Gender

Why gender ::: Key facts

Women in agriculture and rural areas have one thing in common across regions: they have less access than men to productive resources and opportunities.

The gender gap exists for many assets, inputs and services, including land, livestock, labour, education, extension and financial services, and technology. It imposes costs not only on women themselves, but on the agriculture sector, the broader economy and society as a whole.

Closing the gender gap in agriculture would generate significant gains for the agriculture sector and for society. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent.

Female farmers are just as efficient as male farmers but they produce less because they control less land, use fewer inputs and have less access to important services such as extension advice.

When women control additional income, they spend more of it than men do on food, health, clothing and education for their children. This has positive implications for immediate well-being, long-run human capital formation and economic growth through improved health, nutrition and education outcomes.

Women are less likely than men to own land or livestock, adopt new technologies, use credit or other financial services, or receive education or extension advice. In some cases, women do not even control the use of their own time.

The vast majority of literature reviewed confirms that women are just as efficient as men and would achieve the same yields if they had equal access to productive resources and services.

Evidence from Africa, Asia and Latin America consistently shows that families benefit when women have greater status and power within the household.

Education

Education

In most regions women and girls still lag behind in education: this is particularly acute in rural areas, where female household heads sometimes have less than half the years of education of their male counterparts.

In almost all countries, female household heads have less education than their male counterparts. And in most developing countries, regardless of region or level of economic development, data suggest that female household heads in rural areas are disadvantaged with respect to human capital accumulation.

Although it has increased substantially in recent decades among both industrialized and developing countries, the number of women working in science and technology research remains low in most countries.

Financial services

Financial services

Smallholders everywhere face constraints in accessing credit and other financial services, but in most countries the share of female smallholders who can access credit is 5–10 percentage points lower than for male smallholders.

Improving women’s direct access to financial resources leads to higher investments in human capital in the form of children’s health, nutrition and education.

Information and extension

Information and extension

Women are much less likely to use purchased inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds or to make use of mechanical tools and equipment. In many countries women are only half as likely as men to use fertilizers.

Extension provision in developing economies remains low for both women and men, and women tend to make less use than men of extension services.3

According to a 1988–89 FAO survey of extension organizations covering 97 countries with sex disaggregated data (the most comprehensive study available) only 5 percent of all extension resources were directed at women. Moreover, only 15 percent of the extension personnel were female.

Land

Land

In developing countries for which data are available, between 10 percent and 20 percent of all land holders are women.

Among smallholders, farms operated by female-headed households are smaller in almost all countries for which data are available. The gap is negligible in some countries, but in others farms operated by female-headed households are only half to two-thirds the size of farms operated by male-headed households.

Women across all developing regions are consistently less likely to own or operate land; they are less likely to have access to rented land, and the land they do have access to is often of poorer quality and in smaller plots.

Livestock

Livestock

The livestock holdings of female farmers are much smaller than those of men in all countries for which data are available, and women earn less than men from their livestock holdings. Women are much less likely to own large animals, such as cattle and oxen that are useful as draught animals.

An estimated two-thirds of poor livestock keepers, totalling approximately 400 million people, are women.

Female-headed households are as successful as male-headed households in generating income from their animals, although they tend to own smaller numbers of animals, probably because of labour constraints.

In specialized livestock activities such as the production of day-old chicks, and in slaughtering, processing and retail, women are visible wherever painstaking semi-skilled work is to be done.

On average, male-headed households have larger livestock holdings, than female-headed households.

Decent rural employment and farm labour

Decent rural employment and farm labour

Women comprise, on average, 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Their contribution to agricultural work varies even more widely depending on the specific crop and activity. 

Women are more likely than men to hold low-wage, part-time, and seasonal employment. The gender gap in formal and informal wage employment is large and women tend to be paid.

Women are often time constrained and heavy and unpaid household duties that take them away from more productive activities.

Farms run by female-headed households tend to have less labour available for farm work because these households are typically smaller and have fewer working-age adult members.

Agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas in most developing country regions. But women are more likely than men to hold low-wage, part-time, seasonal employment. And they tend to be paid less even when their qualifications are higher than men’s.

Agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas in most developing country regions. A number of countries have seen substantial increases in the female share of the agricultural labour force in recent decades, due to a number of reasons, including conflict, HIV/AIDS and male out-migration.

Women’s participation in the agricultural labour force may underestimate the amount of work women do: women are less likely than men to define their activities as work, they are less likely to report themselves as being engaged in agriculture and they work, on average, longer hours than men. So even if fewer women are involved in farm activities they may contribute more total time to the sector.

Female time use in agriculture varies widely depending on the crop and the phase of the production cycle, the age and ethnic group of the women in question, the type of activity and a number of other factors. But women are typically involved to some extent in all farming activities except ploughing.

In addition to the time they spend in agriculture, women usually allocate time to food preparation, child care and other household responsibilities. If care-giving is included in the calculations, studies have shown that women work significantly more than men.

On average, women are paid less than men even for equivalent jobs and comparable levels of education and experience.

Female-headed households face more severe labour constraints than male-headed households because they typically have fewer members but more dependants.

Household and community responsibilities and gender-specific labour requirements mean that women farmers cannot farm as productively as men and make it more difficult for them to respond when crop prices rise.

The growth of modern supply chains for high-value agricultural products is creating significant opportunities – and challenges – for women in on-farm and off-farm employment.

Increasing female participation in the labour force has demonstrated positive impacts on economic growth.

In most developing country regions, women who are employed are just as likely, or even more likely, than men to work in agriculture. However, in most countries women are more likely than men to be employed seasonally, and rural wage-earning women are more likely than men to hold low-wage jobs.

Technologies

Technologies

Women are much less likely to use purchased inputs such as fertilizers and improved seeds or to make use of mechanical tools and equipment. In many countries women are only half as likely as men to use fertilizers.

Gender gaps exist for a wide range of agricultural technologies, including machines and tools, improved plant varieties and animal breeds, fertilizers, pest control measures and management techniques.

The share of farmers using mechanical equipment and tools is quite low in all countries, but it is significantly lower for farmers in femaleheaded households, sometimes by very wide margins.

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