Women represent nearly half of the labour force in agriculture, yet they continue to suffer from gender-based inequality. For Margarita Astralaga (IFAD), women’s empowerment starts at household level.
How do women contribute to rural economies?
Whether paid or unpaid, women undertake a wide range of tasks in rural contexts and this contribution to rural economies is often undervalued. They manage natural resources, adopt climate-resilient agricultural approaches, preserve biodiversity, all while striving to ensure nutrition security and agricultural productivity. However, there is no gender equality.
Despite being regularly excluded from decisions that affect their daily lives and despite being hindered by unequal resource allocation, rural women are fundamental within and outside their households. They are entrepreneurs and community leaders, they are innovators and change makers, they are agents of change for themselves, their families and their communities. They rise each morning and fight against the odds, working and growing food in some of the world’s toughest and most challenging conditions: a changing climate, food and water insecurity, isolation from roads and markets, conflicts…
Aside from the perception of these contributions, would you say that women’s positions in rural labor are globally improving?
Rural women work as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs and they represent an important share of the agricultural workforce. But unfortunately, their work is still largely unrecognized or undervalued, and this situation is not showing much noticeable improvement. They are concentrated in the informal economy, on family farms or in low-skilled, low-productivity, and low-paid jobs with long working hours. And they cope with the heavy burden of unpaid care and domestic work. When paid and unpaid working hours are combined, women work much longer hours than men.
How is gender equality a key component to the reduction of rural poverty and to the improvement of food security?
Increasing gender equality is a precondition for the eradication of rural poverty, it is vital to meeting the challenge of improving food and nutrition security. In economies where gender equality is greater in terms of both opportunities and benefits, there is higher economic growth and a better quality of life. Equality helps reduce chronic hunger, leads to longer-lasting peace, benefits entire families and empowers all those who face discrimination. When we address gender inequality and remove the underlying barriers for women and girls, we unlock the potential for all people—men, women, boys, and girls—to be equally valued. “Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls” (Goal 5 of the Global Goals) is essential to reaching all the goals and targets set in the 2030 Agenda.
According to you, what are the main obstacles to women’s empowerment in rural economies?
The challenges in access to assets, inputs, services, as well as access to profitable markets, increase the gender productivity gap. Unequal distribution of daily workload and the unequal voice in decision-making at all levels also affects women’s empowerment. Differentiated nutrition and health problems, vulnerability to climate change and external shocks, as well as daily gender-based discrimination and violence are additional obstacles.
However, at the heart of these inequalities lie discriminatory social norms – reflected in attitudes, behaviours, policies and laws that hold women and girls back. We need to address the root causes of gender inequalities by using a gender transformative approach which goes beyond merely focusing on women’s economic empowerment.
What levers do you think international organizations should use to help empower women in countries that don’t grant them the same rights as men?
Achieving women’s empowerment in such contexts calls for integrated and multisector approaches. Advocacy, policy dialogue, capacity building of government institutions and women’s leadership programmes are key to facilitating women’s empowerment at the global and governmental level and at the local level (within the community and grassroots organizations). Household methodologies (HHMs) enable changes at the household level. Thereby, it’s contributing to the elimination of the root causes of inequalities and bringing, in the medium-long term, changes in the social norms and behaviours that prevent gender equality and women’s empowerment.
In the field, this is translated in a holistic approach based on training and capacity building (to increase knowledge, skills and self-confidence); labour-saving technologies (to reduce women’s workload); financial literacy and self-help groups (to ensure better access to finance); support to women’s leadership (to increase their active participation in rural organizations). To foster deep transformation, engagement with men and new methodologies help strengthen the overall well-being of the household and all its members. Encouraging gender-sensitive value chains helps increase market access and income generating activities.
Fighting gender inequalities at the root entails working at household level.
Yes, and using participatory approaches such as HHMs in order to closely look at the power relations within households and challenge inequalities at the root. These methodologies challenge power inequalities by empowering household members. Trained facilitators help them realize their development potential while developing and implementing a common vision. The ultimate goal is more resilient rural households and rural livelihood systems.
How is the issue of gender equality relevant to environmental conservation?
Due to all the discriminations I mentioned, women face additional restrictions in their capacity to adapt to the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation, such as pollution. It means lack of access to safe water, healthy soils, seeds, financial resources, information and alternative livelihood options.
Women also represent about 43% of the labour force in agriculture in developing countries. Given their roles as managers and users of natural resources and the part they play in agricultural production, gender equality and women’s empowerment are central to biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability, as well as to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Women often act as guardians of crop diversity, protecting sustainable food systems and cultivation practices. Harnessing the role of women as agents of change can therefore fundamentally strengthen the resilience of households, communities and ecosystems.
The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.