Decent Rural Employment

Module 5: Women and decent work

The Women and Decent Work Module aims to assist policy makers, planners and practitioners in fostering gender equality in rural labour markets and actively promoting decent work for rural women. The module provides links to global, regional and country specific publications on the topic, including guidance materials and global databases.

Promote gender equality and rural women empowerment through decent work

Comprising half of the labour force, rural women are crucial for achieving economic, social and environmental changes needed for a sustainable development of agriculture and the rural economy. However, rural women face particular gender-based challenges that restrict them from contributing to agricultural and rural development to their full potential. Women have less access than men to productive resources and services, such as land, livestock, financial services and education. Also, women usually benefit less than men from rural employment: they tend to be overrepresented among the contributing family workers and in informal employment, and less likely to engage in wage employment than men. When they do, they are more likely to hold part-time, seasonal and/or low-paying jobs in the informal economy. Such jobs are typified by limited or no social protection, poor working conditions and, sometimes, physical or sexual exploitation. Rural women and girls aged 15-24 years often face additional constraints in accessing decent work, especially if they have less skills and limited access to resources, representative organizations and broader institutional support – and thus may be more prone to accept employment in the informal economy.

This module collates several useful knowledge and guidance materials to guide policy makers, planners and practitioners to promote gender equality in rural labour markets, while at the same time fostering the social and economic empowerment of rural women.

What are the main obstacles to rural women’s access to decent work?

What are the main obstacles to rural women’s access to decent work?

Global data indicate that in 2012 women comprised about 33 percent of the agricultural labour force worldwide, ranging from less than 10 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean to about two thirds in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Despite their significant role in agriculture and the rural economy, women typically find themselves in disadvantaged positions. Compared to their male counterparts, rural women tend to face: more restricted access to productive resources and assets; much greater burden of reproductive and domestic work in the household; lower geographic mobility; less access to financial services, social protection, market information and infrastructure; as well as lower participation and weaker voices in rural institutions and producer organizations. Albeit there have been changes in men's attitudes towards taking more responsibilities for unpaid care and domestic work, women still continue to do the lion's share of reproductive and community work, and particularly so in rural areas. This severely limits the time and energy they have available for productive and paid work, and contributes to reinforce the perception of women as  secondary workers confined to lower paid, part-time or seasonal jobs. A gendered pay gap persists almost everywhere, with rural women earning significantly less than men for doing the same work. Compounding women’s limited involvement in decent work is the persistence of gender-blind or women-unfriendly socio-cultural norms, laws, policies and programmes.

These gender-biased gaps in labour markets need to be addressed for an efficient and long-lasting empowerment of rural women and achievement of gender equality in the world of work. Such changes can, in turn, contribute to a reduction of rural poverty and food and nutrition insecurity and lead to a sustainable development of rural people's  livelihoods and the whole rural economy.

FAO’s conceptual framework to promote rural women’s empowerment through decent work

FAO’s conceptual framework to promote rural women’s empowerment through decent work

FAO understands that increasing decent work and employment opportunities for rural women represent a crucial development pathway that offers important socio-economic benefits not only to women, but also to their families, communities and rural economies at large. Thus, FAO aims to empower rural women through decent work in order to achieve its global goals to reduce world hunger, eliminate rural poverty, and ensure sustainable management of natural resources. In particular, FAO works on:

  • developing knowledge products on rural women’s multiple contributions to the rural economy and on the impact of gender-equitable decent work interventions on their economic and social empowerment;
  • providing technical support and capacity development to governments to enhance their capacities to formulate and implement decent employment policies and programmes that accelerate rural women’s empowerment;
  • strengthening policy dialogue and policy coordination between key sectors and stakeholders (governments, civil society, the private sector), with particular emphasis on identifying feasible policy options to address gender inequalities in rural labour markets and empower rural women.