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Review and appraisal at the national level

Review and appraisal at the national level

The situation in the early 1980s

In the early 1980s, while the population grew rapidly, food production and agricultural incomes decreased in many African countries. Government allocations to agriculture declined in many countries as the global recession resulted in a renewed preoccupation with growth as opposed to equity concerns. Against this background, the situation of rural women was characterized by overwork, low productivity, little access to credit, land, training, and the use of rudimentary technology. In many countries (Tanzania, Benin, Mauritania, Namibia, Zimbabwe) the diminishing capacity of agriculture to provide for household subsistence increased the workload shouldered by women as men withdrew their labour from agriculture. Women had to increasingly make up for the family's food deficit by working as casual hired labour on larger farms, or by starting up income generating activities in addition to continuing their farming activities.

At the same time, government interventions did little to address the plight of rural women as, in most countries, the agricultural sector continued to be neglected. Women's low participation in national and regional policy-making, their invisibility in national statistics and their low participation in extension services (with the exception of home economics programmes) has meant that those issues of most concern to women have been neglected in the design and implementation of many development policies and programmer. When women were targeted as beneficiaries, it was generally in their reproductive capacity or as targets of welfare interventions. Small, dispersed "women-specific" projects, or project components focusing on their productive role in agriculture, remained isolated from national agricultural planning and policies. In some countries such as Benin, while the government paid increasing attention to the economic role of women, the programmes developed were far from addressing the main concerns of women as they were neither involved in policy making decisions nor were they directly consulted to articulate their needs.

In some countries, despite legislative and tenure changes in favour of smallholders, women continued to be placed in a disadvantaged position in terms of access to land. As the amount of land cultivated per person declined in the face of increased population pressure and decreased areas of growth for arable and permanent crops, women's access to land was only rarely addressed and thus their benefits from land reforms were few (FAO, 1988:3). Without land, women were generally excluded from agricultural cooperatives as membership was often based on land ownership.

Emphasis on commercial agriculture and export crops also restricted access to credit and other services for the traditional farming sector, where most of the farmers are women. Extension research and services focused on export or cash crops and sophisticated farm mechanization; issues which were not relevant to women's subsistence needs. In Namibia, where black women are the majority of producers in the subsistence sector (communal areas), government institutions and resources focused on the commercial sector, and in those cases in which government interventions did reach the communal areas, they targeted elite farmers and were of little benefit to women.

In those countries in which traditional models of production co-existed with state run farms and/or cooperatives, women were responsible for a variety of tasks. For example, in Benin, rural women provided labour to the families commercial plots, were responsible for household food production and processing, and also had to work in the cooperative structures set up by the State in addition to their household tasks. In countries following a capitalist model, women worked just as hard, contributing labour to the household commercial plot, farming their own plot for subsistence, processing and preparing food for the family, and covering a variety of household and community needs, including health and child care.

It was during this period, however, due in part to the recommendations coming out of the first two world conferences on women (Mexico City in 1975 and Copenhagen in 1980) and the UN Decade for Women, that issues concerning women were put on the international agenda and governments, including those in Africa, began to establish bodies responsible for the promotion of women's interests. These bodies promoted an awareness of women's issues, including those of rural women, and encouraged research on their agricultural and other roles. They also served as advocates for changes in national policies and legislation affecting women's rights to land and inheritance, employment conditions, and wage rates.

In Africa, the creation of national women's machineries was a critically important step in ensuring that women's needs and constraints were put on the national policy agenda. However, their technical weaknesses, frequent location in the Ministries of Social Affairs (or in the women's branch of the revolutionary party in the countries following a socialist development model), urban bias, and their lack of influence in the technical ministries meant that their direct impact on rural women was negligible, and that interventions designed by them often focused on smaller income generating projects which did not adequately address women's needs for assistance concomitant with their agricultural production responsibilities (FAO, 1990b:5). The general isolation of the machineries from the planning ministries also meant that women's needs and potentials were not given adequate attention in the development of national strategies and plans.

Changes since the early 1980s

Inequality in the sharing of power and decision-making at all levels

Members and office bearers of agricultural/rural organizations

In the nine countries examined, as throughout Africa in general, while women are present in greater and lesser degrees in agricultural/rural organizations, they tend to comprise a low proportion of the membership and are often not represented in the higher levels of leadership. In addition to the socio-cultural factors which often limit women's participation in these organizations, other constraints include women's limited time and energy, limited formal land ownership and rights to land resources (which is often used as a criteria for membership), and the commercial bias of many of the organizations and subsequent neglect of those issues of concern to women farmers. In some countries, women's groups and cooperatives have been set up to balance their lack of representation in existing rural organizations (Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia and Zimbabwe) while, in others, NGOs have played an increasingly important role in seeing that rural women's needs are addressed (Morocco).

Table 3 summarizes information regarding female membership in agricultural and rural organizations including cooperatives, credit and farming which remains quite low. Their membership in pre-cooperatives and cooperatives ranges from 6% in Morocco to 44% in Tanzania. Women's membership in credit institutions ranges from a low of 15% in Tanzania to a high of 63% in Zimbabwe, and their membership in farmers organizations ranges from 2% in the Sudan to 75% in Zimbabwe.

Table 3: Women's Participation in Rural Organizations (percent)


Pre-cooperatives and Cooperatives

Credit Associations

Farmers Associations



Officers a











Burkina Faso






























a Office bearers, board members and supervisory committee members

b 12% of supervisory committee members and 14% of administrative council members are women

c Pre-cooperatives

d Cooperatives

e Data is for Zanzibar

While women's membership is most often limited by their lack of formal land ownership, many rural organizations emphasize the interests of male members and do not sufficiently concern themselves with the needs of rural women. For instance, the Namibia National Farmers Union was established in 1992 to provide a voice and organizational base for communal farmers, and women comprise 30-60% of affiliate associations. However, its activities stress marketing and surplus production for the commercial farming sector rather than subsistence production and food processing.

Women's participation as office holders in these organizations tends to be even more limited. The most striking example is in Zimbabwe, where despite the fact that women constitute 75% of the members in the Zimbabwe Farmers Unions, only 5 % of the officers are women. The largest number of women decision makers are found in the Sudan, where 14% of the office holders in agricultural graduates cooperatives are women.

Several countries reported a growth since the early 1980s in women's participation in rural organizations and in the number of women-only pre-cooperatives and cooperatives. In Benin, women's membership in pre-cooperatives grew from practically no women in 1980 to 4.6% in 1985 and to 12% in 1992. In Burkina Faso, while women represented only 9% of all members in village working groups in 1981, by 1992 women's village groups accounted for 20% of the total. In Mauritania, the female cooperative movement grew from 15 cooperatives in 1982 to more than 500 together with mixed cooperatives in 1993. In the Sudan, women's cooperatives increased from 14 in 1980/81 to 50 in 1992/93, although membership in these cooperatives includes both women and men. In Zanzibar, female membership in cooperative agricultural organizations increased from 21% in 1985 to 44% in 1993.

Statistics on women's participation in the different types of organizations were unavailable in many countries. As the work of these institutions is important for rural development, more information needs to be collected on women's participation in such institutions in order to identify and address the constraints women face in accessing these resources. Research should also be conducted in countries where women's participation is increasing to identify the factors behind such growth and to evaluate their replicability elsewhere.

Women in decision-making positions in ministries and government bodies

In Africa, few women hold policy making positions at the national level, and those that do tend to be concentrated in social ministries such as education and health. Only rarely do women hold such positions technical ministries such as agriculture, which has many implications for the policies generated there. While one's biological sex does not necessarily determine one's sensitivity to gender, it has been shown that increased female participation has an impact on policies in regard to the importance given to women's issues and concerns.

Overall, as illustrated in Table 4, women hold an extremely low number of decision making positions in the Ministries dealing with agriculture and rural development. Women's representation is highest in Namibia in the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation, and in the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing, with 22 and 25% women decision-makers respectively. Women hold the fewest decision-making positions in Zimbabwe's Ministry of Lands, Agricultural and Water Development (0.1 and 0.3% respectively for the Departments of Tsetse Control and Water Development).

Women's representation is also low in governmental or parastatal committees which address complex legal and political issues. In Namibia, the two commissions of relevance for rural women include the Technical Committee on Commercial Farmland and the Commission of Inquiry into Traditional Leadership. The former has only one woman while the latter has none. In addition, of the seven members of the National Task Force on Agricultural Policy, only one is a woman. In Zimbabwe, in the parastatal Agricultural Development Authority, women account for only 6% of the policy-makers.

Table 4: Female Decision-makers In Ministries and/or Technical Staff (percent)

Country and Ministry

Percent Female



Ministry of Rural Development








Ministry of Fishing and the Maritime Economy


Ministry of Rural Development and the Environment




Ministry of Agriculture




Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development


Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation


Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing




Ministry of Agriculture


Ministry of Animal Resources






Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Water Development


- Head Office and Education Branch


- Department of Research and Specialist Services


- Department of Veterinary Services


- Department of Tsetse Control


- Department of Water Development


- Department of the Surveyor General


- Agricultural Development Authority


Women's representation in local power structures

Women's representation is also negligible in the local power structures and traditional bodies in Africa, where decisions concerning land allocation and resource development have important implications for rural women. Data contained in the sectoral reports confirmed the low participation of women in these structures.

In terms of participation in local governing authorities, women are rarely represented in the municipality councils in Mauritania and Morocco. In Mauritania, of the 208 municipalities created in 1986, only one mayor is a woman, while in Morocco women occupied only 0.3% of municipality seats in 1993, up slightly from 0.2% in 1983. In Namibia, women's participation is higher due to an affirmative action provision for the first elections of local authorities, which stipulated that party lists must include a minimum number of women candidates; 31.5% of the seats in the local authority councils are held by women. 4 In Tanzania, out of 4,850 village committee members in seven regions, as of 1989 only 10.3 % were women. A positive development was the 1992 local government legislative reform which called for 25% of the members of the Village Assembly to be women. However, in many locations women constituted less than 1% of the candidates in the 1993 local government elections. In Zimbabwe, women represent only 10% of the Village Development Committees, which consist of democratically elected members from the village, and control the development and use of land resources in their villages.

(4 Given that future elections will be contested on the basis of individual candidates rather than on party lists, this provision will no longer apply.)

Women's representation at the district and provincial levels is similarly low. In Zimbabwe, women comprise only 10% of the District Councils, the body which allocates resources for development in their districts. In Namibia, only 3 of the 95 elected to the regional councils, which represent rural constituencies outside of small towns, were women. In Tanzania, at the provincial and district levels, women's participation remains low with the highest number of women (20%) serving as regional administration officers. There are no female land officers nor regional agricultural or livestock officers and only one regional community development officer.

In both Namibia and Zimbabwe, women's representation in traditional authorities is minimal. In Namibia, where traditional authorities hold responsibility for allocating land and adjudicating disputes, women's lack of representation in such authorities has serious implications.

Women's participation in village and municipality authorities and district and provincial councils is low in all of the countries examined, which in turn inhibits their ability to influence resource allocation. By far the highest female participation (31.5%) is found in Namibia, where an affirmative action provision ensured that a minimum number of women candidates ran in the local elections. Tanzania instituted a similar provision in 1992, setting a minimum number of seats in the Village Assembly which must be held by women. While the results of such policies have been mixed, they deserve further exploration throughout Africa.

Gender relations in decision-making in farming activities

In Africa, while it appears that decision-making rests with the male household head when present, the sharing of decision-making between genders varies substantially from country to country, and among different cultural and ethnic groups within the same country.

In most countries in Africa, women tend to have decision-making power over their own fields while males dominate decision-making for household plots. In Morocco, with the exception of those fields managed exclusively by women, men generally have almost all the decision-making power as they are the owners of the means of production and, consequently, of the products produced. In Zimbabwe, in male-headed households, men dominate all decision making.

Women's decision-making power tends to increase in many countries when the husband is not present; however, men may remain involved in many of the most important decisions. In Namibia, as the participation of men in farming activities decreases, the authority of women over the agricultural processes may well be increasing. In Zimbabwe, women whose husbands are away have substantially more decision-making power than those with husbands on the farm, and women dominate farm management decisions and activities such as planting, ploughing, weeding and harvesting, among others. Even in these cases, however, the absentee husband still generally decides on how much crop to sell and on the use of the money from crop sales.

In other countries such as the Sudan, data for irrigated areas indicates that at the micro level, women are responsible for a wide range of decision making in farming activities even when the husband is present. In Tanzania, decision making in farming activities appears to be shared, with men dominating slightly in those cases when it is not.

Additional research is required to accurately assess the division of decision-making, and especially decision making on the use of income within the household. Several studies have indicated that the improvement of household food security and nutritional levels is associated with women's role in household decisions on expenditures (FAO, 1990a). Others point out that women's reactions to economic incentives are different depending upon their ability to make decisions regarding income allocation. For example, women may not be disposed to invest time and energy into the production of cash crops if the income accrues to a male spouse or relative who may not spend it on household food consumption.

Insufficient mechanisms at all levels to promote the advancement of women

National machineries and WID units/focal points

In the late 1980s national women's machineries played an increasingly important role in Africa, shifting from a women-specific approach towards a mainstreaming approach in development projects, programmes and policies. 5 This shift has helped such machineries to break out of the marginalized position in which they found themselves by establishing focal points in the technical ministries in order to ensure that women's needs and concerns were addressed in 'mainstream' development projects, and not just those aimed exclusively at women. National women's machineries have begun to conduct gender and socio-economic analysis training programmes to sensitize government officials on the importance of incorporating gender considerations into the development process. 6

(5 The term mainstreaming has a number of different uses and meanings and stems from the recognition that women and women's concerns have often been marginal or invisible to large-scale development planning and debates. Mainstreaming approaches range from allocating resources to women's activities to incorporating women and women's concerns into policy and decision-making bodies, or into mainstream development.

(6 Training in socio-economic and gender analysis provides tools for analyzing the gender-based division of labour and its impact on the ownership and control of resources, as well as other power relations between women and men.)

With the exception of Sudan, all of the countries examined have a national machinery for the advancement of women. The degree to which the machineries have been able to address the particular needs of rural women has varied, as has their status in the government and availability of financial resources. Table 5 provides an overview of the national women's machineries as well as the WID units or focal points in the technical ministries.

The sectoral reports noted some of the already well documented limitations of women's machineries throughout the world: restricted financial and human resources and the lack of communication channels with technical ministries and departments and other bodies dealing with gender issues. As seen in Table 5, many of the national machineries have focal points in the technical ministries, an important first step in mainstreaming gender issues. Others support interministerial committees on gender and rural development issues. Whatever the arrangement, it appears that this approach has given the machineries an entry point in the technical ministries and thus a means to influence policies in technical areas more directly.

All of the countries examined, with the exception of Zimbabwe, Mauritania and Morocco, have WID units or focal points in the ministries dealing with rural development. While some are formally attached to the national women's machineries, others are autonomous. The location of the WID unit within the ministries influences its role; those in the planning and policy units concentrate on the policy level, while those located in more technical departments, including extension, focus on integrating women into particular projects. While the sectoral report for Benin mentions that the SPAFR is limited by its location in the Directorate for Rural Promotion and Legislation, where it has little to do with preparing and executing the Ministry's rural development projects, its macro level position may well enable it to have a more far-reaching impact at the policy level.

Considerable progress has been made in institutionalizing WID units within the technical ministries throughout Africa, and in sensitizing these ministries to WID/gender issues. Nevertheless, these units tend to suffer from a lack of coordination and communication with other relevant bodies, including the national women's machineries, and from financial and human resource limitations and lack of support from the Ministry as a whole. In Benin, for example, the SPAFR has only three staff members. In Burkina Faso, it is urgent that a coordinating mechanism be put in place in the Ministry of Agriculture and between the Ministry and the other partners in the field including the national women's commission.

Table 5: National Women's Machineries and WID Units/Focal Points in Technical Ministries


Year Est.

National Machinery

WID Units/Focal Points in the Technical Ministries



National Commission on the Integration of Women in Development; Ministry of Planning and Economic Reconstruction

Each technical ministry has a WID focal point. In addition, there is an Office for the Promotion of Rural Women's Activities (SPAFR) within the Directorate for Rural Promotion and Legislation, Ministry of Rural Development, which works primarily at the policy level.

Burkina Faso


National Supervisory Commission for the Implementation of the National Strategies and Plan of Action to Strengthen the Role of Women in the Development Process

Each technical ministry has a representative in the Commission. In addition, there is a Bureau for the Promotion of Women's Activities within the Directorate of Agricultural Extension which supports and coordinates the activities of the 12 regional bureaus.



Directorate for the Integration of Women in Development

WID focal points exist in four of the technical ministries, including the Ministry of Youth and Rural Development. In addition, a Ministry charged with the integration of women in development has recently been created.



State Secretariat on the Condition of Women

A technical inter-ministerial committee was created in 1992 to: oversee the activities promoting women, coordinate activities between the different technical departments, and restructure rural development projects to respond to the needs of women.



Directorate of Social Affairs; Ministry of Crafts and Social Affairs

Although no focal point exists within the Ministry of Agriculture, efforts have been made to see that women participate in existing extension programmes through the creation of regional cells for the mobilization of rural women and the training of female extension agents.



Department of Women's Affairs; Office of the President

Although there are no focal points in the Ministry of Agriculture or other technical ministries at present, plans exist to facilitate an inter-ministerial network on gender issues to be composed of individuals from the line ministries.



The Ministry of Agriculture has a number of WID units, including the Women in Agricultural Development Administration and focal points within the Forestry Administration Department, the Soil Conservation and Environment Department, and the Agricultural Extension Administration. There is also a Women in Development Coordinating Unit within the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment.



Department of Women's Affairs; Ministry of Community Development, Women's Affairs and Children - Mainland

The Union Government Ministry of Agriculture WID focal point was established in 1985 to: liaise with regional focal points and other agencies responsible for rural development; participate in training rural women in agricultural credit and enhancing their entrepreneurial capacities; collaborate with other interested institutions in organizing village-based seminars for women's groups; ensure female participation in, and benefits from, extension programmer; and encourage female leadership in agricultural sciences. In the Zanzibar Ministry of Agriculture, the Unit for Women and Youth, Office of the Commissioner for Research and Farmers Education, was established in 1992 to: promote women's and youth agricultural, livestock, fishing and forestry activities; impart nutrition education to women; raise the economic status of women and youth; and ensure equitable distribution of income based on one's labour contribution.



Ministry of State for Women and Children, Presidents Office - Zanzibar




Department of Women's Affairs; Ministry of National Affairs, Cooperatives and Employment Creation

Within the Ministry of Land, Agriculture and Water Development, WID issues are administered through the Central Planning Unit. The Department of Agricultural Technical and Extension Services also incorporates WID issues in its Training Branch, and has a senior officer whose duties include liaison on WID issues.

Role of NGOs

The role of national and international NGOs in reaching the rural population in Africa is being increasingly documented. Among their other roles, NGOs often facilitate the exchange of information, train leaders in people's organizations, and promote cooperation among governments and donor agencies on policy issues. The importance of NGOs to rural women varies from country to country, as does their focus on rural issues. In most of the countries examined, the growth in recent years of NGOs and women's associations which pay attention to gender issues has benefited rural women. In Burkina Faso, since 1980 NGOs have been increasingly developing strategies in favour of women in various domains. Certain northern NGOs supported by their governments are very sensitized to the roles of women and intervene to work with local government structures which work with rural women. In the Congo, since the political liberalization of 1990, there has been a flourishing of women's NGOs, some of which work in food production and marketing.

In the Sudan, the number of national NGOs working in the area of agriculture has increased to 92, as the number of regional and international NGOs has decreased. These NGOs are implementing 23 projects in the area of food production and processing and 21 projects targeting women in the area of livestock and dairy.

In Tanzania, NGOs nave become a dynamic arena for women's empowerment, and support to rural women in agriculture has increased with both the formation of WID units at NGOs headquarters and the increase in community based organizations since 1985. Presently, a number of local NGOs under the Tanzania Non-Governmental Organization Umbrella are addressing agriculture, livestock and environmental issues. Many grassroots women's groups are being created and some have succeeded in creating viable economic and training programmer. In addition, an increasing number of international NGOs are dealing with women and agriculture, environment, fisheries, forestry, irrigation, food processing and related activities.

In Zimbabwe, there has been a gradual increase in the number of NGOs which focus on rural women (from 30 in 1989 to 53 in 1993). Since 1980, several NGOs have reviewed and evaluated their programmes in an attempt to focus on gender issues and increase the participation of women. Staff gender sensitization programmes have been carried out by a number of NGOs and many studies have been conducted on gender issues as they affect women's access to credit, land and other resources

In other countries, such as Namibia and Morocco, despite the increasing number of NGOs, rural women continue to be neglected. In Morocco, the number of NGOs has rapidly multiplied in recent years in response to the privatization of the economy and the disengagement of the State from certain direct interventions. In the last ten years, many organizations which are specifically women-oriented have been created. However, these organizations tend to be concentrated in large cities and primarily focus on issues of concern to urban women.

In Namibia, there are few women's groups and NGOs which work to enhance women's role in agriculture and food production and advocate on behalf of women farmers. Information on women's participation in NGOs is scarce, but recent surveys have indicated it is likely to be low. Of the women's organizations that do exist, most tend to be dominated by urban-based women and lack a substantial presence in rural regions, particularly in communal areas.

Lack of awareness of, and commitment to, internationally and nationally recognized women's rights

In Africa, 28 states have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, one of the most important international treaties articulating the equal rights of women and men in all areas of life, paying special attention to rural women and explicitly referring to women's legal status in terms of land and agrarian reform (United Nations, 1991). Eight of the nine countries examined have ratified or acceded to the Convention, while the majority of which also have national constitutions guaranteeing the equal rights of men and women as well as other supporting legislation on the status of women in particular sectors. However, the existence of national legislation and international conventions does not necessarily guarantee their implementation as both women and men, especially in rural areas, are frequently unaware of such rights. In addition, in many countries discriminatory legislation regarding inheritance and land rights remains, and the coexistence between customary and civil law continues to have negative implications for rural women.

In Benin, discriminatory legislative measures persist in the social, economic and political domains. Social and civil legislation is strongly influenced by tradition and customs as women continue to be required to seek their husband's written authorization in certain areas (family planning) and have very limited land use rights. A new family code has recently been prepared and its adoption should facilitate a more equitable situation.

In the Congo, in spite of the family code (1984) which stipulates that one of its objectives is to emancipate women, women and children often find themselves homeless after the death of the husband and, in most cases, women are required to have their husband's authority to carry out income earning activities.

In Mauritania, the civil modern law continues to coexist with several juridical approaches: Muslim law, black African customary law, arab-bedouin and berbere customary law. While the Moudouana (which governs personal status) was revised in 1993 to protect women's rights in terms of marriage and divorce, other discriminatory legislation continues to exist, including codes under which women's work contracts must be submitted to the husband for approval, and the commerce code which also places women's freedom to exercise a liberal profession under the husband's authority.

In Namibia, the Constitution guarantees equal rights for women and provides for affirmative action to redress past imbalances. However, the Constitution also states that all s in force at independence remain in force until repealed or amended by Parliament, and customary and common laws also remain valid, as long as they do not conflict with the Constitution or statutory laws. Thus many discriminatory laws remain intact. Discriminatory marriage laws greatly limit women's authority over children, control over property and access to land and credit. Marriage in community of property (even in civil law marriages) means that married women cannot register property in their own name, they require their husband's consent and signature to enter into contracts and initiate law suits, and are also unable to pledge property as security for credit. Women in customary marriages are also dependent on their husband's authority to sell property or enter into contracts.

In Tanzania, the existence of a dual legal system limits legal equality between men and women. In addition, some gender discriminatory pieces of legislation, such as the 1971 Marriage Act regarding property and inheritance rights, remain in force. According to customary law, most women in Tanzania do not have rights to land ownership nor to inheritance of family property.

In Zimbabwe, despite extensive recent legislation in favour of women, rural women still have problems in terms of legal access to land in communal areas, as traditional attitudes and customs have lagged behind such legislation. Married women have secondary land use rights through their husbands, and upon divorce must vacate the land.

In many of the countries examined, measures have been initiated by the government and NGOs to remove discriminatory legislation and to increase awareness of national and international women's rights. However, the extent to which such measures have been able to reach rural women has varied. In Burkina Faso, a commission was created in 1985 to sensitize the population on the "codes des personnel et de la famille". In Mauritania, the State Secretariat on the Condition of Women is presently preparing a new family code, and until ready, a service for family protection has been created to oversee family quarrels and to educate women to their rights and opportunities.

In Namibia, the Law Reform and Development Commission includes a Women and Law Committee which will seek to reform civil and customary law in line with the Constitution. Projects are also underway to educate women about their rights and ways of asserting them, though there is some concern that they are not reaching rural women. In the Sudan, legal literacy conferences and workshops have been organized, though the degree to which they have reached rural women is negligible.

In Tanzania, the Law Reform Commission was established in 1983 to address gender imbalances, to study the legal aspects contradictory to constitutional rights, and to recommend appropriate changes. However, the law of succession and inheritance, which impinges on women and is detrimental to agrarian transformation with respect to land ownership rights, has yet to be examined. Efforts to promote a more equitable distribution of land culminated in the creation of the Land Reform Commission, whose report on land awaits discussion by government and Parliament. The government has also initiated radio programmes on legal rights and procedures, while NGO initiatives include legal aid clinics and legal literacy campaigns. Similar programmes exist in Zanzibar.

In Zimbabwe, several important legislative measures have been introduced in the last ten years to enhance the status of women, including the Matrimonial Causes Act which empowers the court to equitably divide and reallocate property at the dissolution of marriage by divorce (previously customary law had been applied). Similarly, the Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Amendment Act makes it possible for a widow to claim a share of the estate of her husband on the basis of her contribution to its acquisition and entitles her to enjoy the use of crops and animals in the same way as was done prior to her husband's death. In addition, the Deeds Registries Act has made it possible for women to have equal rights with married men in regard to acquiring immovable property including land (previously a husband's consent was required for all land purchase transactions). Since 1985, various NGOs working on legal literacy in rural communities have also been formed.

While a considerable amount of progress has been made in guaranteeing women's equal rights with men in terms of access to productive resources, in many countries further work is needed both in terms of passing legislation which protects women's legal rights and in enforcing those rights through mass education campaigns, especially in rural areas.


In Africa, rural areas are generally poorer than urban areas and rural women, especially women heads of households, are poorer than men in terms of food security, income, size of land cultivated and technology. These findings are particularly alarming in the face of increasing numbers of rural female-headed households across the continent, where in several countries women headed households account for almost 50% of the total rural households.

Factors contributing to poverty in rural areas

Economic crises, reforms and structural adjustment programmes. In many of the countries (Burkina Faso, Congo, Mauritania, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe), structural adjustment programmes implemented in the face of economic crises have had negative impacts on households, and especially rural households. This is due to a variety of reasons, including decreased purchasing power of rural households due to the removal of government subsidies and price controls on food products and essential commodities, decreased government provision of agricultural and social services, and an increased emphasis on commercial crops, among others.

Environmental degradation. The negative effects of desertification, deforestation and soil erosion, stemming largely from over-cultivation as well as recurring drought, have limited the ability of small farmers to provide food for their families and for sale. In a mutually reinforcing manner, environmental degradation increases poverty, which in turn threatens the environment, as farmers have no alternative to overexploiting the land or access to alternative sources of energy.

Changes in the number of women-headed households. As shown in Table 6, the percentage. of women headed households ranges from 5% in Burkina Faso 7 to 46% in the communal areas of Zimbabwe. The percentage of women headed households is increasing in all of the countries for which data was provided.

(7 In Burkina Faso there are more female-headed households in urban areas (11%) than in rural areas (5%).)

The main factor explaining this trend is the ongoing migration of men to other areas in search of employment due to decreasing returns from agriculture (Burkina Faso, Namibia, Mauritania, Morocco, Tanzania, Zimbabwe) and, in the case of Southern Sudan, to war. The implications are largely negative for the rural population left behind, and especially for the members of female-headed households, which are typically associated with increased labour constraints, simpler farming systems, inadequate services and meagre incomes.

Table 6: Female headed Households In Rural Areas (percent)


Early-mid 1980s




19 (1992)

Burkina Faso







20 (mid-1980s)b



15 (1982)










- Mainland


18 (1991)

- Zanzibar

27 (1980)

30 (1993)




a In some regions the number of female-headed households is considerably higher than the national average (e.g., the Central South region reports that 13%; of rural households are headed by women).

b lFAD, 1993:74.

c In the communal areas, approximately 60% of all households are headed by women.

Women headed households are frequently faced with shortages of adult labour, which often results in declining food productivity, especially when coupled with the low level of agricultural inputs received by women farmers. In Morocco, the rural households headed by women are generally small, with 69 % having less than four persons. In Namibia, recent data from the Owarnbo region suggests that, although the size of land holdings between male and female-headed households is comparable, the amount cultivated is often lower for the latter due to labour shortages. Labour shortages may also lead women to turn to alternative crops that require less labour inputs, even though they may be less nutritious.

Women headed households tend to earn lower incomes than male headed households. Only in Mauritania do women-headed households appear to be better-off. This could be explained by the existence of a certain number of transfers and subsidies towards these households, especially in rural areas. In Benin, male headed rural households have an average revenue of 49.407 CFA (US$ 96)8 per consumption unit and save 21 %; those headed by women have an average revenue of only 43.529 CFA (US$ 85) and save 16%. In the Congo, 75% of the women interviewed in three districts received less than 200, 000 CFA (US$ 390) per year, which is insufficient to cover subsistence expenses. In Tanzania, surveys indicate that rural women headed households have the lowest cash income. In 1985, female-headed households earned 10% of female urban household earnings and 25 % of male-headed households in communal areas. In 1990, significant improvements were noted with female-headed households earning 61% of male headed households. In Zimbabwe, statistical indicators show that in terms of household income, rural women headed households were 40% poorer than male headed households and 90% poorer than women headed households in urban areas.

(8 At the rate of US$ 1 = 512 CFA; November 1994)

Women headed households tend to have access to smaller and less fertile plots of land, and more limited access to the means of production than male headed households. In Zimbabwe, in the communal sector female-headed households are likely to be allocated smaller parcels of land than male-headed households. Findings from a recent survey suggest that de jure female headed households had the smallest farm sizes, varying from 40 to 80% of the land parcels belonging to male headed households.

When women are involved as agricultural labourers they appear to be remunerated less than men, which has negative implications for women headed households in particular. According to data collected by IFAD in the late 1980s, women tend to receive only 50% of men's wages in Mauritania, Sudan and Zimbabwe, while they receive 90% of men's wages in the Congo.

In Morocco, there are large variations in agricultural wages depending on the season, the region, the nature of the work, and gender. Women and girls are generally paid less than men and boys, despite a minimum wage guaranteed by the government. In Sudan, wages are lower for women than for men, which is also due to fact that they are assigned work in the lower paying traditional sector.

In Namibia, to meet basic food needs, households are obliged to augment production from subsistence agriculture with cash or in-kind income from other sources. The main contributor to subsistence across households is direct cash income from formal employment. Female-headed households have fewer members employed formally or informally than maleheaded households. In addition, rising unemployment and social breakdown of the family have shrunk the amount and frequency of remittances.

Consequences of rural poverty

Rural poverty has implications for food availability and intake. For those countries where data was provided, the nutritional situation of rural women and children is worse than in urban areas, and in some cases, children in rural female headed households are particularly vulnerable.

In the Congo, between 1987 and 1992, the number of female farmers who suffered chronic dietary insufficiencies increased from 23 to 47%, while the number of growth children of farmers increased from 30 to 36%.

In Morocco, a 1987 study showed that, of children under five years of age, 35.7% suffered from malnutrition in rural areas, while the rate was only 21.4% in urban areas. In Zimbabwe, rural children are at greater risk of severe or moderated malnutrition, are twice as likely to be stunted, and have lower weight for age than urban children.

It appears that in certain countries, children of female-headed households have less food security and lower nutritional levels. In Namibia, female-headed households have more dependents but less means to obtain food and so face the greatest risk of poor nutrition among children, nursing mothers and the elderly. Data from selected rural centres in 1990 indicated that under nourishment and stunting were more prevalent in children of female-headed households, and that malnutrition levels were considerably higher in rural areas.

In Tanzania, female headed households tend to have less food security than their male counterparts. The 1992 drought impacted more strongly on women and children, especially girls, who tend to eat less in times of food shortages.

Women in Africa work from twelve to thirteen more hours a week than men, often averaging over 65 hours. The impact of such long working hours on women's health, coupled with low access to health services, needs to be examined further.

Inequality in women's access to, and participation in, the definition of economic structures and the productive process itself

Rural land ownership

The lack of access to land remains a major constraint for women farmers in Africa, and land reform programmes, as well as the tendency towards the break up and privatization of communal land holdings -- especially in areas of tribal and customary tenures, have led almost exclusively to the transfer of land rights to male heads of households (FAO, 1990a: 12). Even in countries where ownership and inheritance laws have been reformed in favour of women, in practice women do not necessarily have more rights to land, as local customs and lack of information act as barriers.

Customary land use practices can determine women's access to land in terms of land use rights or ownership. In Mauritania, under customary law black African women do not have land property rights. In Namibia, rural women continue to gain access to land through men, and in Zimbabwe, women have no direct access to primary land use rights in the communal areas. While women do have legal rights of access in the freehold land sectors, they generally lack the economic resources to acquire such land. In the Sudan, the majority of subsistence farmers operate under customary tenure in which women are accorded usufruct rights to land.

In Africa, women tend to be unpaid labourers on their husbands' land and cultivate separate plots in their own right at the same time. However, while women may work their own plots, they may not necessarily have ownership and thus their rights might not survive the death of their spouse (Bullock, 1993;45). In the case of male migration and de facto women heads of households, conflicts may arise as prevailing land rights rarely endow women with stable property or user rights (IFAD, 1993:25).

Land reform schemes have rarely worked to women's benefit. In fact, the reform schemes may replace a complex system of land use and tenure where women have certain rights in common law and local practice, if not in legislation. The new land titles are almost always assigned to male heads of households, regardless of women's economic contribution to the household, their customary rights, or the increasing number of women heads of households (Bullock, 1993:45).

In the nine countries examined, women rarely own land and when they do, their land holdings tend to be smaller and less fertile than men's. In some countries, women's formal access to land is increasing, while in those areas where customary law prevails and male traditional authorities allocate the land or where land is passed from father to son, women continue to receive smaller and less fertile plots. In some countries, women are forced to rent land for their use (particularly Mauritania).

As illustrated in Table 7, women generally hold less land than men, ranging from a low of 3% in Zimbabwe in the small scale commercial sector to a high of 25% of the agricultural land in the Congo and Tanzania. Nor do women appear to profit from land reform as they received only 5-23% of the land-use permits in Zimbabwe and only 6% in Morocco. In Tanzania, when village land was allocated, all rights were given to men and no provision was made in the law for widows, divorced or separated women. In contrast to traditional practices men were able to sell or rent their land without their wives permission. In Burkina Faso, the amount of land allocated to the household plot was smaller than women's traditional food fields, which had allowed them to sell a small surplus (Bullock, 1993:45).

Table 7: Women and Land Ownership


Women's Land Holdings as Percent of Total Agricultural Holdings

Average Size of Holdings (Hectares)








Burkina Faso

















0.6 (1986/87)

0.89 (1986/87)


0.53 (1990/91)

0.73 (1990/91)


Small-scale commercial sector: 3




Large-scale commercial sector: 10


In terms of land size, women's holdings tend to be smaller than men's, ranging from one-half in Morocco to approximately 72% of the size of male holdings in Tanzania. In the Congo, nearly 60% of women cultivate less than 1 hectare of land and in Zimbabwe, according to survey data, 86% of the women headed households have less than the sample mean arable land holding. It is interesting to note that in Tanzania, the size of the average land holding decreased between 1983 and 1990 for both men and women, indicating that both genders are being similarly affected by land degradation and population pressure, although women's holdings remain smaller.

Women 's access to credit

In Africa, rural women have less access to credit than rural men, which limits their ability to purchase seeds, fertilizers and other inputs needed to adopt new farming techniques. A FAO analysis of credit schemes in five African countries, where women predominate in food production (Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe), found that women received less than 10% of the credit directed at smallholders and just 1% of the total credit directed to agriculture (Bullock, 1993:47). In addition, in all of the countries, rural populations generally have less access to credit than urban residents.

Women's access to credit is clearly lower than men's in each of the countries for which data was available (Table 8), receiving from a low of 5% of agricultural loans in Burkina Faso to a high of 32% in Zimbabwe. In Benin, less than 5% of the rural female-headed households have access to credit. Over the last few years a substantial increase in the number of women clients was registered in Zimbabwe, increasing from 11% in 1982 to 32% at present.

Table 8: Percentage of Credit Going to Rural Women



% of Total Credit to Rural Women


Local Fund for Agricultural Credit and Regional Fund for Agricultural Credit


Burkina Faso

National Fund for Agricultural Credit



All credit institutions (1987-89)









Livestock Bank





Agricultural Finance Corporation


a The figure includes credit to both urban and rural women

b The figure only includes loans to women's cooperatives

Gender disaggregated data was not available for a number of countries including Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia and Tanzania, although some insights can be gained. In Mauritania, women's access to credit is limited to their involvement in rotating savings and informal credit clubs (tontines). In Namibia, since late 1992, over 450 small-scale communal farmers have been able to obtain loans through a special scheme administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development. However, over three quarters of the total amount has been for the acquisition of stock which, in the absence of conclusive gender based data, suggests that women may be underrepresented as the purchase of stock often falls to men. In Tanzania, it appears that rural women's access to credit has been almost exclusively confined to donor supported women's grants, despite some efforts on the part of the Co-operative and Rural Development Bank to ease capital contribution requirements for women.

A variety of legal, socio-cultural and institutional constraints continue to limit rural women's access to credit. Many of these were raised in the sectoral reports and include the following:

More encouragingly, in recent years special programmes and funds have been created in many countries targeted at rural areas and/or rural women in order to address these constraints. The programmes are often developed as components of larger development projects run by the government, international donors and NGOs. In addition, women have often taken measures to help themselves in gaining access to credit, either through traditional group savings schemes or associations and cooperatives (Bullock, 1993:27). For instance, in Mauritania women have turned almost exclusively to savings and credit clubs. In Zimbabwe, savings clubs have been formed to help meet the needs of the rural population and the majority of their members are women. Through group savings schemes women have been able to accumulate enough funds to buy fertilizers, improved seeds, and pay for transportation to market their produce (FAO, 1994b).

In Burkina Faso, more than 80% of the total loans provided by an integrated project through the Savings and Credit Commercialization Fund were extended to women's groups in 1991. Most of the loans were used for food processing of agricultural products. In addition, in 1993, the government created the Support Fund for Women's Income Generating Activities to extend credit to urban and rural women for commerce.

In the Congo, the Credit Rural was created in 1989 to provide loans to the rural, semi-rural and pert-urban areas. Of the 71 loans made, 9 were to women, although these loans were made primarily to urban women. The Women's Mutual Savings and Credit Fund was a project financed by UNDP in 1992 to assist women micro-entrepreneurs in urban and pert-urban areas. Loans totalling 5,400,000 CFA (US$ 10,500) have been extended to seven women's groups working in a variety of areas including agriculture.

In Morocco, recognizing the potential of female clients, the Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole carried out a study in a pilot zone exploring the institutional and socioeconomic constraints limiting women's access to credit. The results of the study permitted the implementation of a credit system that employs female personnel and uses simplified procedures and lower collateral requirements in order to more effectively respond to rural women's needs. In four years, the number of female clients has multiplied by 5 going from 400 to 2,000 clients.

In the Sudan, a growing number of lending institutions are extending credit to women for agricultural and livestock production, food processing and other income generating activities. The Agricultural Bank of Sudan (ABS) began financing women's cooperatives as early as 1978 in order to provide seasonal credit for women to produce certain crops. By 1992/3 50 women's cooperatives had received credit, up from 14 in 1980/81. Between 1983 and 1989, a branch of the ABS started to provide loans to small farmers to purchase machines and production inputs, and the majority of beneficiaries were women. The ABS also developed a programme with the agricultural extension and cooperative department to extend credit to women farmers to grow sesame, groundnuts and gum arable.

In Namibia, programmes run by NGOs have enhanced women's access to credit by targeting small loan programmer to them. Also important is the fledgling credit union movement and credit schemes supported by farmers associations which provide an opportunity for farmers to access loans without collateral restrictions. Currently, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Rural Development is developing an agricultural bank to administer a loan programme designed for small-scale comununal farmers. The programme would make loans available to individual farmers organized into informal groups, and to formally registered cooperatives. The proposed model does not consider affirmative action for women, but it is hoped that loans managed through cooperatives will reach women.

In Tanzania, women's access to loans has tended to be confined to donor supported special women's grants due to the strict collateral requirements of banks. Donors have supported women's access to loans through the Cooperative and Rural Development Bank, and the number of loans disbursed to women has increased from 28 in 1984 to 734 in 1992. In terms of government support, a major breakthrough was made during the 1993 budget session when the Union government allocated 500 million Tanzanian shillings (US$ 1 million) to support more women with credit. Women's own initiatives include the formation of informal rotating savings and credit associations, although they are primarily urban-based.

In Zimbabwe, the Self Help Development Foundation, a savings organization, promotes savings on a regular basis by groups of poor people to mobilize their small sums into useful amounts for productive purposes. Women constitute 83% of the membership.

It can be noted that all of the programmer use group membership to guarantee the loans, thereby eliminating one of the major obstacles to women's access to credit -- lack of collateral. While a considerable amount of research is being conducted on the remaining constraints, the lack of accurate gender disaggregated statistics on clients by lending institutions continues to be a limitation both in the design of interventions and in the monitoring and evaluation of on-going projects.

Extension services and agricultural training

In Africa, men continue to dominate the agricultural disciplines in secondary schools, they constitute the majority of the extension department personnel (with the exception of home economics), and are the primary recipients of extension services. This situation is clearly illustrated in the sectoral reports. However, the reports also give some positive indications as to women's increased access to agricultural extension services and enrolment in agricultural courses of study.

Agricultural training and education

Overall, the data which is available in the sectoral reports indicates that women's enrolment in agricultural programmes, especially at the intermediate and university levels, has grown since the mid-1980s, although it remains low in comparison to men's enrolment (Benin, Congo, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe).

In terms of women's enrolment in agricultural subjects in secondary schools, the results have been mixed. In Benin, the participation of women in agriculture courses/programmes at the secondary level increased slightly from 4% in 1986 to 8% in 1991. In the Congo, women's enrolment in agricultural technical secondary schools increased between 1984 and 1989 from 34 to 53% of total enrolment. In Namibia, there continues to be more males taking agricultural subjects at the secondary level, which has implications for subsequent entrance into agricultural colleges. While there is gender tracking based on gender stereotypes, the lower number of female students may also be due to the lack of women agricultural teachers who might serve as mentors to girls.

The results have also been mixed in terms of women's enrolment at the intermediate levels of agricultural education. In Benin, women's enrolment at the superior school level increased slightly and from 3.8 to 4.6% in 1991. In the Congo, women's enrolment in agricultural training centres (CMA) increased from 46% in 1984 to 51% in 1989. In Namibia, however, men still outnumber women in agricultural colleges, with women representing 45% of first year enrolment at the Ongongo Agricultural College and 12% at the Neuclamrn Agricultural College. In Tanzania, female enrolment in certificate and diploma programmes in agriculture remains low. In certificate level programmes in agriculture and livestock there are only 34 women compared to 85 men. In diploma training in agriculture, out of a total of 161 students, only 29 are women. As for livestock diploma training, male intake increased from 108 in 1992 to 122 in 1993, while female intake decreased from 18 to 10 during the same period.

Women's enrolment is also increasing in agricultural disciplines at the university level. In Tanzania, the percentage of women enrolled in the BSC programme in agriculture in the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Veterinary Medicine has increased from 15.1 % in 1988 to 28.8% in 1994, while in the forestry programme, female intake increased from one student in 1988 to four in 1994. In Zimbabwe, agricultural training was not readily available to women in the early 1980s as the majority of agricultural training institutes had no facilities for training women. By 1990, 42 women qualified, and by 1992, all agricultural colleges could enrol female students. In 1993, the female output was 30% per annum for colleges and 26% for university graduates.

The increase in women's enrolment in agricultural programmes between the mid- and late-1980s was the most impressive in the Congo, where they presently account for more than half of the students in the CETAs and CMAs. An increase in women's enrolment in agricultural colleges and university programmes in the 1980s was also notable in Zimbabwe, where in ten years women's enrolment increased from relatively female few students to 30% for colleges and 26% for universities in 1993.

Gender composition of extension departments

According to FAO's 1989 global survey on extension and farm women, women accounted for 10.5% of extension staff (1989a:82-3) in Africa. These extension agents were predominantly specialized in home economics and are rarely represented as administrators/supervisors (4%), subject-matter specialists (1 %) and field workers in agriculture (8%). According to data collected for five African countries (the Gambia, Mauritius, Senegal, Tunisia and Zimbabwe), increases were registered in the number of female extension staff, going from 2.8% in 1980 to 5.2% in 1989 (FAO, 1993a:46). An overview of the percentage of female extension staff in the nine countries examined is presented in Table 9.

Table 9: Percentage of Female Extension Staff by Year


Early Year

Most Recent Year


8.2 (1989)a

12.2 (1993)

Burkina Faso

15 (1985)

9.9 (1989)a


9.9 (1989)a



3.1 (1989)a



7 (1982)

10 (1992)b





22 (1989)a



15.6 (1989)a



0.5 (1985)

10 (1993)

a FAO, 1993a:82-3.

B Where are no female extension agents in livestock or forestry.

In recent years, the number of female extension staff has increased, although their representation continues to remain extremely low, ranging from 3.1 % of the extension staff in Mauritania to 22% in the Sudan. While increased numbers of women agents does not necessarily guarantee that more women farmers will be reached, it was mentioned in several reports that female extension agents are more inclined to contact female farmers and are more likely to address issues of concern to them, such as subsistence production and household food security. At the same time, women farmers may be more inclined to attend a demonstration when it is given by a woman.

In Burkina Faso, while it appears that the number of female extension staff has decreased over time, the data collected for 1985 only included the percentage of female extension agents, while that collected in 1989 included the percentage of female extension staff from all levels. A similar discrepancy is found in the Sudan, where it was reported that women accounted for 12% of the extension agents in 1988, whereas in 1989 the data available was for all extension staff and 22% were women.

In terms of decision-making positions inside extension institutions, women's representation is very low in Africa, accounting for only 4% of the administrators and supervisors and 9% of the subject matter specialists. Of the nine countries, the Sudan had the highest number of women administrators/supervisors with 18%, and Mauritania and Zimbabwe the lowest with no female representation.

Efforts to increase the number and technical competence of women extension agents have been made in several countries. In Burkina Faso, a training course was held for women extension workers in 1985. In the Congo, a Service-de Promotion Rurale with a female component was created in the Ministry of Agriculture's Direction de la Recherche Development, Formation et Vulgarisation. In Morocco,- a significant effort was made to increase the number of female extension agents during the mid-1980s. A precise strategy of intervention was implemented and intensive retraining programmes were undertaken.

Gender composition of extension service recipients

According to FAO's 1989 global survey, in Africa only 7% of all agricultural extension resources were allocated to women farmers, and the area of extension traditionally available to women -- home economics -- is given minimal support, receiving only 1 % of total extension resources. Nevertheless, extension services are increasingly reaching women farmers as many of the issues surrounding women and extension have begun to be addressed. These issues include socio-cultural norms that restrict male agents from contacting female farmers, male agents' preference to work with male farmers, constraints in women's time and transportation and inability to travel to central demonstration points, the content of extension messages focusing on male commercial crops rather than on subsistence farming and food security, and the almost exclusive focus of women-oriented extension services on reproductive roles.

Although increasing numbers of rural women are being contacted by government extension programmer, the number of female farmers receiving extension services is still much lower than for men, with the notable exception of the Congo where, due to extremely high rates of male rural-to-urban migration, the agricultural workforce is composed primarily of women.

In Benin, although data is not available, extension services are overwhelmingly directed to farmers organized into cooperatives, and only 9.4% of rural women are organized as such. Therefore, it is likely that very few women are reached by extension.

In Burkina Faso, between 1980 and 1985 the only extension service available to rural women was advice on the family economy, while men received information on production techniques and the use of inputs, among others. In 1985, the "Operation Test de Renforcement de la Vulgarisation Agricole" was initiated using training visits as the basic principle. However, only 4.5% of women farmers benefited from this programme. Due to new strategies undertaken in the late 1980s, including the creation of the Bureau du Promotion des Activités Féminine, the number of organized female contact groups increased tremendously from 20 in 1988-89 to 1,394 in 1991-92, while the number of women reached by extension grew from 15,500 to 299,000 during the same period. Nonetheless, 2-5 times more men than women continue to be reached by extension agents. In terms of pastoral extension, women represent 16% of the total number of producers contacted.

In the Congo,-there are 10 extension centres in the country which focus on food crops. These centres reach approximately 14% of the farming population, of which over 50% are women.

In Morocco, there are three principle extension approaches: individual, intensive and mass. Overall, the extension activities have been well developed since 1988, and in 4 years the total beneficiaries went from 533,734 to 1,722,357 farmers. However, rural women represent less than 3 % of the total beneficiaries.

In Namibia, agricultural extension and services have historically served the interests and needs of commercial farmers, and although steps have been taken to reorient support towards subsistence farmers, many programmes fail to take account of the activities and priorities of women farmers. Women also have little positive contact with government staff concerned with natural resource management, as they are seen as carrying out a policing rather-than an assistance function. No data is available on women farmer's access to livestock, forestry and fisheries training and extension services.

In the Sudan, agricultural extension services are linked with cash crop production in the modern sector. Extension messages are targeted to male farmers while women are expected to receive the information from their husbands and male relatives. In the Gezira scheme, of the 120,000 farmers targeted, 11% were women.

In Zimbabwe, the Extension Services Department did not focus on gender issues until 1990, when it became apparent that agricultural extension was contacting only 44% of the women farmers. In 1993, the Department began focusing on the constraints to women's participation in an attempt to develop a more appropriate package for reaching women farmers. Prior to 1980 women were not awarded master farmer certificates. However, from 1982 to 1992, women constituted 33% of the participants in this training programme, and in 1993 women's participation increased 60 to 90%.

Data gaps in assessing women's access to land, credit and agricultural extension services

In terms of land, five out of the nine countries were not able to supply gender disaggregated data on land ownership and use, while four were unable to supply data on the average size of land holdings by gender. Regarding women's access to credit, none of the countries were able to supply figures at the national level, and the information provided-by individual institutions varied considerably. In terms of 'date on agricultural training and education, gender disaggregated data was available for only five ' countries. In terms of tile gender composition of farmers reached by agricultural extension, several countries were unable to supply a national breakdown.

The dearth of statistics on women's access to land, credit and agricultural extension services limits the efficacy of rural development policies and programmed, both with respect to analysis and to representation, identification and targeting of beneficiaries. It has been demonstrated worldwide that agriculture and rural development policies, programmes and projects have often' not 'fully succeeded because rural women and merits social, economic, legal, technological and other short-term strategic needs and constraints were not addressed, adequately. The inter-relationships between women's productive, reproductive and community roles have often not been perceived due in part to the lack of adequate data, leading rural development experts and planners to underestimate the importance of these relationships.

Inequality in access to employment

National statistics on the economically active population can be of limited value in looking at the extent to which women are economically involved in agriculture, food production and processing, as conventional definitions of the labour-force have-lead to an under-estimation of women's work. These definitions tend to place more emphasis on paid work and introduce gender biases in the distinction between domestic production ' for household consumption and production for sale or exchange. In Africa, it is estimated that only 42% of the economically active population involved in agriculture are' women due to the tendency to register farm women as housewives (FAO, 1990b:20).

In the nine countries examined, the varying definitions of the 'economically active population' limits the comparability of this data both among countries as well as over three. In Morocco, for example, working women who are not remunerated are included as part of the economically active population, while in Benin, only those women who earn a cash income are. included. Moreover, as Benin changed its definition of the economically active population to include women who earn some type of income (previously classified as housewives), the percentage of the rural female population defined as economically active rose from 37% in 1979 to 58% in 1992.

As can be seen in Table 10, the sectoral reports differed in their interpretations of "persons economically active in agriculture by gender", with some countries providing data on the percentage of women as a proportion of the total number of persons economically active in agriculture and others providing data on the percentage of economically active women as a proportion of the total population of women in rural areas. In some instances data was provided on the economically active population in general, while others provided data on the economically active population specifically involved in agriculture.

Despite these constraints, the data from the sectoral reports indicates the importance of women's role in agriculture, and that they constitute a substantial portion of the economically active population involved in agriculture. However, women's involvement in agriculture tends to be as own account or unpaid family workers as they have fewer opportunities for formal employment than men.

Table 10: Economically Active Rural Women


Economically active rural women (as % of rural women)

Economically active rural women in agriculture (as % of rural women)a

Rural women as % of total population economically active in agriculture

Rural women's labour force participation rate





Burkina Faso



































25c (61)d


a Estimates from 1988 (IFAD, 1993:73).

b This estimate excludes the informal and subsistence farming sectors.

c FAO, 1994c:6.

d 61% of communal favorers are women.

Of the total population active in agriculture, women constitute anywhere from 5 % in Namibia to 64% in Tanzania. Data collected by IFAD for 1988 illustrated that the majority of women in rural areas were economically active in agriculture, ranging from 32% in Morocco to 89% in Tanzania.

As previously mentioned, gaps in the data make comparisons among countries, and even within countries, difficult. The lack of reliable statistics on the nature and role of women's contribution to agriculture has been responsible for their invisibility and consequent neglect in agricultural policies and programmes. More positively, since the mid-1980s, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of gender disaggregated agricultural statistics, and several countries in Africa have been involved in efforts to improve the collection and dissemination of such data.

Reported unemployment is low for women in rural areas. However, low unemployment rates can mask women's underemployment, as their responsibilities for a wide range of unpaid domestic and agricultural tasks in the household leaves them insufficient time to generate income from other activities.

As illustrated in Table 11, the unemployment rate for rural women ranges from a high of 3.5% in the Congo to a low of 1.6% in Zanzibar. The national unemployment rate for women was highest in Mauritania; however, data on rural women in particular was unavailable.

Table 11: Unemployment Rates (percent)


Unemployment Rates in Rural Areas








Burkina Faso





















- Mainland




- Zanzibar








a Both urban and rural areas

b Communal areas only.

Division of labour by gender

While the gender division of labour in rural areas differs from country to country, and even within the same country, some generalizations can be made.

Rural women's productive role in agriculture continues to be underestimated in many countries as unpaid family workers are frequently excluded from national statistics and/or farm women are considered housewives in agricultural and population censuses. Such underestimation must be addressed in order to clearly demonstrate the importance of rural women-in agricultural production, and thus the extent to which current policies and programmes must be redressed.

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