Women in Agriculture

Writing Team: Alia Gana (Tunisia), Thora Martina Herrmann (Germany), Sophia Huyer (Canada)

Gender, that is the socially constructed relations between men and women, is an organizing element of existing farm­ing systems worldwide and a determining factor of ongoing processes of agricultural restructuring. Current trends in ag­ricultural market liberalization and in the reorganization of farm work, as well as the rise of environmental and sustain-ability concerns are redefining the links between gender and development, as women not only continue to play a crucial role in farm household production systems, but also repre­sent an increasing share of agricultural wage labor.
     Since the first world conference on women (1975), the attention of decision makers has been attracted to the need for policies that better address gender issues as an integrative part of the development process. Although progress has been made in women's access to education and employment, we must recognize that the largest proportion of rural women worldwide continues to face deteriorating health and work conditions, limited access to education and control over natural resources, including formal title to land, technology and credit, insecure employment and low income. This is due to a variety of factors, including the growing demand for flexible and cheap farm labor, the growing pressure on and conflicts over natural resources and the reallocation of economic resources in favor of large agroenterprises. Other factors include increasing exposure to risks related to natu­ral disasters and environmental changes, worsening access to water, increasing occupational and health risks. Ongoing trends call for urgent actions in favor of gender and social equity in AKST policies and practices.

Women's Changing Forms of Involvement in Farm Activities and in the Management of Natural Resources
Women in agricultural production and postharvest activi­ties range from 20 to 70%, and their involvement in farm activities, which is increasing in many developing countries, take on different and changing forms and statuses. Women's roles in agriculture varies in fact considerably according to farm system, legal systems, cultural norms and off-farm opportunities and are undergoing major transformations linked with local and global socioeconomic changes.
     During a long period, women in industrialized coun­tries either engaged in agricultural activities as farmers' spouses, or took off-farm employment. More recently the involvement of some women in farm activities has taken


on a professional status as farm co-managers entitling them to pensions and other benefits of professional employment. Farm systems diversification and tertiarization have also fa­vored the development of new economic activities taken up by women as autonomous entrepreneurs (direct sale, green tourism, etc.). In Central and Eastern European countries socialist policies historically aimed at suppressing gender differences in farm activities, a process that has been called into question by economic liberalization. Privatization of state and cooperatives farms resulted in fact in loss of em­ployment for a large number of women. With EU integra­tion however, countries (e.g., Poland) have benefited from EU support and training programs that also promoted new activities for rural women, such as on-farm processing, di­rect sale of farm products and agrotourism.
     In certain industrialized countries (e.g., Spain, France) and in many developing regions, the consolidation of large export-oriented farm enterprises contributes to an increased number of female workers, including migrant workers in farm activities (e.g., horticulture, floriculture). This pro­cess of feminization of agricultural wage work is associated in some regions with the consolidation of large scale and export-oriented farm enterprises and the increasing demand of cheap labor. In developing countries it indicates the im­poverishment of small farm households resulting in male out-migration to urban centers for work, and is also linked with rural women limited access to education and non-agri­cultural employment [CWANA Chapters 2; ESAP Chapter 1; Global Chapter 3].
     In some countries (e.g., Tunisia, Morocco), progress in education has allowed more women to obtain university de­grees or diplomas in agricultural sciences and to become farm entrepreneurs and managers. Still the proportion of fe­male farm entrepreneurs remains very low in most develop­ing countries (6% in Tunisia) and women's work is carried out on the basis of their status as family members, with little separation between domestic and productive activities.
     Besides housekeeping and child rearing, women and girls are usually responsible for fetching water and fuel wood. Women and girls tend to perform tasks such as plant­ing, transplanting, hand weeding, harvesting, picking fruit and vegetables, small livestock rearing, and postharvest op­erations such as threshing, seed selection, and storage, while mechanized work (preparing the land, irrigation, mechani­cal harvesting, and marketing) is generally a male task. This may increase women's and girls' manual and time burden, tends to keep girls out of school, and holds their productiv­ity below their potential.