Women Vital to Agricultural Development


DHAKA, Bangladesh— Women and girls make up two-thirds of the worlds hungry.  They also contribute 80 percent of the world’s food production; however, they own less than one percent of the world’s land. Most micro-loans and entitlements are given to men while women receive less than one percent of these credits. As the world becomes more globalized, men  in developing countries men are leaving rural communities in search of work, usually traveling to cities to do so. This is leaving more and more women in charge of farms.

Women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor; however, they continue to lack access to much needed resources and opportunities because of gender discrimination, cultural norms and gender biased laws. If women were given these rights they would have the potential to increase the worlds food program by 30 percent, meaning that women have the potential to lift 150 million people out of poverty. Closing the gender gap in agriculture is thus essential to ending hunger and developing agricultural markets in developing countries.

In order to achieve gender equality, many steps must be taken.  Laws that discriminate against women and prevent them from owning land must be eliminated. Women must, furthermore, have equal access to agricultural tools, education, new technologies, credit, and markets. In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization reports 1.1 billion female farmers do not have access to these resources and opportunities.

The discrimination does not only come from a lack of access to resources but also from the powerful cultural norms about gender that exist in their communities. Women are often discouraged from running businesses or working in agriculture and told to “stay home and get a husband.” Women and girls are also solely responsible for household chores such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood as well as caring for the young and elderly. This means they have little time to devote to producing food that can be used both to trade and to feed their families. Moreover, education is vital to lifting women out of poverty, though many women do not have time to attend classes or travel to markets to sell their produce and goods.

Nevertheless, governments and NGOs are slowly introducing policies that will allow women to be more involved in agriculture and trade. Indonesia, for example, has introduced micro-finance programs to allow women to start small businesses. In Bangladesh, a non-profit organization called Building Resources Across Communities gives poultry to women,  along with subsidized legal and health services, clean water and a small stipend to encourage women to leave low paying domestic jobs and begin farming.

The World Bank, furthermore, recently released a report titled “Women and Trade in Africa: Realizing the Potential.” They explain that the involvement of women in trade is essential to building economic prosperity. In Tanzania, women are often active in the informal sector, but they cannot access information and are ineligible for loans since men hold the deeds to their homes, thus keeping their businesses from leaving the informal economy. The World Bank asks governments to ensure that rules and regulations are clear and readily available, while encouraging policy makers to simplify documents to remove the barriers poor women face when trying to run a business.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, suggests important action items to improve women’s access to agriculture including: the development of women cooperatives, abolishing gender biased laws and issuing titles under the names of both husband and wife.

-Lisa Toole

Sources: Olivier De Schutter, FAO, New York Times, The World Bank
Photo: International Policy Center


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