Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap


The level of human capital available in a household (usually measured as the education of the head of household or the average education of working-age adults in the household) is strongly correlated with measures such as agricultural productivity, household income and nutritional outcomes – all of which ultimately affect household welfare and economic growth at the national level.1

Gender differences in education are significant and widespread. In most countries, female heads have less education than their male counterparts and the evidence reflects a history of bias against girls in education. The gender gap in education is particularly acute in rural areas, where female household heads sometimes have less than half the years of education of their male counterparts.

Policy recommendations

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

Key facts

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.


  1. World Bank. 2007. World Development Report 2008. Agriculture for development. Washington, DC.
  2. I. Ikdahl. 2008. “Go home and clear the conflict”: human rights perspectives on gender and land in Tanzania. In B. Englert & E. Daley, eds. Women’s land rights and privatization in Eastern Africa, pp. 40–60. Woodbridge, UK, James Currey; J. Brown. 2003. Rural women’s land rights in Java, Indonesia: strengthened by family law, but weakened by land registration. Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal, 12(3): 631–651.
  3. 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.
SOFA 2010-2011


FAO Gender Programme
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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