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4.1. Introduction

Women farmers play an important role in agricultural production. In many areas, they are mainly responsible for food crops, while men mostly grow cash crops (although women may provide labour to cultivate their husbands’ crops). In other areas, women are fully integrated in commercial agriculture. In numerous countries, women’s role in agriculture is increasing as a result of men’s out-migration and/or employment in non-agricultural sectors (“feminization of agriculture”). As women’s activities are often concentrated in the informal economy and perceived as part of women’s responsibility for household tasks, they are often non-monetarized and underestimated in official statistics.

This chapter examines the rights of self employed rural women, including both the rights relating to the exercise of agricultural activities as such (the legal status of women agricultural entrepreneurs; women’s position in rural cooperatives and producers associations) on the one hand, and the rights of access to services supporting those activities (credit, training, extension and marketing services) on the other.

These issues are intertwined with those examined in the other chapters of this study. Training is crucial for both employment and self employment[48]. Membership in farmers’ cooperatives is often conditional upon land ownership; this may exclude rural women, who rarely own land. In turn, cooperatives constitute a common institutional form to hold land. Access to credit is affected by land rights, as land may be used as collateral to secure loans; moreover, in the rural areas of many developing countries, credit is obtained informally through “interlinked contracts”, whereby two persons are linked by several contractual relations simultaneously (e.g. a landlord or employer lending money to the tenant or farm worker). Therefore, women’s access to credit may be affected by the fact that land titles and tenancy or employment contracts are more often held by men.

In many countries, the rural poor face considerable difficulties in establishing small agricultural enterprises, due to their lack of land titles, capital (e.g. access to credit), inputs, infrastructure (e.g. business premises), training and market information. Moreover, the administrative procedures for enterprise registration are often costly and cumbersome[49]. Within this context, women face greater difficulties than men, particularly with regard to participation in rural cooperatives and access to credit, training and agricultural extension. These difficulties rarely flow from explicitly discriminatory norms, as legislation on these issues is in most cases gender neutral. Rather, they mainly arise from cultural practices and stereotypes (e.g. on women’s role within the family and on interactions between persons of different sex) and from socio-economic factors (e.g. as for access to credit, women’s higher illiteracy rates, lack of information about available credit programmes, lack of land titles to be offered as collateral, more limited access to formal employment, and exclusion from credit cooperatives).

From a purely legal point of view, only some considerations may be made with regard to these social, economic and cultural factors. First, in some cases, gender neutral legislation (without the explicit statement of the non-discrimination principle) is not enough to ensure gender equality. For instance, silence on gender equality in cooperative legislation may allow cooperative by-laws to directly or indirectly discriminate against women (e.g. in admission policies) without violating the law. Second, where socio-economic gender inequality exists, the lack of legal response by the state (e.g. through the adoption of affirmative action measures) may be remarked.

4.2. Relevant international law

Under the CEDAW, states are to eliminate discrimination against women in the “economic and social life”, and to ensure equality of men and women e.g. in access to credit (art. 13). Moreover, rural women have equal rights to organise self-help groups and cooperatives, and to have access to training, appropriate technology, extension services, agricultural credit, and marketing facilities (art. 14).

Other human rights law provisions are also relevant for the selfemployment activities of rural women. Women’s access to training is protected by provisions concerning the right to education (UDHR, art. 26, ICESCR, art. 13, and CEDAW, art. 10) and by ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention 111 of 1958. The right to freedom of association (relevant e.g. for women’s participation in producer associations) is recognized without discrimination in articles 20 and 2 of the UDHR and articles 22, 2 and 3 of the ICCPR. The right to freedom of movement (UDHR, arts. 13(1) and 2, and ICCPR, arts. 12, 2 and 3) is also relevant, for instance for women’s attendance of vocational courses and cooperative meetings, for their food marketing activities and for their access to banks (which in many countries are mainly located in towns, thus requiring rural people the freedom and ability to travel). This is especially so in cultures where women cannot travel without the company or permission of the husband or of a male relative.

The promotion of women’s exercise of economic activities, including through improving their access to productive resources such as credit, is also envisaged in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (e.g. paras. 61(b), 166 and 173), in the Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, in the Cairo Declaration on Population and Development, and in the World Food Summit Plan of Action (para. 16(b)).

4.3. The Americas

4.3.1. Regional overview

Regional human rights instruments protect rights relevant for the exercise of economic activities. In particular, the ACHR guarantees without discrimination inter alia the right to freedom of movement and the right to freedom of association, including for economic and labour purposes (arts. 1, 16 and 22).

The obstacles encountered by women entrepreneurs are usually socio-cultural rather than legal. However, in some cases legislation may restrict the exercise of economic activities by rural women. For instance, the Civil Code of the Dominican Republic prohibits married women from contracting obligations without the authorization of husband (Galan, 1998). In Chile, women married under certain marital property rights regimes must obtain the authorization of their husband to sign contracts establishing companies (Commercial Code, art. 349). More generally, where family law grants exclusive administration rights over family property to the husband (e.g. Honduras, Dominican Republic), women’s ability e.g. to obtain credit by mortgaging land is severely limited.

Socio-economic constraints mainly relate to women’s limited access to cooperatives, training and credit, and are mainly determined by cultural attitudes and stereotypes. The legislation of some countries contains provisions addressing these constraints. For instance, Nicaragua’s Law on Agricultural and Agro-industrial Cooperatives (Law 84 of 1990) explicitly prohibits cooperatives from discriminating on the basis of sex and provides for the full integration of women in cooperatives on the basis of equality of rights and obligations (arts. 5(3) and 6). In Peru, Law 26772 (1997) explicitly prohibits sex discrimination in access to vocational training, and in Guatemala Decree 7 of 1999 guarantees equal access to vocational training (art. 10).

As for women’s access to credit, this is limited throughout the region, even where there is no de jure discrimination. Requiring the authorization of the husband for women’s application for credit and mortgage is a widespread practice adopted by financial institutions. In Jamaica, only 5 percent of the loans of the Bank of Agricultural Credit goes to women. In some cases, women’s limited access to credit is due to women’s little demand for it (due to cultural factors internalized by women). In a study from the Andean region, only 29 percent of interviewed women had applied for a loan (compared to 43.2 percent of men); 91 percent of women applicants had been granted the loan (compared to 85 percent for men) (FAO, 1994 and 1996). To redress this situation, legislation and public credit programmes may grant priority access to women, as in the case of Nicaragua’s Law 209 of 1995 (Galan, 1998).

4.3.2. Mexico

The exercise of economic activities by women is constrained both by legal obstacles and by cultural factors, including “deeply rooted traditions of men’s superiority” (CEDAW, 1998). In some states of the federation, women’s exercise of economic activities is constrained by family law norms on marital authority requiring the authorization of the husband for women to take up an occupation (e.g. the Civil Code of Oaxaca; arts. 167-170, see above, section. 3.3.2).

The General Law on Cooperatives 1994 states the principle of gender equality (art. 11(III)), although women’s participation in rural organizations remains limited (FAO, 1994). The Law on Agricultural Associations, concerning associations of agricultural producers, is gender neutral. Within ejidos, women over the age of 16 (either ejidatarias or spouses or relatives of ejidatarios) may exercise crop, livestock and rural industry activities by setting up groups (Unidad Agrícola Industrial de la Mujer, UAIM). Both the federal government and the ejido assembly are to promote these productive activities, including through resource mobilization, technical assistance and marketing support (1998 Agrarian Law Regulation on the Promotion of Rural Women’s Organisation and Development, arts. 4 and 6).

Credit legislation is generally gender neutral. The Organic Law on the Banrural System of 1986, as amended, makes no reference to women or gender. On the other hand, the Rural Credit General Act of 1976, as amended, explicitly recognises UAIM members as potential credit beneficiaries (art. 54), and grants them priority in credit allocation (art. 59; quoted in FAO, 1994). However, women’s access to credit remains limited due to their limited organization, to shortage of funds and to the lack of legal personality for the UAIMs (FAO, 1994).

The Agricultural Extension Act does not make explicit reference to women. Extension services must be targeted to the “rural household” as a “social unit” (art. 6(III)). The Sustainable Rural Development Act of 2001, envisaging government programmes to promote sustainable development in rural areas, includes gender equity and women-targeted programmes (arts. 15(X), 154 and 162), and grants priority for women’s productive units and work groups within activities concerning rural associations (art. 144(IX)).

Under the Social Security Act of 1995, a voluntary scheme of maternity benefits is envisaged for self employed workers, labourers in family undertakings and ejidatarias. Benefits are paid by the Mexican Institute of Social Security.

4.3.3. Brazil

Marital authority provisions limiting the contractual capacity of married women, contained in the Civil Code of 1916, were repealed by Law 4121 (1962) and by the Civil Code of 2002 (see above, section 3.3.3)[50].

Law 5764 of 1971, governing cooperatives, does not explicitly mention women. However, it states among the fundamental characteristics of co-operatives the absence of “social” discrimination (art. 4(IX)); it affirms the equality of rights of cooperative members (art. 39); and it provides for the freedom to join cooperatives for everybody wishing to do so (art. 29).

Since the 1960s, subsidised credit programmes have played an important role in Brazil’s agricultural development, mainly targeting extensive, mechanised commercial farms. Credit laws (e.g. Laws 4829 of 1965, 8427 of 1992, and 9138 of 1995, establishing and regulating the subsidised rural credit system) do not discriminate against women, but do not specifically consider them either. As a result, women’s access to credit remains limited, both because of demand factors (as rural women rarely apply for loans due to cultural factors internalized by them) and because of supply factors (as women can rarely offer land as collateral). Rural women’s access to credit programmes is also curtailed by their lack of the necessary documents (identity cards, etc.; on this issue, see above, paras. 2.3.3 and 3.3.3). Few women have directly benefited from credit, training and extension services provided under agrarian reform programmes such as Casulo Project, Lumiar Project and PROCERA (Barsted, 2002; Guivant, 2001).

In order to support family farms, Law 10186 of 2001 established the PRONAF (National Programme to Support Family Agriculture), providing for credit, training and extension services. However, in 2001, only 7 percent of PRONAF beneficiaries were women (Barsted, 2002). In the same year, the Minister for Agrarian Development adopted Ordinance 121 (2001), reserving “preferentially” to women 30 percent of PRONAF credit, training and extension services. Moreover, the Ordinance calls for the revision of PRONAF norms in order to facilitate access to its services by women farmers.

A particular form of credit is credit for land purchases and basic agricultural infrastructure. The Land Bank (Banco da Terra) was established by Law 93 of 1998 and is regulated by Decree 3475 of 2000. Beneficiaries are listed in article 1 of the 1998 Law and article 5 of the 2000 Decree, and include landless labourers and smallholders. While the terminology used is masculine (“trabalhadores rurais não-proprietários, preferencialmente assalariados, parceiros e arrendatários”; “agricultores proprietários”), no sex/gender discrimination is made. Landless labourers include not only agricultural employees, but also self employed and family-farm labourers, who are more likely to be women. Article 8 of the 2000 Decree excludes from the programme those who have already benefited within other agrarian reform programmes and their spouses; since it is men that usually benefit directly from agrarian programmes, their wives are excluded from credit by the Land Bank (Barsted, 2002). Ordinance 121 of 2001 reserves “preferentially” to women 30 percent of the resources for credit provided by the Land Bank, and calls for a revision of its norms to facilitate access by rural women.

4.4. Sub-Saharan Africa

4.4.1. Regional overview

The ACHPR recognises without discrimination on the basis of sex inter alia the freedom of movement and the freedom of association (arts. 2, 10 and 12). On the other hand, a gender division of agricultural activities exists throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This is mainly determined by socio-cultural practices, rather than by legal norms. Thus, while men mainly cultivate cash crops, women usually grow food crops or crops traded in the local market. Some tasks (e.g. weeding, harvesting, storage) are dominated by women even for crops cultivated by men. Sharecropping contracts are mostly signed between men. Women are rarely sharecroppers, and tend rather to provide labour in the fields rented by their husbands or male relatives (FAO, 1995; Lastarria-Cornhiel and Melmed-Sanjak, 1999). As for livestock activities, women are generally responsible for small animals, and men for large ones; cattle milking as well as the processing and marketing of dairy products are performed by women. As for fishing, women’s involvement varies from confinement to fish marketing to full involvement in all stages of fishing (FAO, 1995).

Laws on rural cooperatives are usually gender neutral. Thus, Niger’s 1996 Ordinance on rural cooperatives is worded in gender neutral terms and makes no reference to gender. In some cases, however, legislation explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. For instance, the 1991 Co-operative Societies Act of Tanzania, as amended by the Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Act of 1997, prohibits gender discrimination in access to membership, states that both men and women can be elected as cooperative representatives, and affirms the principle of equality of all members in the activities of cooperatives (sec. 22). In Ethiopia, Co-operative Societies Proclamation 147 of 1998 includes among the “Guiding Principles of Co-operative Societies” the prohibition of gender discrimination (sec. 5(1)). Namibia’s Co-operatives Act of 1996 contains a similar provision (sec. 9(b) (i)), and provides for women’s representation in managing boards of cooperatives that have a minimum number of women members (sec. 29(2)(b)). On the other hand, laws may envisage requirements for cooperative membership which indirectly hinder women’s access to cooperatives (e.g. land ownership).

In practice, women’s participation in cooperatives and farmers unions is very limited, mainly due to socio-economic factors (e.g. women’s limited land ownership) and to cultural stereotypes. The percentage of women members of cooperatives ranges from 6 percent in Burkina Faso to 11 percent in Benin and 15 percent in Sudan. Women’s membership in farmers unions ranges from 2 percent in Sudan to 75 percent in Zimbabwe (Zimbabwe Farmers Union); even where women’s participation as members is high, the number of women officers remains extremely low (e.g. 5 percent in the Zimbabwe Farmers Unions). A substantial growth of women’s involvement in rural organizations has taken place in the last two decades; for instance, in Mauritania women’s cooperatives increased from 15 in 1982 to more than 500 in 1993 (FAO, 1995).

Credit laws usually do not refer to gender (e.g. Senegal; Burkina Faso; Kenya), and women have rights equal to men. However, in practice a very small percentage of rural credit directly benefits women, ranging from 5 percent (Burkina Faso’s National Fund for Agricultural Credit) to 32 percent (Zimbabwe’s Agricultural Finance Corporation) (FAO, 1995). This limited access to credit is mainly caused by high illiteracy rates, lack of collateral, limited access to formal employment, fear of indebtedness, lack of information, cumbersome procedures, exclusion from cooperatives through which credit is provided, and transport costs (FAO, 1995 and 1996). In several countries, progress has been made through the provision of women-targeted credit, particularly through donor-supported credit and microcredit programmes (e.g. the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe community banking scheme, established in 1996). Microcredit schemes based on group loans overcome one of the major obstacles that women encounter in obtaining access to credit, i.e. their lack of land titles to be used as collateral (FAO, 1995; Gopal and Salim, 1998).

Laws and regulations on agricultural extension are usually silent on gender. In practice, agricultural extension services are dominated by men, both as extension officers (due to men’s greater access to secondary agricultural education) and as beneficiaries (due to socio-cultural perceptions) (FAO, 1995). In recent years, there have been improvements, with an increase in female officers and beneficiaries. For example, in Tanzania, one village extension officer out of three is a woman (Due et al., 1997). These improvements are partly the result of administrative reforms in the structure of the ministries responsible for agriculture. In Malawi, a Women’ Programme Section was established in 1981 within the Department of Agricultural Extension and Training of the Ministry for Agriculture. The Women’s Programme Section targets women, particularly female household heads, providing training and extension through women’s farmer groups; as a result, women’s participation in agricultural extension has increased substantially, especially with regard to female household heads (Sigman, 1995).

As for marketing, a gender division of labour exists throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Women’s market niches are defined by traded commodity (staple food), size of the undertaking (small-scale, individual enterprise), point in the food market chain (retailing) and territoriality (local market) (Harriss-White, 1998). Like the other aspects of self employment agricultural activities, the causes for this gender division of roles are socio-cultural rather than legal. Agricultural market liberalisation also had gendered effects. State marketing boards (established in most African countries) targeted mainly male farmers. Since the mid-1980s, many countries have adopted liberalisation reforms as part of structural adjustment programmes, restructuring and privatizing public marketing boards, reforming price regimes, etc. Evidence suggests that this has resulted in an increase in women’s participation in agricultural trading activities (e.g. in Ghana and Tanzania), although the benefits of liberalisation have mainly accrued to (male-dominated) medium- and large-scale traders (Baden, 1998).

4.4.2. Kenya

In Kenya, the constraints met by rural women entrepreneurs are mainly non-legal. Under the Contract Act (Cap 23), women as well as men have full contractual capacity. The Registration of Business Names Ordinance (Cap 499), requiring the registration of all business names, both for companies and for individuals carrying out economic activities under a name different from their surname (or for individuals that have changed their name), is gender neutral; the only provision specifically concerning women is section 4(c), exempting from the registration requirement women’s change of name after marriage.

The Co-operative Societies Act of 1966 (Cap. 490) makes no reference to gender. As for qualifications for membership, section 14 requires majority age and residence within the area of operation of the cooperative. Under the Co-operative Societies Rules of 1969, adopted under section 84 of the Act, it is for the by-law of each cooperative to determine the conditions for membership and the terms and mode of admissions (sec. 7(1)(g)); the qualifications for membership of cooperative managing committees are non-discriminatory, although the terminology is masculine (“he”; sec. 33). Given the silence of the Act and the Rules on gender equality, by-laws directly or indirectly discriminating against women would not violate co-operative legislation[51]. There are reports that membership rules embodied in by-laws often require land ownership, which in practice excludes women (as few own land) (Gopal and Salim, 1998). Moreover, women’s participation in cooperatives is hindered by socio-cultural factors.

As for access to credit, while legislation is gender neutral (e.g. the Banking Act, Cap. 488, as amended), discriminatory practices exist. For instance, there are reports of banks requiring the consent of the husband before lending to women. More generally, women’s limited access to land titles and formal employment curtails their creditworthiness. The priority given by financial institutions to cash crops (mainly grown by men) vis-à-vis food crops (mainly grown by women), and the location of credit institutions in urban areas (where men often migrate) rather than in rural areas (where women mainly reside) also foster gender inequalities (House-Midamba, 1993; World Bank, 1994; Gopal and Salim, 1998). As a result of these factors, very few women borrowed from the Agricultural Finance Corporation, a major supplier of agricultural credit (House-Midamba, 1993). Credit programmes targeting women small-scale entrepreneurs have recently been set up by commercial banks and NGOs, using the group lending model of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh (House-Midamba, 1993; Kiiru and Pederson, 1996; Gopal and Salim, 1998).

Under the National Extension Project, village women groups have been used to spread technical assistance and agricultural extension. This has greatly improved women’s access to extension services (Saito and Spurling, 1992; FAO, 1996).

4.4.3. Burkina Faso

Besides working on the fields controlled by their husbands (see above, section 3.4.3), women carry out their own income-generating activities, including cultivating their personal fields and locally trading processed food. These activities are determined by a rigid gender division of labour (for instance, beer is brewed and traded by women only). Long-distance trade is dominated by men; women long-distance traders may lose their reputation and suffer verbal and even physical abuse (Kevane and Wydick, 1999).

Law 14/99 of 1999, governing cooperatives and other organizations (“groupements”), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (arts. 9 and 72). Women constitute 6 percent of cooperative members and 20 percent of groupement members (FAO, 1995).

Credit laws make no explicit reference to women. In rural areas, women’s access to credit is very limited. Only 5 percent of the loans of the National Fund for Agricultural Credit goes to women (FAO, 1995), mainly because of women’s high illiteracy rate and lack of collateral (CRLP, 2000). Some women-targeted microfinance programmes have recently been established. For example, the Fédération des Caisses Populaires du Burkina Faso established in 1993 a “Credit with Education” programme, based on microcredit, group lending and credit supply directly in rural areas (with bank officers travelling to rural areas instead of women travelling to towns). The programme benefits 30 000 rural women (Kevane and MkNelly, 2001).

Although most women work in agriculture (with a substantial number of de facto female-headed households due to men’s migration), only a very limited portion of agricultural extension services benefits women. In 1985, the Opération Test de Renforcement de la Vulgarisation Agricole, based on training visits, was launched. Moreover, a Bureau for the Promotion of Women’s Activities was established within the Directorate of Agricultural Extension. As a result of these reforms, the number of women extension service beneficiaries increased substantially in the late 1980s, although extension services are still concentrated on male farmers (FAO, 1995). Decree 97-428 of 1997 establishes the Ministry for Animal Resources and, within it, a directorate on extension services and technology transfer which is responsible for promoting awareness among “new actors”, including women, to invest in pastoral activities (art. 34).

4.4.4. South Africa

In South Africa, a considerable number of women are self employed, while men are more often absorbed in formal employment (CEDAW, 1998). For a long period, legal obstacles hindered women’s exercise of self employment activities. For instance, under the Black Administration Act of 1927, women married under customary law were considered as minors under the guardianship of their husband, and could not sign contracts (sec. 11); this norm was repealed by the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act of 1998, which recognises the full legal capacity of the wife to enter into contracts (sec. 6). Legislation relating to agricultural self employed activities is mostly gender neutral. Moreover, a number of laws have recently been passed to improve the situation of self employed women.

The Co-operatives Act of 1981 (in operation in 1991, extended to the homelands by the Agricultural Laws Extension Act of 1996) is gender neutral. The norms on membership requirements for agricultural cooperatives and “special farmers’ co-operatives” refer to natural or juristic persons “carrying out farming operations on their own account” (sec. 57).

Agricultural credit is governed by the Agricultural Credit Act of 1966, as amended (lastly by the Agricultural Credit Amendment Act of 1995), which establishes an Agricultural Credit Board to supply agricultural credit[52]. No reference is made to gender. Women’s access to credit is in practice limited due to their lack of land titles; moreover, there is anecdotal evidence of banks requiring the consent of the husband before lending to women married in regime of separation of property (RSA/CGE, 1998). The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000 prohibits unfair discrimination against women by the state and all persons, including in women’s access to credit (secs. 6 and 8(e)).

As for training, the National Education Policy Act of 1996 provides that the national education policy, to be formulated by the Minister for Education must realise the right of every person to non-discrimination and equal access to education and must be directed toward “achieving equitable education opportunities and the redress of past inequality in education provision, including the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of the status of women” (sec. 4(a) and (c)).

The Further Education and Training Act of 1998, regulating programmes leading to qualifications above general education but below higher education (sec. 1), aims to ensure access to education and training for persons who suffered discrimination in the past, including women (fourth paragraph of the preamble). Each public further education and training institution must establish a council which must be “broadly representative of the community served by the institution” in respect of gender, and must develop a strategic plan addressing gender issues (secs. 8, 9(2)(a) (ii) and 9(8)(e)). The council is also to adopt codes of conduct and disciplinary measures and procedures dealing with sexual violence and sexual harassment (sec. 16). Moreover, each public education and training institution must establish an academic board, which is responsible for “the promotion of the participation of women [...] in the learning programmes” (sec. 11(1)(a)). Admission policies of public institutions cannot unfairly discriminate and must provide appropriate measures for the redress of past inequalities (sec. 17(3)). As for private institutions, non-discrimination on the basis of gender is among the conditions for the registration of the institution (sec. 26(1)(c)).

The Skills Development Act of 1998 aims to improve the employment prospects of persons that suffered unfair discrimination in the past (sec. 2(1)(e)). The National Skills Authority established by the Act must include a woman (sec. 6(2)(c) (i)).

As for marketing services, although the Marketing of Agricultural Products Act of 1996 does not make specific reference to gender, its objectives include “the increasing of market access for all market participants” (sec. 2(2)(a)).

Box 4. Gender struggles for market stalls: a case study from Uganda

A case study on a local market in Uganda provides some insights on the legal dynamics of gender struggles in a particular aspect of women’s self employment activities, namely marketing.

The Kiyembe Women’s Co-operative Savings and Credit Society was established as a cooperative for Kiyembe women in 1983. Members of the cooperative were women traders who had been denied trading licences due to their lack of appropriate facilities (shops). In 1984, the cooperative obtained from the Town Clerk a lease on a plot of land to build a market. The plot had been confiscated from an Asian expulsed under Idi Amin’s Asian Expulsion Order of 1972. Cooperative members often had more than one market stall, and made use of hired labour to tend some of the stalls in order to reconcile this activity with their family responsibilities.

In 1987, the Kampala City Council enacted regulations allowing only one stall per vendor in local markets; surplus stalls were transferred to those tending them (e.g. hired labour). As a result of this enactment, many cooperative members lost their stalls to their (usually male) employees.

Having gained partial control of the market, men established their own market organization (Kiyembe Vendors Association). A period of tensions between the two market organizations followed, with violence and harassment against women.

In 1991, at the expiry of the lease on the plot, the Custodian Board (the institution managing property confiscated from expulsed Asians) put the plot on auction. While the Kiyembe Vendors Association was notified of the auction and made its bid, the women cooperative was not notified, and made its bid only after finding out about the auction by chance. The auction was won by a parastatal organization, the National Enterprise Corporation, which tried to evict both men’s and women’s organizations. The Kampala City Council, approached by the men-dominated association, intervened to defend the market vendors, and the National Enterprise Corporation was eventually ousted as it did not pay the price offered for the plot.

In 1992, the government allowed the return of expulsed Asians to Uganda and the restitution of the confiscated property. The original Asian owner returned to Uganda and reclaimed his property; the Custodian Board returned the plot to him.

This case study shows how men managed to progressively reduce the rights originally obtained by women under the lease agreement. In so doing, they primarily relied on their closer connections with political and administrative institutions. First, men benefited from the expropriating regulations adopted by the City Council. Second, men (not women) were notified of the 1991 auction. Third, men were able to approach the City Council to protect their rights after the auction was won by a third party.

Similar gender struggles for the control of local market places have been documented for several other African countries (for instance, a classic study on this issue in West Africa is Amadiume, 1995).

Source: Tripp (2000), with integrations)

4.5. Northern Africa and the Middle East

4.5.1. Regional overview

The Arab Charter on Human Rights (not yet in force) protects without discrimination between men and women inter alia the right to freedom of movement of every individual (“within the limits of the law”) and the right to freedom of association (arts. 2, 20 and 28).

At national and local level, women entrepreneurs face obstacles of both a legal and a socio-cultural nature. Family law norms on marital authority limiting women’s capacity to contract occupation-related obligations are in place in some countries (e.g. Syria) and have recently been repealed or declared unconstitutional in others (e.g. Tunisia and Turkey) (see section 3.5.1 above).

In some countries, women’s freedom of movement is severely restricted, and women must always be accompanied by their husband or a male relative when outside the house (e.g. Saudi Arabia). This limits the possibility for rural women to undertake self employment activities (due to the constraints that it implies e.g. for women’s participation in meetings of cooperatives, access to banks, ability to undertake local food trading activities, etc.).

Women’s access to credit is limited throughout the region due to their limited land ownership and formal employment, their concentration in subsistence agriculture, high female illiteracy rates, and cultural stereotypes. Women obtained only 2.8 percent of the loans of the Agricultural Bank in Turkey, 6 percent of the loans of the Agricultural Credit Corporation in Jordan, and 15 percent of loans of the Agricultural Bank in Iran. Special credit programmes for women are also rare (FAO, 1996).

Extension officers are predominantly men. Extension beneficiaries are also mainly men due to cultural factors restricting interactions between persons of different sex and women’s attendance of meetings outside the house (FAO, 1995b).

In some countries (e.g. Yemen, Egypt), a substantial male emigration to some oil-rich Gulf states has increased the autonomy and decision-making power of women living in nuclear families (though not of those living within extended families) (Baden, 1992).

4.5.2. Tunisia

Under article 3 of the Code of Obligations and Contracts every person is capable of contracting obligations unless declared unsound of mind. article 831 of the Code, requiring the authorization of the husband for married women to sign service contracts and allowing the husband to rescind contracts signed without his approval, was repealed by Law 17 of 2000.

As for training, article 339 of the Labour Code explicitly states that norms on vocational training apply to both men and women. As for education, Law 65 of 1991 explicitly prohibits sex discrimination and segregation (Belarbi et al., 1997). In practice, attendance of vocational courses provided by the Ministry for Vocational Training and Labour (under Law 67-11 of 1967, as amended) is gender-segregated, with women concentrated in “feminine” courses. Only 1.2 percent of women trainees attend courses at the Ministry for Agriculture, accounting for only 6.7 percent of the trainees in agriculture (compared e.g. to 68.6 percent of the trainees at the Ministry for Health) (Belarbi et al., 1997; data from 1989-1990).

Legislation supporting small-scale farmers and fishers (Decree 95-793 of 1995, as amended in 1999) is gender neutral. Public programmes for the promotion of small and medium enterprises have rarely benefited women directly. For instance, out of the 968 FOPRODI projects undertaken by the Investment Promotion Agency in the 1980s, only 46 benefited women entrepreneurs. Similarly, only 14.5 percent of the beneficiaries of the FONOPRA (promoting income-generating activities) were women (Belarbi et al., 1997).

At institutional level, regional commissions for the advancement of rural women have been established by Decree 2902 of 2001. Decree 420 of 2001, on the organization of the Ministry for Agriculture, establishes within the Ministry a bureau for the support of rural women, responsible among other things for promoting women’s training and integration in agricultural production activities (art. 14).

In practice, a gender division of roles prevails in agricultural work. A substantial number of women (especially those with little educational qualification) work within the family farm, concentrated in horticulture, livestock breeding and subsistence agriculture. While husbands are mostly registered as the farm head (“chef d’exploitation”), women are usually registered as family labourers (“aides familiales”). Only 3 percent of the farm heads are women. 65-70 percent of women occupied in the agricultural sector are registered as family labourers (Belarbi et al., 1997). A substantial male out-migration (to Libya and to Europe) has generated a process of feminization of agriculture, with women gaining increasing responsibility for agricultural activities. However, when living within extended families, women remain under the control and supervision of the patriarch (Ferchiou, 1985).

The Post-Beijing National Plan of Action 1997-2001, adopted in the framework of the 9th development plan, places particular emphasis on improving women’s access to training and finance.

4.6. Asia

4.6.1. Regional overview

Throughout the region, women play a crucial role in agricultural production. In Southeast Asia, for instance, women cultivate, plant, weed, irrigate and harvest in the rice fields. Moreover, women participate in fishing activities, in both the subsistence and the commercial sectors, mainly in shallow waters, canals, and coastal lagoons (FAO, 1996).

Provisions requiring the authorization of the husband for the wife to take up an occupation are in force in some countries (e.g. the Indonesian Civil Code, art. 1601(f)).

While legislation on cooperatives usually does not explicitly discriminate against women, women’s participation in cooperatives remains low. For instance, in Indonesia, while the 1987 law on cooperatives does not discriminate between men and women, only 5.6 percent of all cooperative members are women (Berninghausen, 1992; data from 1985).

Women’s access to credit is hindered by cumbersome procedures and collateral requirements, as well as by socio-cultural factors (social taboos, etc.) (FAO, 1996). On the positive side, women-targeted microcredit programmes developed in Bangladesh (by the Grameen Bank and BRAC) constitute a model for devising contractual arrangements to overcome the obstacles hindering women’s access to credit (e.g. group lending to overcome the lack of collateral; see below, Box 5).

Only a limited number of extension officers reaches rural women. The reasons are diverse and mostly of a non-legal nature; for instance, in Bangladesh, reasons mainly relate to the lack of training of extension officers in agricultural activities mainly undertaken by women, such as horticulture and poultry (FAO, 1996).

4.6.2. India

Women’s economic activities are mainly hindered by cultural (rather than legal) obstacles, such as female seclusion (purdah, mainly observed in the Northwest) (Jha et al., 1998). Under the Indian Contract Act of 1872, women and men alike have full contractual capacity at the age of majority, provided that they are sound of mind and that they are not disqualified from contracting by law (sec. 11).

Cooperatives are regulated by both federal and state legislation. The federal Multi-State Co-operative Societies Act of 1984 applies to cooperatives with activities in more than one state. The only condition required for membership by individuals is contractual capacity under the Contract Act, which is non-discriminatory (sec. 34). As for state-level cooperative laws, reference is made here to the legislation of Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

The Kerala Co-operative Societies Act of 1969 requires majority age, soundness of mind and residence within the area of operation of the cooperative as (gender neutral) conditions for membership; the Act specifically prohibits discrimination against persons belonging to Scheduled Castes or Tribes, but not against women (sec. 16). The Co-operative Societies (Amendment) Act of 1985 introduced gender specific provisions, e.g. the reservation for women of one seat of the managing committee of every cooperative (1969 Act, sec. 28A). The constitutionality of this norm was challenged before the Kerala High Court on grounds of sex discrimination, but the Court dismissed the complaint (K.R. Gopinathan Nair v. The Senior Inspector-cum Spl. Sales Officer of Co-operative Societies and Others, AIR [1989] Kerala 167).

The Karnataka Co-operative Societies Act of 1959 requires contractual capacity under the Contract Act as condition for membership, and prohibits refusals of admission “without sufficient cause” of “any person duly qualified” (according to the Act or to the cooperative by-law) (sec. 16). In Andhra Pradesh, the Co-operative Societies Act of 1964 was amended in 1991 to empower the Registrar to nominate two women to the managing committee (sec. 31(1)(a), as amended). This provision was challenged before the Supreme Court in Toguru Sudhakar Reddy and Another v. The Government of Andhra Pradesh and Others, but the challenge was dismissed by the Court (AIR [1994] SC 544). The Andhra Pradesh Mutually Aided Co-operative Societies Act of 1995, applicable to specified types of cooperatives, prohibits social, political, racial and religious discrimination with regard to membership, but is silent on sex/gender (sec. 3(a)).

Legislation concerning credit (e.g. the Banking Regulation Act of 1949) is gender neutral. As for rural credit in particular, the Regional Rural Banks Act of 1976, establishing rural banks to provide credit and other facilities to small farmers and agricultural labourers (both individually and in cooperatives), makes no reference to gender. However, women’s access to credit remains lower than men’s, due to socio-cultural practices and women’s lack of collateral. As for the latter, there is evidence that land registration programmes resulted in a considerable increase in access to credit (e.g. in a study from West Bengal, the share of respondents with access to formal credit increased from 13.7 percent to 82.5 percent after Operation Barga; Saha and Saha, 2001). As these programmes mostly benefited men (see above, section 2.6.2), this improved access to credit is likely to have also mainly benefited men.

Some banks specifically target women. For example, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Co-operative Bank, established by SEWA in 1974, provides deposit and credit facilities for self employed women, both urban and rural. Interesting features of its banking practices include the use of an identification card with name, account number and photograph of the account holder; the use of photographs (instead of signatures) removes a major obstacle for illiterate women (Fong and Perrett, 1991).

Extension services are mainly concentrated on male farmers and dominated by male officers. Social norms restrict the ability of male extension officers to talk to women farmers without the presence of their husband or of a male relative. These social norms also restrict women’s participation in vocational training (Agarwal, 1994; Jha et al., 1998).

At policy and programme level, the Sixth Five Year Plan (1980-1985) was the first development plan to devote a specific chapter to women and development. Within the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP, initiated in 1978), 40 percent of beneficiaries and credit made available is reserved for self employed women. Within the IRDP, the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWCRA programme, set up in 1982) targets women belonging to families below the poverty line. The Training of Rural Youth in Self-Employment (TRYSEM programme) also envisages a 40 percent reservation for women. At state level, Women’s Development Corporations have been established since 1987 to provide women entrepreneurs with technical assistance and training, improved access to credit, support for marketing and for women cooperatives (GoI, n.d.).

4.6.3. The Philippines

Philippine legislation promotes gender equality in the exercise of agricultural self employment activities, by explicitly stating the principle of non-discrimination in relevant legislation and by providing for special measures in favour of women. The Women in Development and Nation Building Act of 1992 aims at promoting the integration of women as full and equal partners with men in development and nation building. Women have full legal capacity to act and to enter into contracts, regardless of their marital status (sec. 5). The Act also devotes a substantial share of official development assistance to fund programmes targeting women (through the National Economic and Development Authority) (secs. 2(1) and 9). This part of the law is still to be fully implemented.

The “full integration of women [...] in the mainstream of development” is also envisaged by the “declaration of policy” of the Magna Charta of Small Farmers of 1992 (sec. 2). Under the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997, women are among the “special concerns” of the Department of Agriculture (sec. 17(o)).

The Cooperative Code of 1990 includes among the fundamental principles governing cooperatives voluntary membership open to all, regardless of “social, political, racial or religious background or beliefs” (sec. 4(1)); sex/gender is not explicitly included. Qualifications for admission are to be specified in by-laws adopted by the cooperatives (sec. 15(2)(a)), which cannot be inconsistent with the Code. The Women in Development and Nation-Building Act grants women equal access to membership in social, civic and other organizations (sec. 6). Moreover, under Administrative Order No. 1 of 2001 adopted by the Department of Agrarian Reform, both spouses have the right to join cooperatives or organizations (quoted in Judd and Dulnuan, 2001).

Women’s legal capacity to borrow and obtain loans is explicitly recognized in the Women in Development Act (sec. 5(1)). The Act also states that women have “equal access to all government and private sector programmes granting agricultural credit, loans and non-materials resources” (sec. 5(2)). The Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 includes a “declaration of policy” on credit, under which the state is to promote access to credit for farmers and fishers, “particularly the women involved in the production, processing and trading of agriculture and fisheries products” (sec. 20).

Special training programmes for women planned and implemented by the Department of Agriculture are provided for by section 107 of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997. While women’s participation in vocational courses is substantial (53.4 percent in 1990), courses in agriculture-related disciplines remain dominated by men (United Nations, 1995).

As for marketing support services, the relevant “declaration of policy” of the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 mandates the state to provide farmers and fishers, “particularly women”, with “timely, accurate and responsive business information and efficient trading services” (sec. 38).

Under the Social Security Act of 1997, self employed persons, including farmers and fishers, are covered by the mandatory scheme of the Social Security System (sec. 9(A)).

Finally, under the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act of 1997, the state must institutionalize a Social Reform Agenda (SRA) inter alia pursuing a gender responsive approach to poverty alleviation (secs. 2(3) and 2(4)(f)). Sector-specific programmes must address the needs of disadvantaged groups, including women, through a Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Services (sec. 4(2)(6)). The Act establishes a National Anti-Poverty Commission under the Office of the President, as a co-ordinating and advisory body for the implementation of the SRA; members of the Commission include a representative of women (secs. 5 and 6(3)(g)). The Act also provides for government financial institutions to set up “special credit windows” targeting the rural poor; these are, “as far as practicable”, to allocate credit to specified groups, including “women in the countryside” (sec. 16).

Box 5. Women’s access to credit in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, women’s access to formal credit is traditionally very low due to women’s lack of collateral (because of their limited land ownership), to a poor banking system network and to cultural stereotypes.

Some NGOs (Grameen Bank and BRAC) have pioneered microcredit programmes targeting women. The government has also adopted microcredit programmes benefiting inter alia women (Rural Poor Programme, in turn divided into foreign-funded components, e.g. Rural Development 12, RD-12; Integrated Development of Rural Women and Children through Co-operatives; etc.). These programmes have been extremely successful in reaching rural women otherwise excluded from formal credit. This was made possible by the devising of institutional and contractual arrangements that have overcome rural women’s major constraints in access to credit. Here are some major features of the credit arrangements of the Grameen Bank:

  • Loans of small amounts, given without collateral requirements and to be repaid with interests (16 percent) in weekly instalments over one year. Repayment is condition for eligibility for further credit.
  • Group loans. This is an institutional arrangement aimed at overcoming the problem of lack of collateral. While loans are granted to individuals, borrowers are gathered in groups of (typically) five members. In case of default of one member, no group member is eligible for further credit; in practice, each member guarantees repayment of loans contracted by other members. In other words, social collateral (peer pressure) substitutes for physical collateral.
  • Self-selection. Borrowers themselves constitute their group, choosing the other members. Given the collective responsibility for repayment, borrowers have an incentive to choose credit-worthy members. This arrangement solves the information asymmetry problem constraining access to credit in rural areas (with banks having little information on borrowers’ creditworthiness), by making use of the (usually more complete) information of other community members.
  • Sequential lending. Loans are initially granted to two members only, and only after they start repayment do other members become eligible for loans. This avoids creating incentives for default (e.g. if all members were to borrow simultaneously, where one member defaults, all other members may deliberately decide to default as they would lose their credit eligibility anyway).
  • Bringing banking to the village. Each bank branch covers 15 to 22 villages, and field workers of the Grameen Bank regularly visit the covered villages.
  • Targeting women. Priority in credit allocation is granted to women. As a result, women constitute 2,268,264 out of the 2,390,810 borrowers (i.e. about 95 percent of the borrowers).
  • Loans are granted under a variety of programmes, each having a different purpose. As for agriculture, programmes include credit to buy agricultural inputs for seasonal cultivation. Moreover, common loan uses include the purchase of livestock (milk cows, goats, etc.).

There is wide consensus on the positive impact of these programmes on the income-generating activities of rural women. However, some criticism has also been raised, including: appropriation of the loans by the husbands of the debtors; elite capture of resources; lack of marketing support; lack of legal assistance to inform women of their rights; etc.

Sources: Baden et al., 1994; Khandker et al., 1995; Goetz, 1996; Ray, 1998; web site of the Grameen Bank,

4.7. The Pacific region

4.7.1. Regional overview

In most Pacific countries, women’s agricultural work is concentrated in subsistence agriculture, small livestock rearing and reef crop fishing. Moreover, women dominate the marketing of agricultural produce in local markets (FAO, 1996). The obstacles encountered by women entrepreneurs include difficulties in obtaining credit, limited access to training, lack of child care facilities, and cultural attitudes on women’s responsibilities (considering women as “support labour” rather than “managers”) (Ritterbush and Pearson, 1988).

Credit legislation is usually gender neutral. For example, qualifications for membership under the 1999 Credit Unions Act of Vanuatu are gender neutral (majority age and qualifications required by the by-laws; section 26); under the same Act, registration is subject to the ascertainment of conditions, which include that “the membership of the proposed credit union is restricted to people who have particular qualifications and a common bond exists between those members”; the non-exhaustive list of possible qualifications (living or working in a particular area, undertaking a particular occupation, etc.) is gender neutral (sec. 9). The terminology adopted in the Act is non-discriminatory; for instance, pronouns referring to a member are in both genders (“his or her”; see section 32). In some Pacific states, women’s participation in credit unions is substantial. In the Solomon Islands, for instance, women make up 40 percent of credit union membership (Fong and Perrett, 1991).

As for training, the Vanuatu National Training Council Act of 1999 provides for women’s representation in several training-related institutions. The Council must include a representative of the Minister responsible for women’s affairs and a representative of the Vanuatu National Council of Women, and at least two members of the Council must be women (sec. 6(2) and (3)). A representative of the Minister responsible for women’s affairs and a representative of the Vanuatu National Council of Women must also be included in the membership of the Consultative Council advising the Council (sec. 13(4)).

4.7.2. Fiji

In Fiji, women farmers dominate the cultivation of some crops (e.g. vanilla). Women farmers also cultivate sugar cane (the major export crop), but face greater difficulties than men due to their additional domestic responsibilities and to their lack of access to credit (FAO, 1996). The constraints met by Fijian women self employed farmers are mainly of a non-legal nature.

The Co-operative Societies Act of 1947 is gender neutral. However, only 4 percent of the registered cooperatives are operated by women (GoF, 1999).

No de jure discrimination exists with regard to access to credit. The Money Lenders Act, the Banking Act of 1995 and the Fiji Development Bank Act of 1996 are gender neutral, and men and women alike may obtain credit from the Fiji Development Bank and from commercial financial institutions. However, major obstacles hinder women’s access to credit. Socio-cultural stereotypes prevent women from exercising entrepreneurial activities, and women’s lack of collateral damages their creditworthiness. Banks often require husbands to act as loan guarantors before granting loans to women. Moreover, rural women lack information on available credit programmes. As a result, women obtained only 11.4 percent (as exclusive borrowers) and 14 percent (as joint borrowers) of the loans granted in 1993 (United Nations, 1997; GoF, 1999).

As for training and education, the right of every person to equal access to educational institutions is recognized in the Constitution (sec. 39). However, technical and vocational courses are in practice dominated by men; some training institutions are not open to women (GoF, 1999). On the other hand, the situation is slowly changing: in 1985, no woman was enrolled in the vocational course in agriculture; in 1995, women constituted 20 percent of the students enrolled in the Diploma in Tropical Agriculture (United Nations, 1997).

Under the Married Women’s Property Act of 1892 (Cap 37), a married woman is entitled to hold and dispose of her separate property, including “any wages, earnings, money and property gained or acquired by her in any employment, trade or occupation in which she is engaged or carries on separately from her husband” (sec. 4).

At policy and programme level, the Ministry for Women and Culture established in 1993 a Women’s Social and Economic Development Programme (WOSED) to promote and support women’s income-generating activities, including through subsidised credit. About 70 percent of the loans requested under this programme are for agriculture-related activities. Scarce resources and lack of information on the programme (especially among the poorest rural communities) are the main constraints on the operation of the WOSED. A Micro-Finance Co-ordinating Unit was also established in 1999 within the Ministry for Finance (GoF, 1999).

4.8. Europe

4.8.1. Regional overview

The ECHR protects rights relevant for self employment activities, such as freedom of association (art. 11). The European Social Charter, as revised, recognises the right of everyone to “appropriate facilities for vocational training”.

As for EU law, Directive 86/613 of 1986 prohibits non-discrimination on the basis of sex in the exercise of self employment activities (art. 1). The Directive explicitly includes farmers (art. 2(a)), as well as their spouses participating in their self employment activities (art. 2(b)). The non-discrimination principle applies to the establishment, equipment or extension of any form of self employment activity (art. 4). Moreover, member states must “examine whether, and under what conditions, female self employed workers and the wives of self employed workers may, during interruptions in their occupational activity owing to pregnancy or motherhood, have access to services supplying temporary replacements or existing national social services, or be entitled to cash benefits under a social security scheme or under any other public social protection system” (art. 8).

4.8.2. Italy

The Italian Constitution guarantees the freedom of private economic activities (art. 41), and states that the law is to assist small and medium sized farms (art. 44). While no explicit reference to gender is made in these articles, the non-discrimination principle stated in article 3 applies. The principle of gender equality with specific regard to the exercise of self employment agricultural activities is stated in EU Directive 86/613 of 1986 (see above).

Italy has a vast legislation concerning agricultural self employment activities which are mainly based on family labour, entitling family farms (“coltivatori diretti”) to a special legal protection (e.g. under Law 203 of 1982). This legislation is gender neutral (although the terminology used is masculine: e.g. “coltivatore diretto”). To qualify as “coltivatore diretto”, the labour of the farmer and that of his/her family members must amount to at least a third of the total labour employed; for the purposes of this calculation, the principle of equality of men’s and women’s work is explicitly affirmed, thus rejecting the idea that the value of the work carried out is differentiated according to sex due to biological differences (Law 203 of 1982, art. 6). With regard to mezzadria (i.e. sharecropping) contracts, the Constitutional Court recognized the equal value of men’s and women’s work in its judgement 149 of 1973.

Family agricultural undertakings used to be regulated by local customs, which were referred to by article 2140 of the Civil Code. Under these customs, family undertakings were hierarchical and male-dominated structures. Article 2140 has been repealed, and family undertakings are now governed by article 230bis of the Civil Code (inserted by Law 151 of 1975) and by article 48 of Law 203 (1982). Under article 230bis, the spouse working in the family undertaking has the right to participate in profits (rather than receiving a wage) and in decision-making (according to democratic majority rules), and the right to a payment (“liquidazione”) upon cessation of his/her activity. Women’s work is explicitly recognized as having the same value as the work of men. Under article 48 of Law 203 (1982), agrarian contracts are concluded by the family undertaking, and all family members respond for the legal obligations contracted on the basis of a democratic decision-making process. This norm implicitly abrogates article 2150 of the Civil Code, which granted the mezzadro the right to represent and contract obligations for the whole family.

The norms on companies (Civil Code, arts. 2247-2510) and on cooperatives (Civil Code; Decree 1577 of 1947, as amended; and Law 59 of 1992) are gender neutral. Cooperative membership rules are to be determined by the statute of the cooperative (Civil Code, art. 2518(7)). Self employed women working in the family undertaking have the right to represent the undertaking in the cooperatives or other associations of which it is member (Law 903 of 1977, art. 14).

Italian legislation places particular emphasis on the promotion of women’s self employment activities. Law 215 of 1992 envisages affirmative action in favour of women entrepreneurs. It promotes the start-up and development of individual enterprises managed by women, of cooperatives and unlimited responsibility companies in which 60 percent of the partners are women, and of limited responsibility companies where two-thirds of the capital quotas are held by women and two-thirds of the managers are women (arts. 1 and 2). The law covers several sectors, including the agricultural sector (art. 2). It establishes a National Fund for the Development of Women’s Entrepreneurship and provides for tax credits and subsidised credit. The regulations for the implementation of this law, particularly with regard to the provision of funding and the determination of the criteria for access to funds, were adopted in 1996 (Regulation 706 of 1996 and Ministerial Decree of 20.12.1996); the implementing norms are currently contained in Regulation 314 of 2000 and Ministerial Decree of 2.2.2001. Funding under other laws not specifically targeting women has also been used for affirmative action programmes, particularly under Laws 662 of 1996 and 266 of 1997, concerning credit incentives for small and medium enterprises. However, funding remains limited and procedures complex and costly; only 17 percent of the applications under Law 215 (1992) obtain access to funds. Campaigns to disseminate information on this legislation were undertaken (through the broadcasting of TV advertisements, the establishment of a toll free telephone line, etc.) (GoIt, 1999). Ministerial Decree 31.2.2002 approved the funding of projects under Law 215 (1992); several projects concern the agricultural sector (e.g. in the Abruzzo, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia and Valle d’Aosta regions and in the Trento and Bolzano autonomous provinces).

As for credit legislation, rural credit is governed by general credit laws, which are gender neutral[53]. As for education and training, the choice of school curricula reflects a gender division of roles. Within secondary professional education, agrarian institutes are mainly attended by men (while women dominate e.g. schools on tourism and social services). Action has been taken at administrative/institutional level, e.g. through the establishment, in 1989, of a National Equal Opportunity Commission within the Ministry for Education (GoIt, 1999). Women-targeted training projects in the (economically depressed) South have been implemented by the government, with funding provided through EU funds (GoIt, 1999).

Maternity protection for women agricultural entrepreneurs, women-headed family farms (coltivatrici dirette) and women sharecroppers (mezzadre and colone) is envisaged by Law 546 of 1987 and by articles 66 to 69 of Legislative Decree 151 (2001). Under these norms, maternity benefits are paid for five months (two before and two after childbirth) by the social security institution (INPS). Their amount is equivalent to 80 percent of the minimum wage for permanent agricultural workers.

As for institutional mechanisms, Decree 19.2.1997 established within the Ministry for Equal Opportunities a Commission for the promotion and development of women’s entrepreneurial activities, and an Observatory on Women’s Entrepreneurship to monitor existing legislation, to foster networks and to create a “laboratory of good practices”. Decree of 13 October 1997, adopted by the Minister for Agriculture (now Ministry for Agricultural and Forest Policies), established a National Observatory on Women’s Entrepreneurship and Work in Agriculture to monitor women’s economic activities, collect data and formulate policies and strategies (GoIt, 1999).

4.9. Conclusion

This chapter has identified the main factors constraining the exercise of self employment agricultural activities by rural women. Some of these factors relate to directly or indirectly discriminatory norms. As for direct discrimination, family law norms may require the consent of the husband for women’s taking up of an occupation (e.g. in some Mexican states), and may limit women’s ability to carry out self employed activities by vesting exclusive family property administration with the husband (e.g. in some Latin American states). Norms limiting the legal capacity of married women may be embodied also in other branches of law (e.g. the Commercial Code in Chile; before the 2000 reform, the Code of Obligations and Contracts in Tunisia). As for indirect discrimination, legislation on cooperatives may include requirements for cooperative membership that, while not mentioning women directly, create disadvantages for them indirectly (especially with regard to land ownership).

However, to a greater extent than natural resource and labour rights, the rights of women agricultural entrepreneurs are mainly affected by socio-economic and cultural factors, rather than by formal legislation. Thus, legislation on training, credit, agricultural extension and marketing services rarely discriminates against women or even mentions them explicitly. Yet women’s access to these services is in many countries hindered by socio-economic factors (e.g. women’s lack of collateral for credit due to their little access to land titles and formal employment) and by cultural factors (e.g. perceptions on women’s role in the family and in society; female seclusion and other practices restricting interactions between persons of different sex). Discriminatory cultural attitudes are often internalized by women themselves, who may for instance refrain from applying for credit (as documented e.g. for Brazil and Fiji). As a result, public programmes supporting agriculture through the provision of credit, agricultural extension and marketing services have tended to benefit mainly men (e.g. Brazil and Tunisia). Under these circumstances, gender neutral legislation does not seem to adequately address gender issues. Indeed, explicit prohibitions of sex/gender discrimination and special measures to advance women are necessary to achieve de facto gender equality.

In several countries, action has been taken to support and promote women agricultural entrepreneurs. Such action has been taken at different levels. First, at legislative level, explicit prohibitions of discrimination and/or statements of gender equality in relation to the exercise of self employed activities are for instance embodied in EU legislation, in South Africa (e.g. with regard to credit), and in the Philippines (with regard to contractual capacity, credit, etc.). Affirmative action laws have also been adopted, providing for fiscal and other incentives for women entrepreneurs (e.g. Italy). Second, at policy level, development and gender related plans have envisaged activities to promote women entrepreneurs e.g. by improving their access to training and credit (Tunisia and India). Third, at programme level, public programmes targeting women or reserving resources for women with regard to training, credit and extension services have been adopted (Brazil, India and the Philippines); moreover, programmes providing services through institutional devices designed to overcome the obstacles faced by women have been set up (e.g. microcredit schemes in Bangladesh). Fourth, at institutional level, gender related measures have been enacted with regard to the composition and activities of sectoral institutions (e.g. training institutions in South Africa); moreover, gender-specific institutions have been set up within ministries for agriculture and/or within its departments, particularly those responsible for training and agricultural extension (e.g. Burkina Faso, Italy and Tunisia).

Table 8. The rights of self employed rural women

Relevant civil law (family, contract, etc.)

Cooperatives and associations





Social security (including maternity protection)

Other legislation on rural development







Burkina Faso








































South Africa
















GN = Gender-neutral / non-discriminatory

ND = Non-discrimination / equal-rights principle explicitly stated

SM = Special measures to advance women

J/D = De jure direct discrimination

J/I = De jure indirect discrimination

F = De facto discrimination reported in the literature reviewed

Where two or more acronyms are included, they refer to different aspects of relevant legislation and/or to a gap between law.

[48] Access to training is mainly dealt with in this chapter, except for norms explicitly referring to training within the context of employment relations (embodied e.g. in labour laws), which were covered in chapter III.
[49] A classic study on this issue, with particular regard to Peru, is De Soto (1989).
[50] The work by Barsted (2002) provided useful guidance in the writing of this paragraph.
[51] Only in 1997 was the Constitution amended to include sex as prohibited ground in the general affirmation of the principle of non-discrimination.
[52] The entire Act will be replaced by the Agricultural Debt Management Act of 2001, which is to come into effect on a date to be determined by the minister.
[53] Rural credit used to be governed by a specific law (Law 1760 of 1928), but this was repealed by Legislative Decree 385 of 1993 (art. 161).

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