Empowering Women in Agriculture
Published on: March 8, 2021
If there was ever a perfect time to empower women farmers, it’s now.
Former Irish president and UN rights commissioner Mary Robinson recently said that climate change is “a manmade problem with a feminist solution.” The agricultural sector has a unique potential for empowering women and providing diverse opportunities. This may not be news to you, but women farmers are held back by multiple barriers that prevent them from feeding their families and improving their livelihoods. Did you know that women makeup on average 43 percent of the agricultural labor in low and middle income countries? Almost 80% of the world’s food is produced on small-scale farms. However, in some countries women farmers are the majority. In South Asia, more than two thirds of employed women work in agriculture. In eastern Africa, over half of farmers are women.
Women farmers are not only being held back because they are women, but they also faced the challenges felt by all small scale farmers. For starters, they have less access to land, loans and machinery than men do. They also carry the famous “double-burden” of paid work and unpaid childcare/home labour. Growth in small-scale agriculture is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any other sector, and women farmers are playing a central role. Now it is more important than ever to empower women farmers to ensure resilience to climate change and to end world hunger.
How can we make sure Women in Agriculture are Empowered? There’s a tool for that.
Women have an incredible potential for transforming agriculture as we know it, but how can we make sure they are being empowered? The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) of course!
The WEAI measures the empowerment, agency, and inclusion of women in the agriculture sector in an effort to identify ways to overcome those obstacles and constraints. The index aims to increase the understanding of the connection between women empowerment, food security and agricultural growth. It measures the roles and extent of women’s engagement in the agriculture sector in five domains: (1) decisions about agricultural production, (2) access to and decision making power over productive resources, (3) control over use of income, (4) leadership in the community, and (5) time use. As a bonus, it also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households.
The WEAI is crucial for identifying which aspects of women’s lives are disempowered and understanding how to increase autonomy and decision making in those areas. Killing two birds with one stone? This index will also help us determine any progress made towards gender equality, otherwise known as “Sustainable Development Goal number 5.” Has anyone thought of creating a perfume with that name?
7 Key Domains for Achieving Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture
The Feed the Future Gender Integration Framework outlines seven key domains for achieving women’s empowerment in agriculture. These are especially useful for initiatives and projects to prioritise and track gender equality activities over time.
The WEAI measures 5 out of these 7 domains. The Feed the Future Advancing Women’s Empowerment (AWE) Program works with USAID missions and partners to ensure they have the knowledge, practices, and resources to understand and apply the 7 domains into all stages of their work, track their progress, and share their results. Through this process, projects can not only increase women’s participation, productivity, profit, and benefit in agricultural systems, but more importantly, enhance program effectiveness and sustainability.
What does this look like in practice? Let’s talk about domain #5. Time poverty is a major issue that women face globally, but it’s further exacerbated through poverty and climate change. Even if women are making up a majority of agricultural labour in some countries, they still face the double-burden of childcare and other household duties, all of which is unpaid labour. In the late 1970s, the word “time poverty” first emerged in poverty literature in reference to women’s work burdens being defined as time-consuming and inevitable. Since then, research has identified time poverty as a crucial gender dimension of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, not only because of the magnitude of women’s work burdens, but also because of their long working hours and the trade-offs they are forced to make due to competing demands on their time.
Deliberate programming to alleviate time constraints for women and girls continues to be a problem. A study in Tanzania found that women spend 60% of their working time in unpaid activities (domestic and care work) while men only spend 23% of their time on the same tasks. Meaning that women were working harder, and still lacking financial control. Agriculture programs may address this issue by taking deliberate and thoughtful steps, such as taking into account women’s workloads and availability when arranging meetings or training events, as well as when organizing activities that require their time.
reNature’s Vision for Women in Agriculture
“Everything starts from the soil. But also starts from the pregnancy of a woman. Without women in agriculture we can’t regenerate our soil to feed our growing world population.”Felipe Villela, reNature Co-Founder
What are we doing to empower women in our projects?
I’m glad you asked! We already have a number of projects focusing on women empowerment. Just to name a few; Laikipia, Verstegen, FARFARM, and Khetee. However, I want to draw specific attention to Laikipia. This project in Kenya has already made massive strides towards tackling challenges faced by the farmers and society. Regenerative Agroforestry is being used as a strategy to counteract the detrimental impacts of overgrazing, deforestation and climate change. What’s even better is that Laikipia Permaculture Trust is composed of five local women organizations consisting of more than 310 members. This project officially started in September 2020, and has already begun to reintroduce endangered but very important tree species, improve soil fertility, increase revenue streams from land and income generation through value addition.
In Khette, India, the Durdih community, living in remote Northern India, get almost all their food from small-scale farming – a practice that is increasingly threatened by climate change-related flooding. To counteract these damaging events, agroforestry has already been implemented on a small plot to provide farmers and their families with food security. Most importantly, this project will benefit the women farmers. Smart system planning will increase the reliability of yields and provide additional income streams.
International Women’s Day 2021
What exactly are we celebrating this International Women’s day (March 8th 2021)? I think it goes without saying that we will first and foremost celebrate our incredible network of inspiring women farmers. However, we can’t forget about our ladies behind the scenes, the women of the reNature’s corporate team. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) is #ChooseToChallenge. We agree with their ethos that a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. This year, reNature’s ladies have rose to the occasion and banded together to #ChooseToChallenge. We all raised our hands in solidarity to celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, and take action for equality.
Achieving global gender equality is going to take some serious work. Here at reNature, we are in it for the long run. Everything starts from our team. We are always looking for growth and improvement, and having equal gender representation is fundamental in that aspect. Apart from ensuring diversity in our team, we also recognise the need to monitor women empowerment in our projects. We’re off to a great start, empowering women through our projects has always been a priority. Now we must remain accountable and continue to make strides towards closing the gender gap.
We envision two major areas of improvement: eliminating male/female differences in access to resources and leveraging gendered risk, time, and social preferences leading women to differentially allocate resources. While the advantages of female empowerment are obvious, programs and policies must focus on three key factors: land rights, equitable access to agricultural resources and finances, and equal influence in decision-making.
In emerging regions, agroforestry has been shown to effectively empower women. Women are typically heavily involved in the food production process, working in the fields and selling the fruits and vegetables harvested. The land, on the other hand, belongs to the men. Women have more power over the harvested crops, which is why they profit most from the benefits of agroforestry, such as higher yields. Women are also in charge of collecting firewood and water for the household, particularly in developing countries. They must travel long distances to fetch wood and water because they do not have trees on their own land or access to water. This takes up a significant amount of their time and is very exhausting. Wood becomes accessible on their doorstep as a result of agroforestry, giving women more time and energy to focus on other things such as education or economically empowering activities. Sounds great right? Let’s empower women through regenerative agroforestry!