children of both sexes and adult women in general.

Custom, social constraints and lack of resources also give rise to gender disparities among children in terms of nutrition, morbidity and mortality. The two sexes do not receive equal attention and care; the tendency being to favour boy-children. Males are also fed more and better.

The sharing of food among adult members of the family may also be unequal in some societies. Women often serve the family first and eat whatever is left. They often do not get enough to eat, with grave consequences for their health, especially when they are pregnant or breastfeeding. Women are the poorest of the poor, and even women heads of household are often undernourished, denying themselves in order to feed their children.

Because food production in the rural zones of many countries is largely carried out at home by women, their own and their families' nutritional status would benefit from women having greater access to the agricultural credit, technology and services necessary for increased productivity.

2.3.5 Education14

14 "Education" here is taken to mean "schooling", as the word has connotations far beyond mere formal instruction.
The increasingly competitive labour market demands ever-higher levels of education. People without it are at a growing disadvantage.

At the same time, there is broad consensus that education can, in times of change, move marginalized, excluded people into the mainstream. Despite this, socio-cultural barriers and prejudices that restrict women's access to education persist in a number of societies.

More women than men are illiterate; and the lower a country's literacy rate, the wider the gap between the two sexes. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) estimates that 41 percent of women in developing countries are illiterate, compared with 20 percent of men. In some countries, the illiteracy rate of rural women between the ages of 15 and 24 years is twice to three times that of women in urban areas.15 Girls leave school earlier, especially in rural areas where they are needed to help with domestic and productive work. The lack of transport or of schools located near the home widens the literacy gap by directly affecting girls' school attendance, as parents tend to worry about the personal safety of their daughters. In some societies, rigid cultural patterns and social rules restrict women's movements outside the home.

15 UNDP. 1995. Human Development Report. New York and London, Oxford University Press. See also op. cit., footnote 6.
In some parts of the world, such as the Caribbean and western Asia, the number of women enrolling in institutes of higher learning is increasing, sometimes even exceeding male enrolments. However, the chosen fields of study differ greatly. Cultural traditions, prejudices, stereotypes and family reluctance frequently result in the exclusion of women from the scientific and technical fields, inducing many to opt for the more "feminine", but less remunerative and less promising careers - a choice that aggravates segregation in the job market.

2.3.6 The environment

The impact of environmental degradation is gender-differentiated in terms of workloads and the quality of life; women are the first to be affected by the depletion of natural resources. In rural areas in most developing countries, women are responsible for the daily management and use of natural resources, as well as providing for the family by raising food crops, gathering forest products and fetching wood and water. Widespread and growing deforestation and the drying-up of water sources force women to range ever further afield, spending more time and energy in producing and finding essential commodities and making it even harder for them to engage in more productive, more lucrative activities.16

16 A series of case studies by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to evaluate the impact on women of environmental degradation revealed the increasing difficulty of finding fuel and water. See UNFPA. 1995. State of World Population 1995. New York. For data on women with respect to water and fuel scarcity, see also op. cit., footnote 6.
Environmental degradation caused by poorly managed and utilized waste products and pollutants can have a disproportionate impact on women, who seem to be more susceptible to the toxic effects of certain chemicals. The health risk is even higher among the lower-income strata of the population, who tend to live near industrial urban areas, or among rural people living near fields that are sprayed from the air.

Consumption patterns and industrial production in developed countries are very detrimental to sustainable development, natural resources and people everywhere. Global warming, the shrinking ozone layer and reduced biodiversity are some of the better-known effects of environmental degradation.

In many countries the lives of rural people are wholly dependent on the availability of natural resources. Both men and women overexploit natural resources in a struggle for survival in which soils are depleted, wildlife, plant and marine resources destroyed, and the quality of water downgraded. Environmental degradation is most keenly felt by the most vulnerable members of the community and those who rely heavily on nature's bounty. For this reason, gender disparities in natural resource management and participation in policy-making must be clearly understood.

2.3.7 The public and policy-making spheres

Gender inequality is a persistent feature of the public and policy-making spheres. Women continue to be under-represented in governments, legislative bodies and many other crucial sectors affecting public opinion, such as the mass media, the arts, religion and culture. Worldwide, there are only 16 countries in which more than 15 percent of ministerial posts are held by women, and in 59 countries there are no women ministers at all.17 Although women have the right to vote in nearly every country in the world, there are very few women in government; in 1994, only 10 percent of the world's parliamentary deputies were women.18

17 Op. cit., footnote 6.
18 UNDP, op. cit., footnote 15.

These inequalities have their roots in everyday family life; gender disparities in the division of household tasks and responsibilities cramp women's horizons and hamper their full participation in other activities. Socio-cultural prejudices and stereotyping are still the main constraints to women's participation in the spheres of political and economic power.

Few women occupy key positions in large companies, and it is still rare to find a woman heading one. Ministries of finance and budget and the central banks are mostly headed by men, with very few administrative or management positions filled by women.19
19 UNFPA, op. cit., footnote 16, p. 25-26; and op. cit., footnote 6


2.4.1 Land rights
2.4.2 Water distribution
2.4.3 Research
2.4.4 Extension
2.4.5 Modern technology
2.4.6 Financial resources

Studies by FAO and other institutions show that policies adopted in various parts of the world to promote sustainable development and regulate access to productive resources and services, such as land, water, technology, research, training and financial resources, have not always been successful in reducing rural poverty and increasing food supplies. Such policies have, indeed, often had a negative impact. Two reasons for this have already been made clear: women agricultural producers have been left out of the equation; and many development policies and projects do not take gender issues into consideration.

The lack of gender-disaggregated data has probably been the main constraint to serious consideration of women's real role in agriculture. Such data would help to enlist women's full participation in the formulation of rural development and food security strategies. In addition, gender-disaggregated data would illuminate gender-differentiated impacts on food and cash crop production, financial management and supervision, and the storage and sale of agricultural products.

2.4.1 Land rights

FAO studies have shown that insecure rights to landownership and use are a crucial, gender-based barrier to enhancing women's agricultural productivity and income. Secure land rights encompass the rights to lease public land and use community-owned property, and not just the right to own private property. Women would certainly make better use of land to which they had some sort of guaranteed rights, as such rights would help and encourage them to make the correct long-and short-term input and management decisions and achieve higher yields.

Women have had limited access to land nearly everywhere throughout history. Even agrarian reform or resettlement programmes have failed to solve this problem - indeed they have aggravated it by allocating land to the head of the family, who is presumed to be a man. Those responsible for the design and execution of such programmes have paid little attention to the question of who is really responsible for the household or productive unit.

In addition, the modernization of agriculture has often led to whole populations being moved off the best land to make room for cash crops, making once self-sufficient farmers dependent on getting food from other sources. In contrast, however, agrarian reform in some countries, such as Thailand, China, Nicaragua, Malaysia and Cuba, has led to changes in systems that once relegated women to a subordinate position in family food production. Many women have also organized themselves to claim access to collectively owned land.

Limited access to land is still a major constraint to women's full participation in rural development. The Beijing Platform for Action underlined this aspect as a direct cause of female poverty. Among the options for eradicating poverty, it urged governments to implement policies to promote women's access to and control over land, and to reform legislation that deprived women of the right to own and inherit land.20

20 The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, paras 53, 58(n), 58(p) and 63(b).

2.4.2 Water distribution

Water policies and programmes frequently restrict women's rights to the use and sustainable management of water, despite the important role they play in water management. In rural areas, where fetching water can take all day, women are responsible for providing it to the family unit. Water is needed for food preparation, drinking, personal hygiene and watering the garden and livestock. Women cannot afford to waste a drop of it. They know the local sources of good drinking-water, which they have to fetch, store and manage. They recycle it for washing and watering, maximizing water use and keeping it as clean as possible. They have acquired real expertise in water management, and consideration and recognition of this is crucial to the success of water conservation programmes and policies.

Despite this, agricultural sector policies tend to favour monocropping for cash over the crop diversification that is typical of (and essential to) rural food production. One feature of this approach is that little attention is paid to small-scale irrigation and water supply systems that are appropriate to small farmers. The needs, as well as the water management expertise, of the men and women in this subsector are overlooked.

In many cases, water is monopolized and channeled, and rivers and streams are diverted for commercial irrigation, depriving many small settlements and farm plots. Drainage systems are built and cause water supplies to become polluted with pesticides and other contaminants. Water is wasted, and no thought is given to recycling this resource, or even using it in a rational way.

Decisions regarding the scheduling of water in irrigated zones tend to be made without women's on-farm and home activities being taken into account. The exclusion of women from water management and irrigation projects is a key factor in the frequent failure of both water and poverty alleviation projects.

2.4.3 Research

In the context of food security, sustainable development and poverty eradication, research and extension objectives are to: increase food supplies, create employment opportunities, reduce environmental degradation and enhance resource management. Despite this, agricultural research has focused nearly exclusively on profitable cash crops and other basic commodities such as maize, to the detriment of cereal, fruit, pulse and vegetable crops.

To achieve sustainable agricultural production in developing countries, research programmes need to target food crops and small livestock, making the most of the farming expertise of women who are responsible for growing food.

FAO studies confirm that women constitute the backbone of the small farming sector, they produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in developing countries (and 50 percent worldwide), do much of the work on the farm and provide for their families. However, they have much less access than men to the information and farm support services that were established to boost productivity. Micro-economic studies in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have shown that women also play a decisive role in specific cash crop operations. In many countries they are responsible for coastal and inland fisheries in rivers and lagoons; the production of secondary crops; gathering forest products, fuelwood and water; processing and conserving food; and fetching the family's water supply.

Women are extremely knowledgeable about the value and use of wild and domestic varieties, and this has major implications for food, health, income and the conservation of plant genetic resources. If women are overlooked as food producers and resource managers, modern technology will lose the benefit of traditional practices. New approaches now being introduced will bring women into agricultural research, harnessing their special skills in production and biodiversity for their own benefit and for that of society.

There are pragmatic gender differences in men's and women's knowledge about the environment, plants and animals, and their respective uses and products. This gender differentiated knowledge is crucial to in situ genetic resource conservation, management and improvement. Deciding which species to conserve demands an intimate local understanding of the value of each resource.

In times of famine, drought and war, people often depend on their familiarity with wild plants and animals to feed themselves. Subsistence farmers (the majority of whom are women in most parts of the world) are not in a position to buy such inputs as fertilizers, pesticides and veterinary medicines and have to fall back on their ability to adapt to the environment, which allows them to grow a wide range of crops and to buffer crop failure and livestock disease or death by finding alternative food sources in the wild. For subsistence farmers, the natural ecosystem is a varied and permanent larder and an ally in the struggle against hunger and malnutrition.

Research programmes have consistently undervalued the capacity of rural communities for varietal improvement and innovative crop practices. Modern techniques and attitudes have caused women to lose much of the influence and control over production and the access to resources which they used to enjoy. This is the legacy of patriarchal practices that where introduced during the process of colonization (and which, unfortunately, persist today in some parts of the world) involving the introduction of crops and techniques for the benefit of commercial interests, while totally ignoring environmental protection and the needs of the local people.

There is a body of highly sophisticated knowledge that is handed down from one generation to the next. Sustainable practices for the protection of soil, water, natural vegetation and biodiversity have been developed over time. They should be preserved and extended, and priority given to enhancing and promoting them.

FAO studies maintain that long-term strategies for the conservation, utilization and improvement of the full range of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture should:

· Acknowledge and consider the gender roles, responsibilities and contributions of various socio-economic groups;

· Acknowledge and enhance the capabilities, skills and practices, as well as the rights, of men and women farmers;

· Promote appropriate and equitable agricultural policy incentives for sustainable resource use, paying particular attention to in situ and ex situ conservation and better linkage between the two;

· Define and adopt appropriate national legislation to protect endangered productive and food genetic resources, so as to guarantee continuity in their use and management by local and indigenous communities and people, and ensure a fair and equitable distribution of the benefits from their utilization;

· Reinforce rural women's access to land and water, education, extension, credit and appropriate technology;

· Promote women's active participation in decision-making processes, to ensure gender equity in the benefits of agricultural development.

A concomitant requirement would be to set up a database for an initial analysis, followed by permanent monitoring and evaluation of progress.

2.4.4 Extension

Although women are highly instrumental in food production and food security, they have little access to production support services such as extension and training.

FAO studies have identified several weak points that prevent extension programmes from reaching rural women. The traditional focus of most extension services is the farmer-landowner,21 who is in a position to claim credit and invest in inputs and new technology. Few women have access to land and other resources, and encounter serious constraints to obtaining credit. Extension services tend to sideline them, focusing more on cash crops than on the subsistence food crops that are a priority for women farmers and are vital to the food security of millions.

21 The World Bank's widely adopted training-visit system, for example, frequently uses landownership as a prerequisite for identifying contact farmers, and few women own land.
Deep-rooted, erroneous beliefs on the part of extension workers lead them to overlook women. They may claim that it is difficult to establish dialogue with women (who are, in any case, of only minor importance in agricultural production), that women have little say in farm decisions or a poor grasp of what extensionists are teaching, or that they are too shy or reluctant to accept new technology.

Other factors hindering women's access to extension are their lack of formal schooling, mobility and time for extension activities. However, women are good at finding ways of balancing domestic responsibilities with farm duties. Their inclusion in extension programmes would make their work more productive, helping to boost agricultural production. Extension programmes would be more likely to succeed if they were tailored to women's special circumstances.

The lack of extension service provision for women restricts their access to inputs such as improved seed, fertilizer and pesticides. Women rarely belong to cooperatives, but cooperative membership is often a necessary qualification for government-subsidized inputs for small farmers.

Extension services are pivotal to increased productivity, agricultural development and poverty eradication. Both cash and food crops stand to gain from gender equity in access to extension. A participatory, continuous, gender-differentiated database is imperative in identifying target groups for extension services, reorienting extension programmes, maximizing experience, ensuring feedback and monitoring and evaluating extension activities.

2.4.5 Modern technology

The main thrust of the green revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was the introduction of an innovative technology package to disseminate improved seed, new techniques in farming and irrigation, and the use of chemical fertilizers. While the green revolution was successful, worldwide, in boosting yields and food supplies, it did not necessarily enhance food security, economic opportunities and general well-being among the poorest of the rural poor because its impact differed greatly by gender and social class. The rich benefited more than the poor, and men more than women. The introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice varieties in Asia, for example, proved disadvantageous in terms of work and employment opportunities for rural women for the following reasons:

· Households found that they needed more money to buy technological inputs, so women had to seek paid work as farm labourers.

· Women's unpaid workload increased on small farms that were unable to hire outside labour as the larger farms did.

· Paid workers had to call on family members to meet production quotas, and women's workloads increased as they could no longer work the small plots that were the source of the family's food security.

· Mechanization reduced women's opportunities for paid work; not only could the work be done by fewer people, but jobs once done manually by women were now done by men using machines.

· There was no automatic improvement in living standards even when there were more jobs.

· Modernization increased the yields of the larger holdings, while day labourers' wages remained static.

· Women were paid less than men, although they often did the harder work such as weeding, transplanting and harvesting.

In addition to these points, it is worth mentioning the fact that farmers do not judge a crop solely on the grounds of higher yields, they also look at the potential for using a plant's biomass and harvest and other residues. To a small farmer, rice means more than just grain - it provides straw for roofing and mats, fodder for animals, feed for acquaculture and hulls for fuel. These products are essential items in the budget of poor rural families and crucial inputs for the money-generating activities that provide a livelihood to many of the rural poor, especially women.

In general, the green revolution has mainly benefited the capital accumulation of more affluent farmers, while more equitable and sustainable development requires technology that is designed to meet the real needs of poor farmers in environmentally fragile areas where there is no irrigation.

Technology offers unquestionable benefits, such as labour-saving devices and increased productivity, but agricultural modernization can also have a dramatic, negative impact. It can reduce rural women's opportunities for paid work by abolishing jobs (such as cottage industries) that were traditionally done by women and brought in extra income from value-added. With farm mechanization, consumers tend to buy unprocessed products, thus saving on even these small labour costs while, which results in lower income levels for rural households.

Most of the negative impact of farm modernization can be traced to the introduction of technologies that were not designed to solve the problems of small farmers (much less women farmers), but rather to meet the needs of larger producers.

Despite this, technological advances can be very beneficial. Farm households headed by single women who have no one to do the heavy jobs that require great physical strength would benefit immensely from the introduction of energy-saving devices. Unfortunately, however, labour- and energy-saving devices are usually designed with men in mind.

New techniques for the collection of water and fuel and the easing of post-harvest tasks such as processing and storage have also received scant attention from the research sector. Little value is attached to women's activities, and the volume of work they do tends to be overlooked. Women are rarely enlisted to help select topics for technological research, experimentation, production and dissemination. As it looks for ways to lighten workloads, research would greatly benefit everyone's living conditions by seeking to ensure that women farmers continue to retain the few employment opportunities they still possess.

2.4.6 Financial resources

In general, gender prerogatives concerning local resources and the benefits of national policies rarely match women's mounting responsibilities for food production and natural resource management.

Throughout much of the world, poor women farmers cannot afford to purchase even subsidized inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and veterinary medicines, good, nourishing food, and fuel for cooking or heating.

In most countries, rural women have difficulty getting credit because they are unable to put up the collateral that lending institutions require, or because of the prevailing laws. Civil and/or farm legislation either does not grant women property rights on a par with those enjoyed by their husbands, or fails to acknowledge women as heads of household, even when they play that role. Not only does the lack of secure title limit women's access to credit, it also bars them from joining farmers' associations, especially those concerned with processing and marketing. If women had secure title to land they could invest in it rather than merely working it, and this would encourage them to adopt sustainable farming practices.

Lending institutions do not recognize women's capacity for loan repayment, so they often fail to target women who are then forced to resort to unofficial moneylenders charging exorbitant interest rates, thus exacerbating female poverty. Alternatively, women may turn to family or informal lending facilities, which can, of course, only offer very small loans.

The challenge for the future is to achieve full gender equity in access to resources and land, so that women can increase their buying power and productivity, buy extra food and help to lay the foundations for food security. Credit machinery designed to reach small farmers and the landless must also be devised.

Some countries have been experimenting successfully with credit systems accompanied by technical advice on management and production. Outstanding examples of this include Bolivia's Banco Solidario and the famous Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which have proposed alternatives to conventional loan guarantees when lending to poor and landless rural women, who are their main customers. These banks report very high rates of repayment and note that the income generated by production increases is reinvested to enhance family nutrition, health and education. Such options work well only when they do not become welfare programmes; the initial support is intended to ensure female self-sufficiency. Detailed data on these successes should be collected, analysed and systematized for dissemination.


2.5.1 The context
2.5.2 The plan

22 FAO. 1995. Plan of Action for Women in Development. Twenty-eighth Session of the FAO Conference, 20 October-2 November 1995. C95/14-Sup.1-Rev. 1. Rome.

2.5.1 The context

Rural women, food security and nutrition

A large and growing body of research shows that direct responsibility for household food provision falls largely on women. Despite this, women farmers are disadvantaged. When they lack access to land (which is very common), they are not eligible for credit, membership in farmers' organizations and training and extension services. Women's heavy workloads and lack of the inputs they need to become more productive are the main constraints, and these aggravate food insecurity and malnutrition in millions of households, especially female-headed ones.

More than 780 million people in the developing world suffer from hunger and malnutrition. Many of these are women of child-bearing age, especially those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.23 Studies have shown that, in the poorest female-headed households, household resources are used mainly to feed and educate the children, which is not necessarily true of equally poor male-headed households. This emphasizes the need for gender-disaggregated data on the use of scant resources.

23 Ibid.
It is important to highlight the direct link between women's access to household resources and income management, and the improvement of family food security and nutritional well-being. This linkage, along with the importance of increasing women's productivity and, hence, their contribution to food systems, should be a core consideration of policies and programmes aimed at enhancing food security and nutrition. There is, therefore, a crucial need for a gender-disaggregated database on the control and management of resources and production factors.

Rural women and the environment

Women's relationship to the environment revolves around their central concern with household food security. Environmental degradation has a direct impact on women's workloads, and yet restricted access to inputs, resources, capital and employment often force women to overexploit the natural resources base. Despite this, rural women are both the best-equipped and the worst-equipped to manage the environment; the best because they have the necessary expertise, and the worst because they lack the power to intervene. The expertise in the conservation and preservation of wild plant and animal species that women have developed over time must be explored, and these skills must be taken into account in policy formulation.

Rural women and population

Despite the ongoing campaigns to limit world population growth, poor families, especially in rural areas, continue to produce large families with many children because of the labour value that children represent. A gender-disaggregated database would contribute to a deeper understanding of population trends and to the adoption of policies designed to improve the living conditions of all rural people.

Rural women and poverty

Not only do women in the countryside do work that is directly related to production and food security, they also do all of the domestic chores, working up to 16 hours a day in some developing countries. However, most women are not remunerated for their work and their economic contribution is undercounted in official statistics - development programmes and policies rarely consider their contribution. According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on human development, over 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living in absolute poverty are women. Economic crises, structural adjustment programmes, armed conflicts and drought have led to the "feminization of poverty". Male outmigration, divorce and unstable living arrangements have dramatically increased the number of households headed by women who find themselves wholly responsible for running the farm and feeding the family. In some regions, these factors have all contributed to the greater presence of women in agriculture. Development programmes and policies have rarely focused on these new phenomena, however, and there is a lack of reliable statistics on these social changes.

2.5.2 The plan

The principal causes of the growing concentration of poverty and food insecurity among rural women and their families are:

· Limited access to inputs and to social, agricultural and commercial services;

· Unemployment or underemployment and unequal pay and work opportunities;

· Exclusion from or restricted participation in decision-making processes aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity and natural resource management;

· Unfavourable or discriminatory legislation.

The Plan formulated three stragetic objectives designed to solve these problems, improve living standards, achieve a satisfactory level of food security, eradicate poverty among rural women and their families and secure sustainable development.

Strategic objective 1: To promote gender-based equity in the access to and control of productive resources.

FAO action to achieve these objectives is centred on: ·

· promoting policies, programmes and projects that improve rural women's access to and control over productive resources, inputs and services; ·

· undertaking research and action programmes to identify the legislative and policy changes needed to achieve gender equity in all sectors; ·

· providing guidance and technical assistance to countries that are reorienting their agricultural policies, and reducing institutional barriers to women's access to land, capital, credit, extension, research, training, markets and producers' organizations.

Strategic objective 2: To increase women's participation in decision- and policy-making at all levels.

FAO action to achieve this objective is centred on: ·

· fostering awareness of the need to promote the participation and leadership of women in local, regional and national decision-making bodies; ·

· promoting the establishment of data exchange networks and ensuring that rural women's interests are represented in international and national policy-making; ·

· supporting research, consultation and communication to ensure that women are considered as agents of change and not the passive beneficiaries of plans, projects and programmes.

Strategic objective 3: To promote a reduction in rural women's workloads and enhance their opportunities for remunerated employment and income.

FAO action to achieve this objective is centred on: ·

· improving the production and dissemination of gender-responsive statistics so as to recognize and enhance the unpaid work of rural women, gain a better understanding of the situation of rural men and women, and supply appropriate data for policy-making, planning and project formulation; ·

· supporting initiatives to address policies and practices that reinforce rural women's employment in food production, agriculture, forestry and fisheries; ·

· facilitating the utilization of productive and domestic labour-saving technologies; ·

· enhancing rural women's income-generating opportunities and access to agricultural education and more lucrative agricultural occupations.

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