Gender and development People

Posted September 1996

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Fact sheet: Women, Agriculture and Rural Development


Population: 54.8 million
Growth rate: 1.8%%
Fertility rate: 4.1
IMR: 57/1,000 births
GNP/head: US$630
Source: "World Bank Atlas", 1994

Importance of agriculture to the economy

Agriculture is important to the national economy, accounting for 18% of the GDP in 1991, and employing 40% of the labour force. The principal crops are cotton, rice, wheat, sugar cane and maize. Food and livestock account for 8% of total exports. The country's self-sufficiency ratio of wheat increased from 25% in 1981 to 45% in 1992. Government agricultural policy, which is designed to enhance agriculture as a major contributor to the national economy, includes measures to promote privatization and decrease government controls and subsidies.

Role of women in agriculture

According to official statistics, only about 4% of those economically active in agriculture in 1986 were women, and this rose to about 10% when unpaid family labour was included. However, statistics often do not reflect the true contribution of women to agriculture because they exclude women's subsistence production and domestic work. Surveys show that the majority of rural women participate in agricultural activities, particularly those related to food security and animal production. More than 50% of rural women are actively involved in tasks such as fertilization, weeding, harvesting, sacking, marketing and storage. Some also undertake ploughing and irrigation. About 70% of their working time in agriculture is devoted to animal husbandry.

Division of Labour by Gender

While the division of labour between men and women varies by crop, overall men carry out most of the land preparation, planting, weeding, irrigation and pest control. Women contribute moderately to seed preparation, fertilization and harvesting, and significantly to storage and marketing. Food processing is the primary responsibility of women. In animal husbandry, men are primarily responsible for the care of water buffalo, donkeys, cows and sheep, while women carry out most of the milking, processing and marketing of milk and animal products.

In fisheries, fish catching, feeding and marketing are primarily men's tasks, while women contribute about 52% of the labour in fish processing and net-making, and carry out 42% of net maintenance and repair. Women also carry out virtually all domestic tasks, including water and fuel collection, and food processing and preparation.

Gender Relations in Decision-making in Farming Activities

Data from a 1993 sample survey suggest that rural women participate little in decision-making at the household level in irrigated areas. Men have almost exclusive authority on matters related to seeds, buying and selling of livestock and land, use of herbicides and agricultural machinery, what to grow and where to sell produce. Women make decisions on poultry and contribute to decisions on agriculture projects and the vaccination of livestock.

Sharing of power and decision-making

Members and Officers of Agricultural/Rural Organizations

Agricultural/rural organizations include: multi-purpose local cooperative agricultural societies, offering agricultural and social services and loans, with almost exclusively male members and officers; agrarian reform societies under the supervision of the General Authority for Agrarian Reform in the Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MOALR), offering services and production facilities, with exclusively male members and officers; land reclamation societies under the supervision of the General Authority for Rehabilitation, with no women members.

Women in Decision-making Positions in Ministries and Government Bodies

In 1986, women held less than 6% of decision-making positions in ministries and government bodies.

Mechanisms to promote the advancment of women

National Machinery

The Department of Women's Affairs in the Ministry of Social Affairs, created in 1977, is the technical secretariat for the National Commission for Women. Revitalized in 1993, the Commission is comprised of four committees: information, legislation, economy, and political life and decision-making. The Department of Women's Affairs executes projects recommended by the Commission and in 1994 was handling 13 donor-sponsored development projects in literacy, income generation, family planning and health.

WID Units or Focal Points in Technical Ministries

The Policy and Coordination Unit for Women in Agriculture (PCUWA), established in the MOALR in 1992, aims to increase women's access to agricultural services and resources, improve their socio-economic status, and increase agricultural productivity and production. It works with the various departments and institutes of the Ministry to integrate issues of concern to women into the mainstream of MOALR's programmes and policies. Funding is still required to fully operationalize the Unit.

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

NGOs working in the field of women and development are coordinated by the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Women's rights

Women's struggle for their rights goes back to the early 1920s when the Egyptian Feminist Union was formed. Its impact was increasingly felt from the 1950s. Egypt ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with reservations in 1981, and has signed other international conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The Constitution gives women equal access to education, employment and work opportunities, equal pay for equal work, and social security.

Egyptian civil law, in accordance with Islamic law, gives women the right to possess and control property, and to inherit, although women receive only half as much as men. While no laws restrict women's ownership of land and livestock or access to credit, discrimination may exist due to custom and tradition, lack of awareness among women of their rights, or lack of strict implementation of the laws.

Dimensions and determinants of rural poverty

Environmental degradation, particularly water pollution, has created unhealthy conditions, and the change in the ecology of the Nile River has resulted in decreasing fish catch and biodiversity, and loss of income among fisherfolk. Male migration to urban areas and other countries has increased the burdens women bear as heads of households. Illiteracy rates are about 38% for men and 62% for women. Although malnutrition has decreased, it is still a serious problem with about 35% of rural children stunted compared with 26% of urban children.

Access to agricultural resources and services


In 1989, men comprised about 76% of land owners, while only 24% of land owners were women. Landholding size is overall larger for men than for women. Under the land reclamation scheme, men and women have equal access to land but women comprise only 7.4% of those who have obtained newly reclaimed land. Far fewer women than men have applied, due to the difficult living and farming conditions on newly-reclaimed land.


While rural women spend the majority of their working time in agriculture on animal husbandry and can legally own livestock, most decisions are made by men.


Although 97% of rural areas are supplied with sources of drinking water, the provision of sanitary drainage facilities is still inadequate in 93% of these areas. Because of the unhealthy conditions resulting from the discharge of waste water in the streets, rural women still prefer to wash and do their household cleaning in canals and drains. However, the discharge of domestic and untreated industrial wastes in open water conduits exposes women to disease.


Under the Principal Bank for Development and Agricultural Credit (PBDAC), 88% of short-term production loans and 84% of investments loans were extended to men in 1993, while women received only 12% and 16%, respectively. Loan size for men and women was about the same. Women have greater access to credit through agricultural credit societies than through the Bank.

Extension services and agricultural training

Few village-level agricultural extension workers are women, which explains in part the extremely limited contact women farmers have with agricultural extension services.

The inequality between men and women in access to agricultural training is shown by data from MOALR and the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP): only 3 out of 6,497 participants in on-farm research between 1987 and 1993 were women; there was only one woman among 745 participants in field days; and no women among the 129 participants in residential training. More men than women have benefitted from improved animal traction, irrigation tools, post harvest threshing devices, food storage facilities and transport.

Selected programmes in support of women in agriculture, forestry and fisheries

Policy Planning and Research

Recognizing the need to mainstream women's concerns and needs in agricultural policy and practice, the Ministry of Agriculture established the PCUWA in 1992, with Research and Strategy Development as one of its three main wings.

Access to Agricultural Resources and Services

A number of innovative projects have been designed to increase women's access to agricultural resources and services. The Project on Productive Activities for Women Settlers in New Lands involved women in identifying their needs and priorities and in planning, organizing and implementing women's development centres for income-earning activities. As a result, the first women's cooperative society, the Agricultural Cooperative Society for Food Security, was formed. An ILO-supported project included training in income-generating skills, awareness meetings and provision of credit, and an FAO-supported project trained women in food industries, poultry and livestock raising, and provided loans for small productive projects.

Areas to be strengthened

Policy Planning and Research

The strategies of the PCUWA for the 1990s include:

Legal and Policy Reform

The PCUWA plans to collect, analyze and review policies and laws affecting women in agriculture and make recommendations for their improvement.

Access to Agricultural Resources and Services

The PCUWA plans to:

Prepared by Women in Development Service (SDWW)
FAO Women and Population Division
Source: "National Sectoral Report on Women, Agriculture and Rural Development", 1994.

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