Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap

Decent rural employment and farm labour

For most women in developing countries labour is their key asset, and agriculture is a particularly important source of self- and wage-employment for those who lack training or resources for employment in other sectors. But women generally face many gender-specific constraints as agricultural labourers and in hiring labour, as a result, they tend to cultivate smaller plots and achieve lower yields.

Women are often time constrained by unpaid household duties such as caregiving and collecting firewood and water,1 and by lower levels of human capital – education, health and nutrition – all of which can affect their labour productivity in agriculture and other sectors.2 In addition, female-headed households have less labour available for farm work than male-headed households because they typically have fewer working-age adult members but more dependants.

Household and community responsibilities and gender-specific labour requirements also mean that women farmers cannot farm as productively as men. Depending on cultural norms, some farming activities, such as ploughing and spraying, rely on access to male labour without which women farmers face delays that may lead to losses in output.

Policy recommendations

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Key facts

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  1. J.S. McGuire & B.M. Popkin. 1990. Helping women improve nutrition in the developing world: beating the zero sum game. World Bank Technical Paper (IBRD) No. 114. Washington, DC, World Bank; A.R. Quisumbing & L. Pandolfelli. 2010. Promising approaches to address the needs of poor female farmers: resources, constraints, and interventions. World Development, 38 (4): 581–592. 
  2. J.R. Behrman, H.Alderman & J. Hoddinott. 2004. Hunger and malnutrition. Paper prepared for the Copenhagen Consensus – Challenges and Opportunities. Unpublished.
  3. N. Ilahi. 2000. The intra-household allocation of time and tasks: what have we learnt from the empirical literature? Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, Working Paper Series No. 13. Washington, DC, World Bank.
  4. S. Ahmed & P. Maitra. 2010. Gender wage discrimination in rural and urban labour markets of Bangladesh. Oxford Development Studies, 38(1): 83–112.
  5. S. Klasen & F. Lamanna. 2009. The impact of gender inequality in education and employment on economic growth: new evidence for a panel of countries. Feminist Economics, 15(3): 91–132.
SOFA 2010-2011


FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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