Agronoticias: Agriculture News from Latin America and the Caribbean
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Latin America and The Caribbean

02/03/2017

Rural women - a key asset for growth in Latin America and the Caribbean

The historical discrimination that rural women have suffered up to the present day puts the region's economic growth at risk. These women are part of the solution - without them progress is not possible.

"We are aware that this is a challenging time for Latin America and the Caribbean," said Deputy Executive Director of UN Women Lakshmi Puri last February in Panama, underlining the region's somewhat reticent economic progression and slightly daunting predictions for 2017. She then added a gender perspective: "It is widely acknowledged that empowering women can unleash the full economic and productive potential of our societies and economies. Feminization of poverty is an impediment to eradicate it from the continent."

Puri delivered her speech as part of the regional consultations prior to the 61st Forum of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), held this month in New York. This  meeting in Panama was especially relevant for two reasons. Firstly, many ministers and senior officials participated in discussing gender issues in 23 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. And secondly, it involved the unanimous adoption of the Declaration of Panama, a document that unifies problems, needs and proposals in support of gender equality, calling for decisive measures to facilitate the women's economic empowerment throughout the region. In other words, it formally states that the link between women and poverty - which is becoming increasingly evident - has an adverse effect on societal development, conditioning the prosperity and well-being of the entire region. From this perspective, it would be reasonable to conclude that reversing this effect would be a move in the right direction.

The supporting data is certainly there. In Latin America and the Caribbean, about 40% of women over the age of 15 do not have their own income despite working on a daily basis. Eight out of these ten women work in the agricultural sector, a percentage that becomes even higher among indigenous, Afro-descendant and youth. Economic, social and political inequalities between men and women in the region are palpable. With this in mind, it seems logical that the Declaration of Panama should propose the adoption of macroeconomic policies to address this issue, considering structural aspects, from social protection to reducing the wage gap between men and women. "We must break down traditional barriers to women’s access to public and private goods, loans, technology, and the markets," commented Josefina Stubbs, IFAD's Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department, in a recent interview. "It is absolutely urgent to increase the participation of women and their role in the decision-making process regarding the investments that are made in their communities, and for them to be active subjects in the implementation of these investments."

 

The region faces an increasing feminization of agriculture

Although on the one hand there is an ongoing discussion about the connection between women and poverty, the conversation about the relationship between women and agriculture is gaining momentum - partly due to the diversification of labor, and partly because of the tendency of men to migrate to cities for work, while women take charge of caring for their families and agricultural work. This phenomenon, known as the "feminization of agriculture," is especially striking in Latin America and the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, in 2013, FAO reported that an increasing number of women were taking over agricultural holdings in the region. In Chile and Panama, for instance, three out of ten farms were run by women. However, the data was far too heterogeneus to generalize at that point: on the opposite end of the spectrum, Belize, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador barely reached the 10% mark.

The feminization of the agricultural sector implies numerous advantages and opportunities for women, particularly in regard to their decision-making abilities, participation, empowerment, and receiving economic compensation for their work. However, it also entails risks, such as limited access to credit, the market, and assets such as water or farming equipment. Rural woman have a very slim chance of achieving positions with greater responsabilities and higher wages. It could be argued that the feminization of agriculture could be an opportunity as long as policies react in time - promoting, protecting and accompanying their work. Otherwise, the fact that women are in charge of farms could lead to a difficult economic situation for them and their families, often making them even more vulnerable to poverty and jeopardizing their food security.

 

 

Photo 1 Alex E. Proimos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Photo 2 - Ibar Silva via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo 3 - CAFOD Photo Library via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo Bulletin - Alex E. Proimos via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Author: Jordi Vaqué, Information and Communications Manager at the FAO Investment Center, Division of Latin America and the Caribbean (TCIC)

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