The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently updated its 2011 study on the role of women in agrifood systems. The findings reveal that women still occupy a “marginal” place in this sector, facing more challenging work conditions than men and having limited access to vital resources. Despite representing a significant proportion of the agricultural workforce, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, women struggle for recognition and equality.
The Plight of Women in Agrifood Systems
According to the FAO report, women in agriculture often endure difficult working conditions. They are typically confined to casual, part-time, informal, or low-skilled jobs. This is particularly concerning given that women constitute over half of the agricultural workforce in many sub-Saharan African countries and just under half in Southeast Asia.
The study highlights that women worldwide have limited access to land, resources like fertilizers and seeds, financing, and technology. In more than 40% of countries providing data on women’s land ownership, the share of men holding property rights or guaranteed agricultural land rights is twice as high as that of women.
Climate Shocks and the Pandemic’s Impact on Women
Women’s lack of resources and information also makes them more vulnerable during climate shocks, as they have a lower capacity for adaptation and resilience. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequalities, with 22% of women in agri-food industries losing their jobs in the first year, compared to only 2% of men. Furthermore, women’s income in agriculture is, on average, 18.4% lower than that of their male counterparts.
Gender Equality as a Policy Objective
While most public agricultural policies acknowledge women’s challenges, only 19% prioritize gender equality as a specific objective. This is a missed opportunity, as the FAO study shows that eliminating disparities between men and women in agricultural productivity and wages could increase global GDP by 1%, or nearly $1 trillion. Additionally, addressing these inequalities would reduce the number of food-insecure people by 45 million.
Empowering women in agriculture is crucial to achieving global food security and promoting economic growth. To close the gender gap, governments and international organizations must prioritize gender equality in agricultural policies and invest in resources, education, and opportunities for women in the sector. By doing so, they can improve the livelihoods of millions of women and contribute to a more sustainable and prosperous future for all.