March 6, 2013

Protecting Women Farmers for a Sustainable Future

By Danielle Nierenberg, Co-President of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank and Eve Andrews, Food Tank research intern, USA.

March 8th is International Women’s Day. The day recognizes the steps that have been taken toward gender equality, while also acknowledging that much more needs to be done to level the playing field for women in all sectors, including agriculture.

This year, the U.N.’s theme for International Women’s Day is “A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence against Women.” Violence against women, from public harassment to domestic abuse, remains a problem in both cities and rural areas alike. But women in farming communities and rural areas tend to suffer more than their urban counterparts, especially in developing countries. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report on Rural Women and the Millennium Goals rural women are more likely to suffer incidences of abuse. And that abuse is less likely to be reported than for their male or urban female counterparts, because they lack access legal and educational resources.

According to the FAO, women make up more than 40 percent of agricultural labor in developing countries, and in some countries, they are as much 80 percent of the agricultural work force. However, women farmers’ yields are roughly 20-30 percent less than male farmers. If gender barriers were eliminated and women farmers were able to match the yields of male farmers, global malnourishment could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent. But improved conditions for women don’t only lead to higher yields – they benefit the wider community as well.

Education plays a role, and women who have attended school are better able to make independent reproductive choices, and typically have fewer children as a result. They are more likely to pursue their own ambitions and to serve others, a ripple effect that makes every effort empowering women multiply. From providing better access to credit to sharing knowledge of low-cost agricultural innovations, improving the income and livelihoods of women farmers translates to better nutrition for their families and communities, as well as fosters sustainability of the landscapes in which they operate.

Fortunately, there are many organizations that are working to improve the conditions of women in agriculture and rural areas. For example, Líderes Campesinas, a coalition of women farmers in California, is working to improve the public support system for female agricultural workers who have been victims of sexual assault and/or domestic abuse. And the Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights has found that increasing women’s access and rights to land can help prevent domestic violence.

What initiatives or organizations are working to support gender equality in agriculture? And how can these initiatives that help women also contribute to global sustainability? 

Photo credit: ICRISAT
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