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المنتدى العالمي المعني بالأمن الغذائي والتغذية

Re: Transforming gender relations in agriculture through women’s empowerment: benefits, challenges and trade-offs for improving nutrition outcomes

Santosh Kumar Mishra
Santosh Kumar MishraPopulation Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work, S. N. D. T. Women's University, Mumbai, IndiaIndia

Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

E – Discussion No. 130: Transforming gender relations in agriculture through women’s empowerment: benefits, challenges and trade-offs for improving nutrition outcomes [1]

Contributor: Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra [2]

[1]: Comments submitted on July 21, 2016, 2016 to [email protected]

[2]: Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra (Ph. D.), Technical Assistant, Population Education Resource Centre (PERC), Department of Continuing and Adult Education and Extension Work (DCAEEW), S. N. D. T. Women's University (SNDTWU), Patkar Hall Building, First Floor, 1, Nathibai Thackerey Road, Mumbai-400020, Maharashtra, India 

Note: Views expressed below are of the contributor (in individual capacity) AND NOT of the PERC, DCAEEW, SNDTWU (the contributor is employed with presently) 

  1. How far can policy recognition of women’s roles and contributions to agriculture lead to strengthening women’s agency, empowerment and in turn nutritional outcomes?

During end of previous decade, there has been growing recognition of the fact that developmental initiatives, particularly in the developed world, has led to considerable changes in women’s position in the society. This recognition was pushed by certain crucial underlying social and technological changes, as well as a liberalized political environment. Women were part of a rapid increase in the extent and quality of education. In the United States, the civil rights movement, affirmative action, and consciousness−raising resulted in a political renaissance for both black people and women. Access to higher education and training, as one direct result, improved the bargaining position of black and white women in the job market. This emancipation led to, and was supported by, important changes in societies’ attitudes. This was followed by reforms in policy and legislation aimed at strengthening women’s contribution to betterment of nutritional outcomes.

The major changes, as outlined above, provided women particularly in the wealthiest societies, with almost similar social, political and economic rights to those of men in these countries. Although further progress is still to be made, by the 1980’s women were increasingly seen as nearly equal partners in the workforce at all levels of developed society. This liberation movement, evolving at different rates in various countries, was an important factor in the global concern for issues affecting women, with a leading role coming to be played by the United Nations. With advances in industrialized societies under way, the position of women in developing countries, and the equally compelling case for concern for their position, came increasingly to the fore. The changes in developed societies in favour of women’s status were seen almost universally as signs of progress in society, beneficial not only to women, but to communities as a whole.

Programs intended to improve nutritional conditions for women and their families can be more successfully designed and implemented if there is a greater understanding and awareness of the specific roles that women play. This is because of the fact that women’s status and their health (and nutrition) are intricately entwined. Thus, in order to ensure any meaningful improvement, one must first deal with those ways in which health and nutrition of a woman are affected adversely by the existing social, cultural and economical systems. A sound nutrition program needs to go beyond the provision of health and nutrition services. Also, there is need to recognize that nutritional problems often have their origins in social and economic systems, and that these problems can be solved only by bringing about changes in these systems, particularly at household level. Further, women’s access to productive resources affects food availability at the household level. Increased access to productive resources itself can be an outcome of many complex interrelated factors such as:

  • increased income and more importantly increased control over it (both women’s income and total household income);
  • enhanced educational opportunities, social knowledge and decision-making power;
  • increased time available and devoted to productive tasks; as well as
  • enhanced efficiency of production.

Source: United Nations (October, 1990). Women and Nutrition – Nutrition Policy discussion paper No. 6. Switzerland: ACC/SCN, c/o World Health Organization., accessed on July 22, 2016. 

  1. Are there experiences/strategies that can help address the issue of women’s time?
  1. Examples demonstrating the impact of the reduction or redistribution of unpaid care work on nutritional outcomes in agricultural households.

Unpaid care work is a critical - yet largely unseen - dimension of human well- being that provides essential domestic services within households, for other households and to community members. ‘Unpaid’ means that the person doing the activity does not receive a wage and that the work, because it falls outside the production boundary in the, is not counted in GDP (gross domestic product) calculations. ‘Care’ means that the activity serves people and their well-being, and includes both personal care and care - related activities, such as cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. The term ‘work’ implies that the activity entails expenditures of time and energy. “Unpaid care work” is also referred to as ‘domestic’ work in order to distinguish it from market - based work.


Source: Falth, Anna; and Balackden, Mark (October, 2009). Policy Brief: Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction. United Nations Development Program (UNDP)., accessed on July 22, 2016. 

From a human rights perspective, social protection programs should recognize the role of women as caregivers and the burden that this role can create. For example, when women are made responsible for complying with conditions attached to participation in a conditional cash transfer (CCT) program (for example, taking children to medical check-ups or ensuring they go to school) or when they are required to travel (sometimes long distances) to collect the benefits or to participate in various stages of the program, their domestic unpaid workload increases. If this is not expressly addressed in the program design, the increased burden on women may further undermine their own welfare disincentivizing them from participating in the program. Sometimes, programs that have not been designed with women’s care responsibilities in mind can even have a detrimental impact on girls’ schooling. For example, when as program moves on, the time the mother spends away from home, girls are then required to assume their mother’s responsibilities such as cooking or collecting water.

Source: Social Protection Human Rights (2015). Care responsibilities and unpaid care work. Social Protection Human Rights., , accessed on July 22, 2016.

In the context of unpaid care work, there are policies to enhance female labor force participation and gender equity in various parts of the globe. Following example from Brazil demonstrates the impact of the reduction or redistribution of unpaid care work on overall gender equity and agricultural households:

Over the past two decades, Brazil’s female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) increased by more than 15 percentage points to almost 60 percent, with the increase mainly driven by married women and women with children. Brazilian women are now more educated than men, with tertiary education participation exceeding male participation. However, the gender gap in labor force participation remains at a high 21 percentage points, women are 9 percent more likely than men to live in poverty, and women face significant earnings gaps. Brazil is ranked eighth out of 86 countries in the 2012 Social Institution and Gender Index (SIGI), which comprises five dimensions of social institutions to promote gender equality.

Brazil has implemented following targeted reforms to remove restrictions in access to resources and entitlements for women:

  • The National Documentation Program for Rural Women Workers helps rural female workers obtain the necessary documentation to get access to land, credit and government services, which resulted in an increase in the share of women who own land titles from 13 to 56 percent between 2003 and 2007.
  • The Bolsa Familia direct cash transfer program was launched in 2003 as a merger of the federal government’s existing conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs and covered around one fourth of Brazil’s population by 2007. Building on studies that show that increasing women’s share in household income raises the share of resources spent on family well-being, this program distributes most of its payments directly to women. The program has increased women’s financial independence (SIGI, 2012) and has also had a positive effect on women’s labor force participation.
  • In 2004, the authorities adopted the National Plan for Women’s Policies to address specific needs of mothers, including health care during pregnancy, as well as child care and education.
  • Brazil’s maternity benefits policies include 120 days of paid leave at 100 percent of their salary, which is paid by the employer but reimbursed by Brazil’s Social Security Institute. An additional 60 days allowance that can be provided by employers is tax-deductible.
  • In the year 2003, the authorities introduced the Pronaf-Mulher credit line targeting women in rural areas. As a result, women’s credit share in rural development financing programs increased by some 15 percent between 2001 and 2006 to almost 26 percent.

Source: Elborgh-Woytek, Katrin, et al. (September, 2013). Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains From Gender Equity. International Monetary Fund (IMF)., accessed on July 22, 2016.

  1. Do men, community/state institutions take responsibility for the care of young children, especially during peak cultivation seasons when women’s labour is much needed?

This question has no standard answer. In some settings, community takes responsibility to some extent. It all depends upon type of family, nuclear or joint, and the level of responsibility assigned to each family member. Another contributing factor is value system. For example, in to understand Southeast Asian parenting and child-rearing practices, one must first understand the cultural values and beliefs that influence parents, especially regarding family life and interpersonal relationships.

  1. How rigid or flexible are social norms when it comes to issues of survival?

This question has no standard answer. In some settings, social norms are rigid and vice-versa. There are let of variations in the context of type of society, rural-urban differences, type of value system, geographical region, etc. But as the time goes on, on finds variations in flexibility of social norms.  

  1. Are you aware of changes in gender divisions of work, roles/responsibilities in contexts of change (eg: shifts in cropping patterns, technical innovations, the loss of ecosystem services, social and political conflict)? How is the contribution of men to household nutrition changing?

Differences between men and women with respect to dietary intakes and eating behaviours have been reported and could be explained by gender differences in motivational variables associated with the regulation of food intake.

  1. What is the link between dietary diversity, women’s engagement with agriculture, and access to ecosystem services?

Broad-based agricultural growth has been shown to be effective in reducing poverty. However, increases in agricultural productivity do not translate directly into improved health and nutrition outcomes. A broad body of literature demonstrates that the linkages between agriculture, health, and nutrition are dynamic and multifaceted. Production-oriented projects that ignore the nutritional quality of food produced, potential trade-offs between crops for food and other uses, the health impacts of pesticide exposure, and a range of other health and nutrition outcomes stand to have little  - potentially even negative - impact on the well -being of the rural poor. With the increasing recognition that agricultural growth and development do not necessarily translate into improved nutrition outcomes, policymakers are increasingly grappling with how to design and implement agricultural policies and programs that can also achieve nutritional objectives. Agriculture has direct links to nutrition in the sense that it provides a source of food and nutrients and a broad-based source of income, as well as directly influencing food prices.

Further, with the increasing recognition that agricultural growth and development do not necessarily translate into improved nutrition outcomes, policymakers are increasingly grappling with how to design and implement agricultural policies and programs that can also achieve nutritional objectives. Agriculture has direct links to nutrition in that it provides a source of food and nutrients and a broad-based source of income, as well as directly influencing food prices. Gender roles mediate these linkages, particularly in relation to increased food availability and increased income. Thus, one possible pathway through which agricultural development could improve health and nutrition outcomes is by considering gender roles and gender equity in agriculture.

Source: Malapit, Hazel Jean L., et al. (December, 2013). Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture, Production Diversity, and Nutrition: Evidence from Nepal (IFPRI Discussion Paper 01313). Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)., accessed on July 22, 2016.

  1. For Afghanistan, we want to capture experiences about women’s roles in agriculture and agribusiness value chains in order to shape policies and interventions to recognise and support women’s contribution to livelihood security.

Following experience can be quoted as guiding principle on women’s roles in agriculture for Afghanistan:

Rural Women’s Project: In Tanzania, agriculture is the largest and most important sector of the economy. Majority of the country’s population which lives in rural areas relies heavily on agriculture. The sector accounts for about half of the national income, three quarters of merchandise exports and is source of food and provides employment opportunities to about 80 percent of Tanzanians. Agriculture also has linkages with the non-farm sect ors through forward linkages to agro-processing; consumption and export; provides raw materials to industries; and a market for manufactured goods. Consequently, agriculture has a pivotal role in economic growth, and is directly linked with sustainable development and poverty reduction. Gender differences are a significant attribute in agriculture, from access, control and ownership of land to marketing of raw and processed produce. In Tanzania, despite constitutional proclamations of gender equality and many laws that promote equal opportunities for both men and women, it remains the case that on both smallholder farms and large plantations, men and women carry out different types of work, have different levels of access to resources, and are unequally rewarded for their contributions to the agricultural system, with women typically having less access and lower incomes.  Among the CARE’s mandate in various countries in Africa is to promote gender equity, women’s empowerment, productive and sustainable agriculture, market engagement, and environmental change. The newly defined overarching goal of CARE Tanzania states that “CARE Tanzania and allies will contribute to the empowerment of the most marginalized and vulnerable rural women and girls to exercise their rights. This will enable them to achieve access to, and control over quality services and resources, leading to sustainable livelihoods”.

In order to support the goal, CARE Tanzania, is launching a major initiative targeting ‘Women and Agriculture (WAA)’ in Southern Tanzania, that will promote pro-poor and gender sensitive approach to economic development and management of natural resources. The initiative aims to achieve more productive and equitable participation of rural women in the agriculture sector, focusing on smallholders.

The proposed WAA program will address CARE’s long-term goal of promoting impact groups including the most marginalized and vulnerable women and girls dependent on natural resources in areas with severe environmental restrictions. As a result, the impact groups will have built their resilience, diversified their livelihood strategies, addressed equitable access to, and control over resources, and benefiting from natural resources. The program’s geographic area of focus is Mtwara and Lindi Regions. The two regions are characterized by:

  • relatively poor infrastructural links,
  • varied and vast undeveloped terrain,
  • erratic weather conditions,
  • high level of poverty,
  • food insecurity,
  • cultural dynamics,
  • high illiteracy, and
  • maternal mortality rates.

Source: Care Tanzania: Women and Agricultural Project., accessed on July 22, 2016.