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Agriculture & Development

9. What is the role of women in agriculture and development?

    The Executive Summary of the IAASTD Synthesis Report states:

    Women in agriculture

    Gender, that is socially constructed relations between men and women, is an organizing element of existing farming systems worldwide and a determining factor of ongoing agricultural restructuring. Current trends in agricultural market liberalization and in the reorganization of farm work, as well as the rise of environmental and sustainability concerns are redefining the links between gender and development. The proportion of women in agricultural production and postharvest activities ranges from 20 to 70%; their involvement is increasing in many developing countries, particularly with the development of export-oriented irrigated farming, which is associated with a growing demand for female labor, including migrant workers.

    Whereas these dynamics have in some ways brought benefits, in general, the largest proportion of rural women worldwide continues to face deteriorating health and work conditions, limited access to education and control over natural resources, insecure employment and low income. This situation is due to a variety of factors, including the growing competition on agricultural markets which increases the demand for flexible and cheap labor, growing pressure on and conflicts over natural resources, the diminishing support by governments for small-scale farms 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.

    Despite progress made in national and international policies since the first world conference on women in 1975, urgent action is still necessary to implement gender and social equity in AKST [Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology] policies and practices if we are to better address gender issues as integral to development processes. Such action includes strengthening the capacity of public institutions and NGOs to improve the knowledge of women’s changing forms of involvement in farm and other activities in AKST. It also requires giving priority to women’s access to education, information, science and technology, and extension services to enable improving women’s access, ownership and control of economic and natural resources. To ensure such access, ownership and control legal measures, appropriate credit schemes, support for women’s income generating activities and the reinforcement of women’s organizations and networks are needed. This, in turn, depends on strengthening women’s ability to benefit from market-based opportunities by institutions and policies giving explicit priority to women farmer groups in value chains.

    A number of other changes will strengthen women’s contributions to agricultural production and sustainability. These include support for public services and investment in rural areas in order to improve women’s living and working conditions; giving priority to technological development policies targeting rural and farm women’s needs and recognizing their knowledge, skills and experience in the production of food and the conservation of biodiversity; and assessing the negative effects and risks of farming practices and technology, including pesticides on women’s health, and taking measures to reduce use and exposure. Finally, if we are to better recognize women as integral to sustainable development, it is critical to ensure gender balance in AKST decision-making at all levels and provide mechanisms to hold AKST organizations accountable for progress in the above areas.

    Source & ©: IAASTD  Executive Summary of the Synthesis Report (April 2008), p. 21-22


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