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The Role of Women in Agriculture

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Agriculture can be an important engine of growth and poverty reduction. But the sector is underperforming in many countries in part because women, who are often a crucial resource in agriculture and the rural economy, face constraints that reduce their productivity. In this paper we draw on the available empirical evidence to study in which areas and to what degree women participate in agriculture. Aggregate data shows that women comprise about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force globally and in developing countries. But this figure masks considerable variation across regions and within countries according to age and social class. Time use surveys, which are more comprehensive but typically not nationally representative, add further insight into the substantial heterogeneity among countries and within countries in women’s contribution to agriculture. They show that female time-use in agriculture varies also by crop, production cycle, age and ethnic group. A few time-use surveys have data by activity and these show that in general weeding and harvesting were predominantly female activities. Overall the labour burden of rural women exceeds that of men, and includes a higher proportion of unpaid household responsibilities related to preparing food and collecting fuel and water. The contribution of women to agricultural and food production is significant but it is impossible to verify empirically the share produced by women. Women’s participation in rural labour markets varies considerably across regions, but invariably women are over represented in unpaid, seasonal and part-time work, and the available evidence suggests that women are often paid less than men, for the same work. Available data on rural and agricultural feminization shows that this is not a general trend but mainly a sub-Saharan Africa phenomena, as well as observed in some sectors such as unskilled labour in the fruit, vegetable and cut-flower export sector. This paper re-affirms that women make essential contributions to agriculture and rural enterprises across the developing world. But there is much diversity in women’s roles and over-generalization undermines policy relevance and planning. The context is important and policies must be based on sound data and gender analysis.

Document  -  English (en)

Document Information

Document Type Report
Author SOFA Team and Cheryl Doss
Year of Publication 2011
Publisher Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Rome, Italy
Number of Pages 48 pp.
Region / Country Global /
Primary Language English (en)
Keywords Gender, Agricultural Credit Markets, Employment
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