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Several contributors to this forum have highlighted that one of the critical constraint that rural women face is the huge burden of unpaid care work.
A significant part of that burden results from women’s role as mothers – or, to put it demographically, their fertility. As societies modernize, they typically undergo a profound demographic transformation in the form of significant declines in fertility (as well as mortality) from the high rates characteristic of pre-modern and low-income societies to the low rates characteristic of advanced, industrialized societies. Demographers call this process the demographic transition (and there is a huge amount of literature available about it). What drives the demographic transition is typically a combination of factors, including: an overall improvement in the standards of living, better nutrition and sanitation, progress in health care and medical service provision, the emancipation of women, a declining role of the family as the unit of production, diminishing economic and social advantages of larger families, and (in some countries) explicit family planning programmes.
One of the key effects of demographic transition is that in post-transitional regimes, childbearing and childcare occupy a much smaller portion of women’s lives than in transitional settings. In addition to direct health benefits for women (e.g. reduced rates of maternal mortality and other pregnancy-related health risks), declining fertility tends to lessen the conflict between domestic and non-domestic responsibilities, with the consequence that women are becoming better able to access educational and employment opportunities outside the domestic sphere. Having fewer children also allows women to maintain continuity of employment, which may have significant positive implications for their earnings and occupational choices, as well as employers’ willingness to hire and train them. Furthermore, formal employment usually gives women some measure of control over self-earned income, thereby increasing their self-esteem. And by becoming contributors to a joint household income pool, women may gain a stronger intra-household bargaining power and a greater say in household decisions.
However, the demographic transition does not automatically lead to improvements in gender equality and women’s empowerment. While fertility declines make it generally easier for women to participate in non-domestic activities, they often continue to have primary responsibility for the domestic tasks. As the demographic transition progresses, women may become increasingly confronted with a growing “double burden”: they are not only expected to fulfil usual “female” roles – that is, bear and rear children, care for other dependents in the household, carry out day-to-day household tasks, and work in the informal context of smallholder agriculture – but also perform well in a formal occupation outside the household.
Moreover, in many settings, women have traditionally earned their social status through the children they have reared, and there may be a significant time lag between the fertility decline and a shift in societal perceptions towards greater acknowledgment of women’s occupational and income-earning roles. Thus, women may lose the basis of status that motherhood once gave them, without acquiring a standing equal to men in the labour force.
I would like to conclude by saying that policy-makers and rural development practitioners should pay close attention to population trends and be prepared to implement appropriate measures to maximize the potential gender equality benefits of the demographic transition. In general, the demographic transition can foster a reordering of gender relations and a more equal distribution of roles and responsibilities between women and men. But the degree to which this potential is actually realized depends greatly on the existing socio-economic, cultural and political context. Conditioning factors include such things as the economic health of the society; availability and nature of employment opportunities outside the domestic sphere; availability and quality of publicly provided social services; cultural norms and practices; and the distribution of power and resources within the household. Many of these contextual factors are open to policy intervention.
Libor Stloukal, member of the gender team in FAO
When we contemplate about how to best achieve gender transformative impacts (Question 3 of this Forum), we should not forget about agricultural policies.
Agricultural policies are powerful instruments for directing rural development. As such, they have a strong comparative advantage to close the gender gap in rural societies. Specifically, they help to regulate – and therefore can improve – the conditions under which rural women access productive resources (such as land and water), rural services (such as rural finance, rural infrastructure, rural advisory services, etc.), economic opportunities (jobs, markets) and critical institutions (such as producer organizations, agricultural committees, etc.). Indirectly, agricultural policies can also affect the decision-making within rural household and communities, for instance by providing sector-wide incentives to register land in women’s names, let women and girls participate in farmers’ trainings, create cooperatives and start enterprises, etc.
It is a regrettable reality that agricultural policies often remain gender-blind. Let me use CAADP as an example. Numerous CAADP representatives and official documents have emphasized that gender should not just be a paragraph in the plans, but should be included in every stage of the CAADP process. And yet a 2011 review by ActionAid of CAADP country plans for Nigeria, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and Zambia found “a persistent failure to identify and prioritise the needs, constraints, and opportunities of women farmers” (see http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/making_caadp_work_for_wom..., page 11). I believe such a gap between policy rhetoric and policy reality can be found in many other countries around the world.
So what can we do to make agricultural policies work for women farmers? Several lines of action come to mind:
- Increase the availability of sex-disaggregated data on agriculture, to improve knowledge about the magnitude of gender gaps and provide firmer evidence-base for policy formulation and monitoring.
- Sensitize agricultural policy-makers to the needs and capacities of rural women, and build their confidence for the formulation and implementation of policies to address gender inequalities in agriculture. Policy-makers must understand also rural men's concerns, if policy change is to be effective.
- Analyze agricultural policies from the gender perspective, to identify gaps, inconsistencies and possible entry points for improvement.
- Collect and disseminate good practices in gender-sensitive policy-making, and learn from examples of agricultural policies that have measurably improved women’s well-being.
- Enhance the participation of rural women in agriculture-related policy processes, so that their voices can be heard and their preferences duly reflected in policy documents.
- Promote policy dialogues among various stakeholders (including CSOs, producer organizations, the private sector, among others), as well as south-south exchanges of policy experiences and ideas.
- Help to ensure that agricultural policy-makers are mandated to address rural gender inequalities, held to account for undertaking specific gender-related actions, and assessed on their achievements. Mandates and accountability give teeth to policy initiatives.
If I may, I would like to add that in FAO we are developing what we call the Gender in Agricultural Policies Assessment Tool (GAPo). The GAPo aims to provide policy makers with practical, evidence-based guidance for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in agricultural policies, with a view to achieving the new Sustainable Development Agenda 2030. It allows stakeholders involved in policy formulation processes to analyze and assess the gender equality gaps in national agricultural policies and identify concrete solutions to address those gaps. As a policy tool, the GAPo:
- promotes a participatory approach to policy analysis, with particular focus on facilitating an open dialogue among representatives of key government bodies, civil society organizations, producer associations, the private sector, and the academia;
- places special emphasis on those policy areas that have the strongest potential to influence rural women’s livelihoods, including: access to productive resources, employment, markets, financial services, research, rural advisory services, and rural organizations;
- recognizes that within each key policy area, gender equality should be considered at all stages of the policy cycle: policy formulation, definition of policy goals and impact indicators, budgeting, capacity development of relevant actors, monitoring and evaluation, and policy adaptation.
FAO has already piloted the GAPo in Ghana and Kyrgyzstan and our experiences indicate that the tool can be quite effective in helping national stakeholders to understand how agricultural policies affect rural women and what kind of policy action may be needed to make existing policies more gender sensitive. We hope to be able to make the GAPo publicly available very soon.
Libor Stloukal, member of the gender team in FAO
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