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المنتدى العالمي المعني بالأمن الغذائي والتغذية

Re: Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts

Libor Stloukal

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to contribute to Question 1 by focusing on a particular "challenge": the feminization of agriculture.

“Feminization of agriculture” denotes a trend whereby women’s participation in the agricultural sector is increasing. In developing countries, the process has been observed since the 1960s and linked to fundamental changes in rural economies driven by factors such as failed liberalization policies, globalization of agri-food systems, and reduced male populations as a result of outmigration and excess male mortality (due to diseases, accidents or armed conflicts).

While signs that the agricultural sector is “feminizing” are evident in many countries, the process is in fact very hard to assess rigorously, because quantitative data available from censuses and sample surveys often fail to capture the full range of activities in which rural women and men engage, including secondary and seasonal work.

In December 2016, FAO and the World Bank published a research paper that assesses available evidence about the feminization of agriculture (https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/25099). The paper finds that the share of women in agricultural employment is increasing in all developing regions except for East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

In sub-Saharan Africa, women have traditionally been heavily engaged in agriculture. Currently, the average share of women in agriculture in the region is 47 percent, but it reaches well over 50 percent in many sub-Saharan countries. While women’s employment rates in the agricultural sector have not changed significantly in the last few decades, their roles and responsibilities may be changing – e.g. from subsistence farming to wage employment, and from contributing household members to primary producers. However, these changes are hard to detect from the data currently available.

In the rest of the developing world, women’s employment in agriculture relative to that of men is on the rise. The change in women’s role appears to be most dramatic in Near East and North Africa. In the Near East, the share of women in agricultural employment has almost doubled since 1990. In North Africa, it has increased from 25 percent to more than 30 percent in the same period.

Women’s share in agriculture employment is rising also in South Asia and the Central and Eastern (non-EU) Europe and the Commonwealth of the Independent States. More remarkable than the regional averages are the trends in some countries. For example, the share of women in the agricultural workforce in Bangladesh has risen from 50 percent in 1990 to 66 percent; in Nepal, from slightly more than half in 1990 to 60 percent in recent years; and in Afghanistan and Pakistan from slightly more than 15 percent in 1990 to 21 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

Even in Latin America, where farming has traditionally been a male occupation, the share of women in agricultural employment is increasing. For example, in both Colombia and Panama, few women were employed in agriculture in 1990, but in both countries their share has increased to more than 20 percent in recent years. In Ecuador and Paraguay, the share has more than doubled – from slightly more than 15 percent in 1990 to 32 percent and 37 percent respectively in recent years. In Peru, the increase has been from about one-third to almost 40 percent.

As already mentioned, East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Pacific are the only developing regions in which the share of women in agricultural employment is currently not increasing. This is not surprising, given that women already form near to, or even more than, 50 percent of the agricultural workforce in this part of the world.

What causes the feminization of agriculture? According to the FAO-World Bank paper, male outmigration from rural areas and the growth of commercial farming are among the key factors driving women’s increasing employment in agriculture, along with agro-technological change, conflicts, and climate change.

Is the feminization of agriculture contributing to rural women’s empowerment? Unfortunately, it seems that in many rural settings women’s growing labour force participation does not necessarily translate into an improvement in their employment status relative to men, or in their well-being. Further research is urgently needed to understand to what extent and under what conditions women’s expanding roles in agriculture actually lead to welfare improvements and a greater gender equality in access to resources and human capital. FAO is working to expand available knowledge on the linkages between feminization of agriculture and women's empowerment. In doing so, we hope to increase understanding of rural transformation processes in individual countries and strengthen the evidence base for agricultural policies and programmes.

Libor Stloukal, on behalf of the gender team in FAO