FAO Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia

Women at the forefront of agrifood systems transformation

©FAO/Bradley Secker

08/03/2024, Budapest

For International Women’s Day, the perspectives of three remarkable women, are in the spotlight: an entrepreneur and community organizer from rural Albania, a distinguished academic from Türkiye, and a forward-thinking policy-maker from Uzbekistan.

Albania: Making our voices heard

Majlinda Mehmeti is heads the “Duarartat e Leskovikut” organization in Leskovik, Albania, that was established with the support of “Gender, Rural Equality and Tourism” (GREAT) project. The project is funded by the Ministry of International Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Italy, and co-implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and UN Women. The main objective of this three-year initiative is to contribute to the sustainable economic development of rural women and their communities by increasing their income and ability to obtain work. The project aims to increase the capacities of rural women to develop their own business and to improve their access to finance.

Tell us about yourself. 

I was born and raised in Leskovik. I am a young grandmother of twin girls.  Every day I work in the vineyard of my family farm, support my husband in his butcher shop, and do the household chores. 

What are women’s responsibilities and how did you get involved in the project?

Women in Leskovik prepare winter food stock (zahire) and preserves. They are very traditional, healthy and tasty. I also prepare them. 

I liked the idea of the project to mobilize women and work in the agribusiness incubator. I joined this new initiative right at the very beginning, but it was not very simple. It was a very challenging process and I experienced mixed feelings. Resistance, hesitation, reluctance, inspiration, and initiative all arose simultaneously. But I was not alone in this journey. Other group members faced these same dilemmas. As time passed, I understood the value of the project, which is not only about bringing more money home, but also making our voices heard. Our association is named “Duarartat e Leskovikut” in our community and is the first initiative [in Leskovik] to bring women together. 

The concept of an agribusiness incubator was a new one and I was curious how it would be in practice and how I would contribute to it. Rehabilitation of the building where it would be hosted was a very positive sign that this project would bring something tangible and concrete to our community. New equipment placed there makes us want to work with new technology and produce more winter foodstock (zahire).

Türkiye: The profile of rural women is more different and diverse

Ayse Ayata, senior gender specialist of FAO's "Leaving No One Behind" project, shared the results of a country gender assessment conducted in Türkiye. Funded by Türkiye under the FAO–Türkiye Partnership Programme on Food and Agriculture, the overall objective of the project is to accelerate gender equality and rural women’s economic empowerment, reduce rural poverty, and empower rural communities and organizations to access productive resources, services, and markets.

What is the situation of women living in rural areas of Türkiye? 
We conducted surveys in various rural areas of Türkiye, spoke to women and men in rural areas to explore the availability of services and the economic and social situation. 

In short, the situation of women has diversified. Multifacetedness means that it is very difficult to define a rural woman’s profile, taking into consideration education, contribution to agriculture, income, birth rate, life expectancy, availability of services and many similar aspects. When we look back 30 to 40 years, this spread was much less.  

A second group is those women who do unpaid family work. Previous studies have shown that a large proportion of rural women were in the endless cycle of unpaid family work. Now, on the contrary, the proportion of women working as an unpaid family worker has decreased. In addition, women in Central Anatolia, Eastern Anatolia, and other regions who previously did unpaid family work are currently disengaging from these work obligations. What I mean is that they provide care services for their children, spouses, elderly family members if any, or produce a little for the family, but we see them moving away from agricultural production. Looking at the third type, we notice that some women are engaged in agriculture either in partnership with their husbands, alone as direct entrepreneurs or with other women. The fourth type is the new type, which is a group that invests the knowledge and capital collected in the city into agriculture. 

In your opinion, why is sex-disaggregated data important?

A typical rural woman in Central Anatolia is not the same as a poor woman in the city. We say that people are not engaged in agriculture, that the lands remain empty, but this is from a man’s point of view. 

However, from the perspective of women, we see something different. For example, women are more prone to immigrate. Women say: 'Look, I live in this village, I have nothing to contribute to the village. If we move to the city, my kids can go to a better school and have better healthcare. If necessary, I will find work there." Now, if we don't have information about specific requirements for women, we can't see it. For example, if you want to prevent migration, you can solve it by providing public transport between the urban areas and the villages. Women do not have the opportunity to move independently. 

How do gender-based inequalities affect the performance of the agricultural sector?

Because women rarely own farms, especially due to patrilineal inheritance practices. Therefore, they face challenges in decision-making regarding agricultural activities, they are sort of seen as idle housewives. However, there are those who are innovative, well-read, have access to the internet, and even speak another language. If we could secure their participation, we would have the opportunity to invest in areas with higher added value. 

Another way to improve agriculture production is to increase the participation of women in working life, which will raise both national income and family incomes. This inequality of work is actually a very important problem in agriculture, both in relation to food security and agricultural security. 

What do you think rural women need most? 

The equalization and protection of women's equal inheritance rights is the first fundamental requirement to strengthening and improving womens’ livelihoods. Women who inherit as much or almost as much as men become entrepreneurs and contribute significantly to agriculture. 

Second, if you are addressing women who work in agriculture and who are unlikely to leave agriculture, you need to organize them and ensure that they add value to products and earn income. This is a very classic understanding of cooperatives. The Ministry of Agriculture and organizations such as FAO strongly support this cooperation. 

There are strong cooperatives that have done well, but most of them do not generate serious income, and in my opinion, the main benefit of rural women's cooperatives is socializing and giving women a feeling of empowerment.

Uzbekistan: Rural women shoulder the responsibilities of food production

Nabira I. Djumabaeva is the Deputy Head of the Department of the National Center for Knowledge and Innovation in Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

What are the biggest challenges to achieving rural women’s inclusion and how are they being addressed?

In Uzbekistan, the indispensable role of women in driving rural development and bolstering the national economy is widely acknowledged, particularly within the agricultural sector where they constitute a significant workforce. Despite the absence of overt gender-based restrictions in public policy and decision-making spheres, there exists a pressing imperative to mitigate entrenched gender disparities, especially concerning rural women's access to critical resources such as agricultural land, property rights, credit facilities, and other financial resources. Efforts have been undertaken to address these issues, aiming to ensure gender equality in resource allocation and opportunities.

However, the narrative extends beyond the agricultural domain. Rural women in Uzbekistan shoulder not only the responsibilities of food production but also bear the brunt of unpaid household labour, which significantly constrains their avenues for formal employment. Consequently, many find themselves relegated to the informal sector, limiting their capacity to contribute substantively to the family income. This situation is exacerbated by entrenched societal norms and cultural stereotypes that impede women's access to essential services, markets, institutional support, social protection, and opportunities for decent employment. These circumstances perpetuate a cycle of economic marginalization for rural women, constraining their potential for socioeconomic advancement and hindering the realization of their full potential.

In light of these challenges, concerted efforts are underway in Uzbekistan to dismantle structural barriers and promote gender-sensitive policies that facilitate rural women's meaningful participation in both productive and reproductive spheres. By fostering an enabling environment that recognizes and supports the multifaceted contributions of rural women, Uzbekistan seeks to enhance their socioeconomic status, promote gender equality, and foster sustainable rural development for the collective benefit of society.

What are some key lessons learned from working on this project?

Reflecting on initiatives like the FAO–Türkiye Partnership Programme "Leaving no one behind" project that focus on empowering rural women, several important lessons have emerged. 

First, it's crucial to prioritize initiatives that raise awareness among rural women about their rights and encourage their active involvement in governance, policies, and reforms. By empowering women to participate in decision-making processes, we ensure their perspectives are considered in shaping policies that directly impact their lives.

Moreover, active engagement of rural women in advocating for improvements in legal frameworks and mechanisms is essential. This entails developing and enforcing gender-sensitive legislation that addresses the unique challenges faced by rural women and protects their rights effectively.

Furthermore, economic empowerment plays a pivotal role in uplifting rural women. Projects should focus on facilitating women's participation in value chains, providing access to resources, finance, and technology, thereby enabling them to generate income and access markets on an equal footing with men.

By incorporating these lessons into future initiatives, we can effectively empower rural women, promote gender equality, and contribute to sustainable development in rural areas.