Posted April 1997
ALTHOUGH WOMEN PLAY A MAJOR ROLE in food production in many countries of the world, agricultural information is not effectively reaching and benefiting these key contributors to food security. There is wide spread recognition of the need to improve both agricultural education and extension work with rural women. This is necessary as both a fundamental right and as a matter of good sense. As a cost-benefit analysis by the World Bank showed, investing in the education of females has the highest rate of return of any possible type of investment in developing countries ("Women Feed the World", FAO, 1996).
In the case of agricultural extension, a major problem is that in many of the courses of study at schools and colleges of agriculture, and in the in-service training extension workers receive after graduation, there is insufficient examination and discussion of the roles of rural women in agricultural production and rural development. Too little time, if any, is devoted to gender analysis and addressing the question of how extension work can be carried out effectively with rural women.
Another major problem is that in many countries there are too few women professionals trained in agriculture. A 1991 FAO Expert Consultation on "Strategy Options for Higher Education in Agriculture" urged that special efforts be made to recruit and support female students who could become extension agents, agricultural researchers, instructors and policy makers.
A wide range of factors, many of them deeply embedded in the gendered nature of culture and society, prevent women from participating in formal agricultural education and non-formal extension training. As a result, they are on unequal terms with men in employment and self-employment. The unequal educational opportunity for women results in the unequal participation of women in the employment market.
To address these problems, the Extension, Education and Communication service (SDRE) has undertaken a number of activities in the area of Women in Agricultural Education and Extension. These include a series of case studies on women in higher agricultural education and the preparation of a training module on improving extension work with rural women.
To address the issue of women's enrollment in agricultural education institutions, SDRE conducted five case studies that focused on factors that contribute to and can help explain trends in increases and/or decreases in female enrollment rates. Case studies were conducted in Cote d'Ivoire, the Philippines, Nigeria, Jordan and the Caribbean region.
Literacy and access to basic education are prerequisites for taking advantage of opportunities for higher education in agriculture. Almost everywhere, the literacy rates of girls and women and their access to basic education are lower than those of boys and men. In 1995, according to UNESCO, the regions with the lowest female literacy rates were Sub-Saharan Africa (47% for females compared to 66% for males), the Arab States (44% compared to 68%), and Southern Asia (37% compared 63%). For the least developed countries as a whole, the female literacy rate was 38% compared to 60 % for males.
According to UNESCO, women and girls are "the largest single category of persons denied equality of education opportunity in the world today". Female participation in primary, secondary and tertiary education compared to that of males varies considerably by regions. With the exception of developed countries and Latin America and the Caribbean, the percentage of the female population enrolled in school is lower than the male population at all age levels. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia are the regions with the lowest percentages of enrollment of both school age males and females and where the gaps at each level are greatest.
In the age group 6-11 years, the net enrollment rate for males in Sub-Saharan Africa is 55% compared to 44 % for females; at age 12-17, the ratio is 46% male compared to 35% female; and at age 18-23 the ratio is 10% male and 5% female (UNESCO, 1995 - net enrollment is the percentage ratio of the number of enrolled students in a particular age group the total population in the age group)
Women's participation in higher education in agriculture is lower than that of men, even in the developed countries and in Latin America and the Caribbean where women participate in higher education in nearly equal numbers with men. For developed countries as a whole in 1990 there were 62 women per 100 men in agricultural studies at the tertiary level. This compares to 61 women per 100 men for the Caribbean, 58 per 100 for Latin America, and 49 per 100 for Eastern, South-Eastern and Western Asia. Again, the regions most seriously affected are Africa and Southern Asia, with 36 females per 100 males in agricultural studies for Northern Africa, 28 per 100 for Sub-Saharan Africa and 17 for Southern Asia (UN, The World's Women 1995).
Some of the major causes of women's unequal participation in education are:
The FAO case studies on women in higher education in agriculture confirm that high literacy rates and enrollment in primary and secondary education are basic prerequisites for access to higher education. Those countries with the highest female literacy and secondary enrollment rates also have the highest female enrollment rates in higher education in agriculture, sometimes exceeding that of males. For example, in the Philippines 46% of women complete secondary school and 52% of the students in higher education in agriculture are women.
The converse is also true -- those countries with low female literacy and secondary enrollment rates have the lowest percentage of women in higher education in agriculture . For example, in Nigeria, where the secondary gross enrollment ratio for women is 25% , less than 25% of those studying agriculture are women.
Looking at the case of graduate study at the University of the Philippines at Los Banos (UPLB), we see that men slightly outnumbered women, and that the breakdown by faculty, or field, generally reflects the traditional male-female domains. For example in 1994-95, 58% of the students enrolled in the Arts and Sciences at the Master's level were women and at the Ph.D. level 61% were women. However, in the Animal Sciences only 36% of the students were women at the Master's level and 37% at the Ph.D. level. In Forestry and the Environmental Sciences the figures are 46% women at the Master's level and 21% at the Ph.D. level.
The case studies in general showed that, with some exceptions, too few young women follow the science stream through secondary school and continue to study agriculture in colleges or universities. Those that do, still find themselves facing discrimination in the job market and in terms of their location on the occupational ladder. Even in exceptional cases, such as the Faculty of Agriculture at the University of the Philippines, where 47 % of the faculty members are women, men dominate the highest ranks of the faculty.
Furthermore, although more than half of the research projects at UPLB were conducted by women, most of these were in fields traditionally dominated by women -- 97% of the research in Socio-economics and the Arts, which was only 6% of the total research, compared to 58% in the Plant Sciences, which was 76% of the total research; only 27% of the research in Forestry and the Environmental Sciences was conducted by women faculty members, despite the important role that women farmers play as natural resource managers.
As noted by the authors of the Philippines case study, "There are still factors that limit women to rise to the top positions and to develop their full potentials. Despite their large numbers in some fields such as agriculture, they are unrecognized and thus do not enjoy the benefits of their training and their acquired technology. This could probably be traced to the centuries-old discriminatory attitudes, law and traditions, which consciously or unconsciously, still prevail in the male-dominated social structure".
The case studies have identified a number of recommendations, or measures, that can be grouped under four categories: