Gender and development People

Gender, policy and planning

GENDER+  Overview  Natural resources Agriculture Food/nutrition Policy/planning Role of FAO

Data collection, research and analysis

Women's cash income is not enough to buy adequate supplies of food and other necessities. They must work additional hours in the surrounding countryside to produce these goods. This labour, and the resulting goods, are a direct substitute for cash income and are essential for survival. Yet in a world where economic value is computed in monetary terms alone, women's work is not counted as economically productive when no money changes hands. Although women perform a large share of work in subsistence economies, they are often viewed as unproductive. A huge proportion of the world's real productivity therefore remains undervalued. The essential contribution women make to the welfare of families and nations remains unrecognized.

The challenge of agricultural and economic policy-making and planning is to enhance productivity and output while at the same time maintaining the natural resource base, safeguarding and increasing rural incomes, generating employment, and promoting the nutrition and food security status of households and individuals. Yet in many parts of the world agricultural policies have translated into increased poverty in rural areas. As a result, farming families are required to supplement their incomes either through the migration of family members, or by cultivating previously fallow or marginal land and converting their food crop land to cash crop production.

Changes in the economy, especially in agriculture, affect women and men differently since the roles, needs, and contraints of women differ from those of men. Although women play a central role in the economy, their presence in agricultural production is largely invisible and thus overlooked in both economic analysis and policy formulation. This represents a significant obstacle to promoting gender-responsive sustainable development.

Comprehensive, reliable and unbiased data and information on the nature and role of women's contributions to food and agricultural production is needed. This is one of the main constraints to incorporating gender issues into agricultural and economic development policies and planning. Data on women is still seen as only marginally relevant to policy-making. Reliable sources for such data, particularly in the agricultural sector, are generally lacking in developing countries.

Gender biases mark every stage of the exercise from design, to field interviews, and to analysis. This compounds the difficulties of data collection in rural areas, particularly in the informal sector. Women's participation in the labour force tends to be fluid, seasonal and varied. As a result, concepts and definitions relating to women's work and household relationships contribute to their invisibility. In addition, international and national emphasis on economic over non-economic activities has created a focus on statistics relating to the market and to monetary transactions which excludes much of women's work in rural areas.

Gender disaggregated data alone cannot provide insights into the processes that determine the differential impacts of policies on women and men. For policy-making purposes this data must be accompanied by the analytical framework necessary to understand gender relations. For instance, most structural adjustment and market-oriented reform policies advocate a reallocation of resources from the non-traded to the traded sector through price incentives for traded commodities. Yet the demands put on women's labour by reproductive and household tasks, plus social discrimination, often cause them to act in ways not foreseen in most development planning.

Resources such as land, labour, credit and equipment are required to shift from subsistence production to the traded sector. Lack of access to these resources poses a fundamental constraint to women farmers. Shifting to the traded sector also entails the use of market inputs such as fertilizers and seeds, and to services such as irrigation, training and extension. In most societies, access to these resources and services is through the male. In some societies women have an obligation to work on male-controlled cash crops in addition to household food crops. A market-determined increase in cash-crop production by men could result in an unacceptably high labour input by women. This added burden takes time and energy away from their other tasks. The more time women spend working on their husband's land, the less they can spend tending the crops they need to feed their families or to sell in the market. As a result, their personal income - an important source of community respect, household subsistence and economic independence - declines, and their labour is increasingly spent on activities for which they receive no remuneration.

Women's willingness to shift to higher price cash crops will depend on the extent to which they benefit from this; either by controlling income from the sale of their own cash crops or by significant participation in household decision-making. If cash crops do not put income and/or food under women's direct control, they will not always shift their labour from subsistence to cash crops even in those cases where they are more profitable.

The degree to which female labour responds to market signals may have other unforeseen effects on the family. Although generally excluded from macro-economic and agricultural policies and planning, the labour and resources required for maintenance of the household is tremendous. This includes caring for children, the elderly and ill, gathering fuel and water, processing food, preparing meals, cleaning, and so on. A woman who decides to shift into cash crop production often faces a double burden. Given the lack of labour-saving technologies at her disposal, her capacity to sustain both work and household will most likely reach its limit. Either she will no longer be available to work, or household food security and welfare will suffer.

There is a real need to take a more holistic view of farm production systems and offer a framework for policy-makers and planners to better understand the dynamics operating at household and community levels. In the past, the differing impact on women and men of various policies and programmes were not considered before they were enacted. Adding socio-economic research and analysis to formal statistics should assist in avoiding such mistakes.

Well-planned macro and sectoral policy changes have the potential for stimulating growth. They provide the opportunity for rural women to improve their participation in production, processing and marketing in the rural agricultural and industrial sectors. Examples exist of countries where employment in export-oriented agriculture and manufacturing has expanded and a shift in distribution of real income from urban to rural areas has been noted. Women's ability to take advantage of such opportunities will depend on their access to, and control over, labour and capital resources, credit, extension and training, and markets. Effective macro and sectoral policy-making and planning must be made to ensure women's access and control.


Despite international legal conventions and agreements to ensure women's equal rights with men in all spheres of activity, many legal obstacles exist which prevent rural women from fully participating in, and benefiting from, rural development. The major legal barriers that women confront are often inter-related and tend to be mutually reinforcing. They include:

FAO strategies and action

FAO will work to incorporate gender in a more systematic manner in the design of agricultural and economic research and policy assistance. It will analyze the differential impact of national policies and market reforms on both women and men. FAO will provide technical support to improve the statistical data on women in the agricultural and rural sectors in national data collection programmes, including agricultural censuses and surveys. And it will assist in the creation of a legal environment that enables women to advance in terms of legal status and economic strength.

Data collection, research and analysis


GENDER+  Overview  Natural resources Agriculture Food/nutrition Policy/planning Role of FAO

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