Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap
 

Policy interventions can help close the gender gap in agriculture and rural labour markets across a wide range of agricultural inputs, assets and services. Many steps are required by many different actors – governments, the international community, civil society, the private sector and individuals – but the basic principles are the same across the board: 

  • eliminate discrimination under the law,
  • promote equal access to resources and opportunities, 
  • ensure that agricultural policies and programmes are gender-aware,
  • and make women’s voices heard in decision-making at all levels.

The following recommendations reflect specific policies that can help close the gender gap in agriculture and rural employment, by focusing on interventions that alleviate constraints on agricultural productivity and rural development. Priority areas for reform include eliminating discrimination against women in access to agricultural resources, education, extension and financial services, and labour markets;  investing in labour-saving and productivity enhancing technologies and infrastructure to free women’s time for more productive activities; and facilitating the participation of women in flexible, efficient and fair rural labour markets

Education

Education

Educate women regarding land rights

Raising women’s legal literacy, increasing the dissemination and accessibility of information and establishing supporting legal services are essential in promoting gender equity in land programmes. Legal literacy means that women are aware of their legal rights and know how they can be enforced and protected. Officials responsible for implementing land programmes must actively educate both men and women regarding gender equity provisions and the possibility of joint titling, rather than treating the decision as a private matter between spouses.2 Precisely because they are so important, land tenure issues are often contentious, and women seeking to assert their rights may be subject to pressure from their families and communities. The provision of legal protections and affordable legal services are vital in this respect. Mobile legal clinics with staff trained in land issues may be a useful solution during land formalization programmes.

Reduce gender inequalities in human capital

Improved access to education and better-quality education will help reduce some of the wage gap and, more importantly, allow women to diversify by widening the opportunities available to them. In countries where agriculture is a major source of employment for women, skill building should address relevant skills and knowledge gaps, include business and leadership skills and focus on extension services and vocational training. A higher probability of obtaining a job in a particular sector will also influence parents’ educational choices for their children.  Policy interventions need to focus on school enrolment for girls, health interventions such as immunization and nutritional interventions that target women’s specific needs throughout their life cycle. Conditional transfer programmes, which are often targeted at the women in the household, have also been used successfully to improve the education, health and nutrition of children and women.3

Financial services

Financial services

Promote financial literacy

Financial institutions, governments and NGOs should offer financial literacy training to ensure that women can compare products and make decisions based on a clear understanding of the products available.Steps could include: 

  • disseminating information in places or through channels that women can access; 
  • simplifying application procedures and adapting them to women’s literacy and numeracy levels; 
  • and simplifying insurance contracts and communicating their conditions using language and examples that less-literate women can easily understand. 

Promote a women-friendly and empowering culture

Lenders and other financial institutions should promote a gender-sensitive culture throughout their organization.3 Women should be consulted and included in discussions, decision-making, planning and provision of services. Marketing strategies, promotion and service delivery should be gender sensitive. 

Use technology and innovative delivery channels

Technological innovations such as prepaid cards and mobile phone plans to make loan payments and transfer cash make it easier for women to gain access to capital by reducing the need to travel long distances, allowing them to sidestep social constraints that restrict women’s mobility or the people with whom they can interact.4 Financial institutions in countries such as Brazil, India, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa have been able to reach rural customers at a lower cost by handling transactions through post offices, petrol stations and stores, and many telecommunication service providers allow their customers to make payments or transfer funds.5 These more accessible outlets can be particularly beneficial for rural women who have difficulty travelling to central business locations. 

Information and extension

Information and extension

Ensure that women are empowered and trained to exercise their rights and participate

There is a need for effective empowerment of women among the membership and leadership positions in producer organizations, cooperatives, workers’ unions, and outgrower schemes to ensure that rural women have a stronger voice and decision-making power. At the same time, it is necessary to promote gender sensitivity within representative bodies through the training of both men and women representatives, as this does not derive automatically from women’s participation. 

Improve extension services

Extension services are important for diffusing technology and good practices, but reaching female farmers requires careful consideration. In some contexts, it is culturally more acceptable for female farmers to interact with female extension agents, and hiring female extension agents can be an effective means of reaching female farmers. This preference is not universal, however, so in many cases properly trained male extension agents may be able to provide equally effective services.  Whether male or female, extension agents must be sensitive to the realities, needs and constraints of rural women. Extension services for women must consider all the roles of women; women’s needs as farmers are often neglected in favour of programmes aimed at household responsibilities. Extension systems will also have to be more innovative and flexible to account for social and cultural obstacles and for time and mobility constraints.

Scale up farmer field schools

Farmer field schools (FFS) have proved to be a participatory and effective way of empowering and transferring knowledge to women farmers.

Land

Land

Eliminate discrimination under the law

Where statutory legal rights to land remain gender-biased, a key strategy is to review and reform all national legislation that relates to land and natural resources. Although land laws are the starting point, related legislation should also be considered.  Family and marriage laws, inheritance provisions and housing law are all important legal areas that play a supporting role in ensuring equitable treatment of men and women in control over land.

Recognize the importance and power of customary land rights

In many countries, tradition is stronger than law when it comes to land issues. Opposition from land reform authorities, peasant unions, village authorities and male household heads can frustrate land reform efforts to extend legal land rights to both single and married women. Legal rights are difficult to enforce if they are not seen as legitimate; thus recognizing customary land rights and working with community leaders is essential to ensure that women’s rights are protected. 

Educate officials and evaluate them on gender targets

Local land officials may be unaware of gender equity laws and objectives or lack the mechanisms, tools and will to implement them. Legislation needs to be supported by regulations and gender-specific rules and guidelines that educate officials in agriculture ministries, land institutions and other agencies regarding the implementation of the gender position of the law. Relevant training is also required for staff in the various institutions that carry out and enforce land rights, including land registries, cadastral offices, titling agencies, land magistrates and courts. Gender-balanced employment in these institutions can also help.

Monitor and evaluate officials on gender targets

Where appropriate, the performance of local land officials in agriculture ministries, land institutions and other agencies should be evaluated against gender-related targets. The involvement of women’s organizations in the process can facilitate the achievement of gender equity targets. Furthermore, gender targets for access and tenure security should be monitored and officials held accountable for meeting them.

Adjust bureaucratic procedures

Simple steps such as making space for two names on land registration forms can be a powerful tool for encouraging joint titling and protecting the rights of women within marriage. Rural women often lack the documents (such as birth records) required to obtain land titles, so facilitating access to such documents may be necessary. Placing photographs of owners on land certificates can reduce the likelihood of cheating and manipulation.

Gather sex-disaggregated data for policy design and monitoring

Gathering and analyzing sex-disaggregated data can reveal useful insights into gender inequality and land ownership, and help inform and improve the design, implementation and effectiveness of land-titling programmes.

Educate women regarding land rights

Raising women’s legal literacy, increasing the dissemination and accessibility of information and establishing supporting legal services are essential in promoting gender equity in land programmes. Legal literacy means that women are aware of their legal rights and know how they can be enforced and protected. Officials responsible for implementing land programmes must actively educate both men and women regarding gender equity provisions and the possibility of joint titling, rather than treating the decision as a private matter between spouses.1 Precisely because they are so important, land tenure issues are often contentious, and women seeking to assert their rights may be subject to pressure from their families and communities. The provision of legal protections and affordable legal services are vital in this respect. Mobile legal clinics with staff trained in land issues may be a useful solution during land formalization programmes.

Ensure that women’s voices are heard

Meaningful representation is an important step towards helping women gain access to established rights. Women’s organizations can be effective in promoting local participation, building a consensus and raising consciousness at all levels, especially as women are generally not well represented in decision-making bodies, and they are often instrumental in pressuring for government programmes to include women as equal participants. Women must be an integral part of the implementation of land programmes. Training community members as paralegals, topographers and conflict mediators can help build community skills and increase the probability that women’s concerns will be addressed. 

Decent rural employment and farm labour

Decent rural employment and farm labour

Decent rural employment is key to reducing poverty and achieving food security. Unleashing rural women’s socio-economic potential involves tackling a number of decent work deficits including: low productivity and low income jobs, lack of social protection, lack of basic work rights, and insufficient voice and representation. Promoting equitable and productive employment for women in agriculture and rural areas therefore should focus on -  generating better jobs for both women and men; extending the coverage of social protection to all categories of rural workers;  closing the gap in labour standards for rural workers, by paying particular attention to awareness of rights among governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations as well as individual women and men workers, and  eliminating gender bias and promoting rural institutions that equally represent women’s and men’s interests.

Target women’s multiple trade-offs in the allocation of their time

In most rural areas women undertake most of the work related to child care, food preparation and other household responsibilities such as collecting fuel and water. Women are also heavily involved in unpaid agricultural production. When all household activities are taken into account, women generally work longer hours than men. Without policies and investment in labour-saving technologies, women’s labour market participation is often not an option – even when the opportunities are available. In addition, governments must create a good investment climate through strengthening property rights and providing public goods such as roads, electricity and water, and ensure that women are involved in investment planning right from the beginning. 

Reduce gender inequalities in human capital

Improved access to education and better-quality education will help reduce some of the wage gap and, more importantly, allow women to diversify by widening the opportunities available to them. In countries where agriculture is a major source of employment for women, skill building should address relevant skills and knowledge gaps and focus on extension services and vocational training. A higher probability of obtaining a job in a particular sector will also influence parents’ educational choices for their children.  Policy interventions need to focus on school enrolment for girls, health interventions such as immunization and nutritional interventions that target women’s specific needs throughout their life cycle. Conditional transfer programmes, which are often targeted at the women in the household, have also been used successfully to improve the education, health and nutrition of children and women. 

Capitalize on public works programmes

Public works schemes can provide support to unskilled workers, including women. These are public labour-intensive infrastructure-development initiatives that provide cash or food-based payments in exchange for work.  

Strengthen women’s rights and voice through institutional change

The lack of voice suffered by women, especially in rural communities, is both cause and consequence of the gender differences observed in rural labour markets. Institutional changes can help achieve decent work opportunities and economic and social empowerment through labour markets and at the same time reduce gender inequalities in the context of informal employment in agriculture. Public policies and legislation can influence public attitudes and the values that underlie gender inequalities. Government legislation is essential for guaranteeing equitable employment conditions that protect workers in both formal and casual employment, the latter being of particular relevance to women. For example, governments can support the organization of women in informal jobs. At the same time, collective bargaining and voluntary standards can be important, in conjunction with more formal legislation. Rural producer organizations and workers’ unions can play a vital role in negotiating fairer and safer conditions of employment, including better product prices and wages, and in promoting gender equity and decent employment for men and women. 

Ensure that women are empowered and trained to exercise their rights and participate

There is a need for effective empowerment of women among the membership and leadership positions in producer organizations, cooperatives, workers’ unions, and outgrower schemes to ensure that rural women have a stronger voice and decision-making power. At the same time, it is necessary to promote gender sensitivity within representative bodies through the training of both men and women representatives, as this does not derive automatically from women’s participation. 

Technologies

Technologies

Develop technologies and environments that address women’s needs

In addition to balancing a variety of tasks related to crop and livestock production, wage employment and child care, rural women spend a large amount of time on additional household obligations such as food preparation and collecting firewood and water. These occupy a large amount of their time and limit participation in more productive activities. Many of these tasks could be made much less onerous and time-consuming through the adoption of simple technologies: 

  • Water sources in villages can significantly reduce the time spent by women and girls fetching water,1 and water projects that meet multiple livelihood objectives and take gender issues properly into account are more likely to be sustainable.2
  • Fuel-efficient stoves can reduce firewood requirements by 40–60 percent,3 in addition to reducing indoor pollution and the time required for cooking. Locally manufactured stoves can also provide income-earning opportunities for rural artisans. Woodlots, agroforestry and improved fallows can further reduce the time spent in collecting firewood by bringing the sources of firewood closer to the home. 

Appropriate farm tools, improved crops, integrated pest management techniques, conservation agriculture, biological nitrogen fixation and other context-specific technologies should also be targeted for development and for enhanced access by women. Conducting baseline surveys of households and communities before new technologies are introduced may help predict how men and women will be affected by them.4 Greater involvement of women in agricultural research and higher education could also enhance the development of female-friendly technology.

Improve extension services

Extension services are important for diffusing technology and good practices, but reaching female farmers requires careful consideration. In some contexts, it is culturally more acceptable for female farmers to interact with female extension agents, and hiring female extension agents can be an effective means of reaching female farmers.  This preference is not universal, however, so in many cases properly trained male extension agents may be able to provide equally effective services.  Whether male or female, extension agents must be sensitive to the realities, needs and constraints of rural women. Extension services for women must consider all the roles of women; women’s needs as farmers are often neglected in favour of programmes aimed at household responsibilities. Extension systems will also have to be more innovative and flexible to account for social and cultural obstacles and for time and mobility constraints.

Scale up farmer field schools

Farmer field schools (FFS) have proved to be a participatory and effective way of empowering and transferring knowledge to women farmers.

Use technology and innovative delivery channels

Technological innovations such as prepaid cards and mobile phone plans to make loan payments and transfer cash make it easier for women to gain access to capital by reducing the need to travel long distances, allowing them to sidestep social constraints that restrict women’s mobility or the people with whom they can interact.5 Financial institutions in countries such as Brazil, India, Kenya, the Philippines and South Africa have been able to reach rural customers at a lower cost by handling transactions through post offices, petrol stations and stores, and many telecommunication service providers allow their customers to make payments or transfer funds.6 These more accessible outlets can be particularly beneficial for rural women who have difficulty travelling to central business locations. 

SOFA 2010-2011
Gender

Contact

FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

email: gender@fao.org
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