Did you know that women produce more than half of all food grown worldwide, and in sub-Saharan Africa women produce up to 80% of all food (FAO, 2011)? Yet across Asia and Africa it is common that women are not given access to the same amount of resources as men, whether that is money, land, tools or information (World Bank et al., 2009). Their opportunities are limited by the social and economic roles that men and women are expected to fulfil in society. It is therefore vital to reach women through our agricultural programmes; otherwise a huge proportion of the human population is missing out on the opportunity to improve household food security and contribute to economic stability.
In a nutshell, when planning outreach projects we need to take into account gender, “a set of socially constructed roles associated with being male and female” (UN Gender Equality Glossary, undated). For example, women in many cultures are expected to do the housework and look after the children, whereas men are often expected to carry out business and do manual labour. This is of course a generalisation, but probably an idea that we are all familiar with. Research suggests that if you ask a child in the UK to draw a firefighter, surgeon or fighter pilot they are likely to draw a picture of a man (see an interesting video about this). Even if we don’t want to be, many of us are conditioned from a young age by society that men are the labourers and women are the carers.
The reality is, across Africa and Asia many women are not only looking after families and doing the housework, but also carrying out manual labour – they are carers and workers (compare gender activity clocks below). In Ghana, most crops are grown by both women and men (Doss, 2001). Women’s farm roles may include: soil preparation, sowing, weeding, fertilizing soil, harvesting, post-harvesting processing, caring of livestock. Women’s off-farm roles can include: food preparation, cooking, cleaning, childcare, water collection, fuel collection, community activities and marking of produce. Traditionally, not all of these activities are seen as, or recorded as, ‘work’ because they are not paid for. However, the true definition of work is “an activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result”, as stated by The Oxford Dictionary. In fact, when this term is used correctly, women have been shown to work many hours more than men per week in developing countries (Ilahi, N. 2000, FAO b undated).
What are we doing to address gender?
Female plant doctors
We provide the opportunity for our in-country partners to employ female Plant Doctors (extension workers who advise farmers on crop and pest management). We’re pleased to say that at least 25% of Plant Doctors are women, compared to a worldwide average of 15% for women employed as extension workers (FAO, 1993). This provides learning opportunities for the Plant Doctors themselves and also encourages women farmers to come along to clinics, since women farmers are often more comfortable talking to female extension workers.
Factsheets on crops grown by women
In Africa and Asia, women not only help farm cash crops alongside men, but they also tend to be solely responsible for growing subsistence crops used to feed the family. Taking this into account, we have identified content gaps and are working to produce more factsheets on subsistence crop management, in addition to cash crop factsheets.
Accessible posters in Ghana
We are looking into producing image-focussed crop management posters to make our extension materials more accessible to women. The content will be centred on the tasks that women typically carry out, such as weeding and post-harvest processing. Creating visual posters rather than written factsheets will help get around language barriers and make information easy to understand, so that content can reach places where Plant Doctors cannot be there to explain it.
Making clinics accessible to women in Nepal
Banners have been introduced to plant clinics giving priority to women and the elderly.
Taking advice to women
In a recent study by CABI (in submission), women farmers interviewed in Pakistan stated that one of the most convenient locations to receive agricultural advice was around the local spiritual place. 98% of 200 women stated it was a good or very good setting for agricultural advice. We aim to use research like this to influence the location of plant clinics.
We will continue to try and make our extension work activities as gender-sensitive as possible for both women and men by working with our in-country partners to find solutions. It is vital that the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of both women and men do not depend on whether they were born male or female, and we will do our best to make the information we provide equally relevant and accessible for all genders.
Doss C R, 2001. Men’s Crops? Women’s Crops? The gender patterns of cropping in Ghana. Yale Centre for International Area Studies. Connecticut, USA.
FAOa, (undated). Participatory survey methods for gathering information. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
FAOb, (undated) Women, agriculture and food security. Women in Development Service, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
FAO, 1993. Agricultural extension and women farm workers in the 1980s. Rome, Italy.
FAO, 2011. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011: Women in Agriculture – Closing the Gender Gap for Development. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, Italy.
Ilahi N, 2000. The intra-household allocation of time and tasks: what have we learnt from the empirical literature? Policy Research Report on Gender and Development, Working Paper Series No. 13. World Bank, Washington DC, USA.
UN, (undated). Gender Equality Glossary. UN Women Training Centre https://trainingcentre.unwomen.org/mod/glossary/view.php?id=36
World Bank, FAO, IFAD, 2009. Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook. World Bank, Washington DC, USA.
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19 December 2023