Who Are Women in Agriculture?
Agriculture is a major component of rural incomes, especially in developing
nations. Water, land, livestock, crops, and knowledge are essential
for the livelihoods of most of the world's rural families. Access to,
control over, and management of these resources determines which activities
are pursued, which goods may be produced, and whether the lives of rural
families are enhanced or diminished. Gender determines who has access
to these resources and what kind of access they have. Although women
work in the fields, the homes, outside of the farm, and at the markets,
their male counterparts often dictate decisions over the household and
According to the 2001 Canadian Census of Agriculture, Canadian women
solely operate 5% of the farms, a jump from the 3.9 % that were solely
operated by women a decade ago. Both women and men operated 85% of farms.
Despite this slight increase, the number of women under age 35 that
own and operate farms is half than what it was in 1991. The number of
women farm operators 55 years and older has increased. This means that
the women working on the farms are getting older, without a younger
group of women to take their place. In other words, the number of women
entering the farming world is declining. Some of the farms operated
by both women and men in Canada are small farms, with sales under $50,000.
In comparison, it was estimated that 80% of the farms operated only
by women had sales under $50,000.
According to the census, Canadian women tend to work fewer hours on
the farm than men while working about the same number of hours off the
farm. However, the census does not calculate the hours of work women
put in on the farm that is considered "unpaid labor". This
unpaid family labor - taking care of children, making meals, doing housework
- all take time and are a necessary part of the operation of a farm
and family. However, there is no economic value calculated for this
time. According to Karen Krug, the devaluation of women and the work
that they do leads to their unequal participation in farming organization.
This limits their influence on policy making which oftentimes leads
to unjust legislation and restrictions on women's ownership and control
over necessary resources. This keeps women within a second class, with
less economic security and more vulnerability to the effects of poverty.
Karen Krug's article, "Canadian
Rural Women Reconstructing Agriculture," discusses strategies of
Canadian women for improving their own welfare with subsistence agriculture,
and how these strategies in turn improve the well-being of a community.
Much of the agricultural work done by women of the developing world
is subsistence agriculture. While their husbands often go to the cities
or large-scale farms to find work, women are often left to produce
and raise food for their children. Agriculture, especially subsistence
agriculture, is a way of survival for many women. Their work, however,
is often unrecognized. Despite a growing recognition of women's work
and contributions to agriculture, women continue to have unequal access
to necessities such as land, water, credit, supportive networks, and
The United Nations declared a decade for women between 1970 and 1980.
Despite development efforts during this decade, Sen and Grown (1987)
found that the conditions in which women live and work did not improve.
Since these findings surfaced in the late 1980s, researchers have re-focused
on the question of why and found that there were several underlying
structures that prevent women from gaining equal social status to men.
The following researchers have contributed to understanding women's
role in agriculture, how gender discrimination impedes access to necessary
resources, and how women demand social change.
Women's Work in Agriculture, Globalization, and Economics
Waring is a feminist economist, a former member of the New Zealand
Parliament, and a farmer. In her documentary film, Who's
Counting?, Waring discusses the invisibility of women's work,
stressing how women's work remains unvalued, underpaid, and unrecognized.
In Who's Counting? Waring discusses the United Nation's definition
of productivity and work. The United Nations System of National Accounts
states, "Subsistence producers and the consumption of their own produce
by non-primary producers is of little or no importance." Waring tells
us what this language means: that the work of non-primary producers
(such as housewives) and much of the work that women do is considered
unimportant in the economic world. Waring discusses how women are often
invisible in the market economy because much of what they produce does
not go through the market. The value of childcare and household work
is not included in national accounts. Waring further describes the language
of economics and how it affects women's work and status. Mariyn Waring's
documentary is humorous and poignant, and well worth watching.
Christa Wichterich is a journalist and author of The Globalized
Woman. In The Globalized Woman, Wichterich critiques how
the globalization of agriculture negatively affects women's lives, specifically
how globalized agriculture industries affect the means of survival for
women. In her chapter entitled "Means of Living: Land for Men,
Work for Women," Wichterich describes women agriculturalists and
land ownership in Kenya. As in many other places in the world, women
in Kenya do not have access to resources such as machines, land, credit,
and advice that are necessary to be as productive as men. A study for
the International Food Policy Research Institute points out, "If
women were given the same resources as men, developing countries would
see significant increases in agricultural productivity." (70)
Despite the fact that women do not own the land, they are still responsible
for most of the labor done on the land. It is estimated that "75% of all agricultural labour in Africa is performed by women."
(70) Men are doing less of the labor on the land that they own because
they are seeking seasonal employment in cities. The result is a "feminization
of agriculture," where women are now responsible for producing
market produce and tending the cattle, in addition to producing food
for consumption by the family. (70) Yet because the husbands own the
soil and the land, the income the women earn from their hard work is
allocated to the men. This has left Kenyan women in a situation with
few options for improvement. The remainder of the chapter discusses
the expansion of the prawn and shrimp industry in South Asia, the agricultural
trade market of India and the Philippines, the McDonaldization of South
Asian food and culture, and issues of intellectual property ownership.
Women and Property
Women all over the world continue to struggle for their rights to own
and inherit property. Human
Rights Watch published a report on women farmers in Kenya and their
property rights, entitled "Double
Standards: Women's Property Rights Violations in Kenya." Human
Rights Watch details the disastrous effects of traditional and governmental
institutions that deny women's rights to own property in Kenya.
Bina Agarwal is a professor of economics at the Institute
of Economic Growth at the University of New Delhi, India. She has
written about women in relation to property rights, structural adjustment,
rural development, and the environment. She is the author of the award-winning
"A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights in South Asia,"
which offers an analysis of gender and property throughout South Asia.
Agarwal argues that the most important economic factor affecting women
is the gender gap in command over property. Drawing on a wide range
of sources, including field research, the author addresses the reason
for this imbalance, and asks how the barriers to ownership can be overcome.
The book offers original insights into the current theoretical and policy
debates on land reform and women's status.
International Agriculture Development, Intensive Monoculture, and Health
The Green Revolution, developed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman
Borlaug, was a development initiative that sought to improve yields
of rice, wheat, and maize with genetically modified seeds, intensive
monoculture requiring intensive irrigation, and the use of pesticides
and fertilizers. Vandana Shiva has written critically and extensively
about the effects of the Green Revolution in India and South Asia, and
much of her work focuses on how the Green Revolution has affected women
and their families. Shiva discusses the Green Revolution and its harmful
effects on biodiversity in her article, "World
in a Grain of Rice," originally published in the December 2000 edition
of The Ecologist. For a listing of Shiva's articles and commentaries
from Z Magazine,
Shiva also is the director of the Research
Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE). Shiva, a
long-time environmental activist, established RFSTE to work on biodiversity
conservation and protecting people's rights from threats to their livelihoods
and environment by centralized systems of monoculture in forestry, agriculture,
and fisheries. The Foundation, along with Navdanya,
have created a Diverse Women for Diversity program that believes in
non-violent resistance to globalization, genetic engineering, and patents
on life forms.
The intensive pesticide use that characterizes many of the international
agricultural development efforts that target women has been highly criticized.
In his article, "Pesticides
and Reproduction - Women Farmers in Indonesia," Andrew Watterson
states, "The occupational health issues which women face have often
been either ignored or downplayed by scientists and legislators. This
partly reflects the lack of research or selective research on women's
health." The article details the use of pesticides in Indonesia, identifies
effects on women's reproductive health, and offers a summary of the
epidemiological studies about women and pesticide use. The Pesticides
News is part of the Pesticide
Action Network UK.
Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC) takes an educational approach
to providing local agricultural alternatives to the current globalized
system. Through their educational resources, campaigning, and networking,
the organization addresses the problems of a globalized system of agriculture.
Included is a listing of materials the Society has available, including
an extensive list of online articles by the organization's founder,
Helena Norberg-Hodge. According to the website, "Throughout the world,
agriculture is in crisis. Farmers are going bankrupt in record numbers,
and the rural communities of which they are an integral part are being
drained of life. Meanwhile, international trade in food is booming.
Every year, the distance between producers and consumers rises, to the
point where the average American meal has now traveled more than 1,500
miles before it arrives on the dinner table. These two trends are directly
linked. The globalization of the food economy, while enriching a small
number of giant 'agribusinesses,' is undermining the welfare of everyone
else. What's more, it is a major contributor to increasing CO2 emissions,
and therefore to climate change. We urgently need to move in precisely
the opposite direction - towards shortening the links between farmers
and consumers. Such a shift would bring back diversity to land that
has been all but destroyed by chemical-intensive monocropping, provide
much-needed jobs at a local level, and help to rebuild community. Moreover,
it would allow farmers to make a decent living while giving consumers
access to healthy, fresh food at affordable prices."
Microcredit programs offer women small loans for small-scale, income-generating
projects in agriculture, textiles, and other fields. Microcredit programs
are often funded by non-governmental institutions and are often managed
by local women themselves. The Grameen
Bank is a well-known example of a microcredit program. The Grameen
Bank has given loans to 3.7 million people in Bangladesh. Ninety-six
percent of these borrowers are women. Their purpose is to end the exploitation
of poor women and men by money lenders and to promote and create opportunities
for self-employment. This Website contains information such as the history
of the Grameen Bank, objectives of the bank, an explanation of the credit
delivery system, and monthly reports on the activities of the Grameen
Rebuilding Economies through Agriculture
During the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, over 800,000 people were massacred
and 2 million people sought refuge in neighboring countries. The genocide
was devastating for the people of Rwanda, who lost their families, friends,
and neighbors. Many men were killed, leaving the women to provide for
their children. A primary cash crop in Rwanda before and after the genocide
was coffee. However, as more and more countries produced coffee for
export, the international market for coffee plummeted. The combination
of the genocide and the drop in coffee demand was devastating for Rwanda's
economy. In response to these events, several American and Rwandan Universities,
including Michigan State University, collaborated to form the Partnerships
to Enhance Agriculture in Rwanda through Linkages (PEARL) program.
The PEARL program went into the communities most affected by these events
and and established specialty coffee cooperatives. The program works
with rural communities across Rwanda to generate income through agricultural
product development and market linkages. The PEARL project offers various
support programs for women coffee farmers, including credit and extension
programs, that enable women to grow their own specialty coffees and
to sell them on an international market for a fair price.
Agencies Involving Women and Agriculture Worldwide
United Nations Organizations
The Food and Agriculture
Organization (FAO) of the United Nations leads international efforts
to defeat hunger. FAO works as a neutral forum for nations to meet and
negotiate, while also serving as a source of information for countries
wanting to improve agriculture, forestry, and fisheries practices and
ensure good nutrition for all. FAO has a department that deals specifically
with international agriculture, found at the FAO
Agriculture 21 Web page. FAO also has created a Gender
and Food Security department. The department examines the relationships
between gender and food security through the categories of agriculture;
education, extension, and communication; population; rural economics;
fisheries; nutrition; forestry; environment; and division of labor.
Plan of Action for Women in Development (1996-2001) ensures that
gender concerns and women participants are integrated in all relevant
FAO projects and activities. It aims to give women equal access to and
control of land and other productive resources, increase their participation
in decision- and policy-making, reduce their workloads, and enhance
their opportunities for paid employment and income.
The United Nations Development
Fund for Women (UNIFEM) provides financial and technical assistance
to innovative programs and strategies that promote women's human rights,
political participation, and economic security in many areas, including
The United Nations
Population Fund (UNFPA) helps men and women around the world in
their family choices, including the ability to live a sustainable lifestyle.
Their focus is mainly on reproductive issues; however, in their mission
to achieve sustained and sustainable social and economic development
to meet human needs, ensure wellbeing, and protect the natural resources
on which all life depends, women and agriculture play an important role.
The International Labour
Organization (ILO) identifies gender equality, along with development,
as a cross-cutting issue of the strategic objectives of its global agenda.
Their mission is to mainstream gender concerns in all its policies
and programs in an attempt to establish gender equality. Their Gender
Equality Tool page discusses their strategies.
is a central gateway to information and resources on the promotion of
gender equality and the empowerment of women throughout the United Nations
system and other organizations.
The World Bank
Group has established gender equality as a key component to stimulating
economic growth and alleviating poverty. The Bank has an Operational
Policy that spells out its responsibilities in this area, and a strategy
to implement this policy. The Bank's Website provides information on
Bank policy, strategy, and implementation, as well as tools useful for
integrating gender issues into analytical work, development operations,
and capacity building.
The United Nations Platform for Action Committee (UNPAC) created the
and the Economy project because "there are considerable differences
in women's and men's access to and opportunities to exert power over
economic structures in their societies." To tackle this problem, the
project promotes women's literacy worldwide. The Globalization
and Food section of the project discusses women's roles in the industry
of food and the global food chain.
March 8 is International
Women's Day. The theme for 2005 was"Gender Equality Beyond 2005:
Building a More Secure Future." The theme reflects the close relationship
between gender equality, security, and development and underlines the
importance of pursuing gender equality to build a more secure and sustainable
future. The World Health Organization has adapted this theme to reflect
the connection between gender equality and health.
The Institute of
International Agriculture at Michigan State University serves to
promote, facilitate, expedite, and coordinate international development
programs of the university. Their programs include an MSU-US/China Rural
Development Training Program, short courses, and information on topics
such as biotechnology and trade.
The International Center
for Research on Women (ICRW) examines the lives of women worldwide
and their role in development. One of the many focuses the center has
is on nutrition
and food security, with research done in the areas of hunger and
malnutrition, as well as agriculture, nutrition, and gender linkages.
The International Federation
of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) was established in 1946 to secure
the fullest cooperation between organizations of agricultural producers
in meeting the optimum nutritional and consumptive requirements of the
peoples of the world. It works to improve the economic and social status
of all who live by and on the land. It serves as the body that represents,
groups, and networks international farming organizations. The January
2004 issue of their newsletter
focuses on women in agriculture in the US and worldwide. The newsletter
examines the needs of women in agriculture, as their situation differs
drastically from men in agriculture. Included is a section offering
recommendations for increasing women's status in the agricultural sphere,
such as providing financial resources to those in agriculture, making
sustainable development a goal, increasing knowledge and training, and
increasing the representation of women in agriculture in farming organizations.
Information is available on women's access to land worldwide at the
Land Coalition Website, which works to provide rural poor people around
the world with land ownership and other resources.
in Agriculture and Rural Life: An International Bibliography," compiled
by the USDA, is an extensive bibliography devoted to information on
women in agriculture worldwide. This Website offers information on women
and land issues Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, North
America, and South America (including the Caribbean and Central America).
Women Organizing for
Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) is
a global network of professional women engaged in agriculture and natural
resource management who are committed to organizational change for gender
equality and environmentally sustainable development. A fundamental
principle of the WOCAN network is that organizations themselves need
to become gender sensitive in order to promote sustainable development
for rural communities. The objective of WOCAN is to address three major
gaps that persist with regards to sustainable and rural development
processes: 1) policies regarding gender within the natural resource
management sectors; 2) roles of professional women in implementing policies
for rural women's empowerment and gender equality within these sectors;
and 3) organizational barriers that obstruct women from realizing positions
of leadership and influence to take on such roles.
The International Fund
for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is devoted to enabling the rural
poor to overcome poverty. Included in this mission is an awareness
of the importance of gender in the equation. One of IFAD's main
concerns is the evolving approaches to gender
and household food security. Included on the Website is information
on various policies and strategies, IFAD's regional programs,
tools, and guidelines targeted toward women and food security internationally.
The Association for
Women's Rights in Development (AWID) is an international membership
organization connecting, informing, and mobilizing people and organizations
committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development, and
women's human rights. The thematic areas discussed on the Website include
feminist movements and organizations, gender equality and new technologies,
women's rights and economic change, young women and leadership, and
women's human rights.
Agarwal, Bina. 1994. A Field of One's Own: Gender and Land Rights
in South Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Oct/Nov 1995.
Plan of Action for Women in Development.”
International Federation of Agricultural Producers. January 2004. “Special
Issue: Women Farmers.” World Farmer: 1-6.
Krug, Karen. “Canadian
Rural Women Reconstructing Agriculture.”
Sen, G.; Grown, C. 1987. Development, crisis and
alternative visions: Third World women’s perspectives. New
York: Monthly Review Press.
Shiva, Vandana. 2000/2001. “World
in a Grain of Rice.” The Ecologist.
United Nations Statistics Division. 1993. System
of National Accounts.
United States Department of Agriculture. June/July 1998. “Women
in Agriculture and Rural Life: An International Bibliography.”
Walsh, Janet. 2004. “Double Standards: Women’s Property
Rights Violations in Kenya,” edited by Joanne Csete, et al. New
York: Human Rights Watch.
Waring, Marylin. 1996. Who’s Counting? Canada: The National
Film Board of Canada.
Watterson, Andrew. June 1999. "Pesticides
and Reproduction - Women Farmers in Indonesia." Pesticide
News 44: 12-14.
Wichterich, Christa. 2000. The Globalized Woman: Reports from a
Future of Inequality. London: Zed Books.