UN report highlights disadvantages faced by women in agricultural employment

Rural women face increasing inequality in agricultural employment

21 January 2011 – Women continue to reap less benefits from employment in agriculture than men in rural areas, and the recent global financial and food crises have slowed down progress towards gender equality in farming-related labour, three United Nations agencies said in a joint report unveiled today.

According to the report, compiled by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), women face discrimination that limits both their economic productivity and their personal development.

The report – entitled “Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment: Differentiated pathways out of poverty” – notes that women need access to education, training, credit, markets, technical assistance and labour protection. They also need equal, secure access to land and other assets and “social capital,” including the ability to participate equally in farmers’ organizations.

It says that with access to the advantages that are available to men, women can increase their contribution to national development and poverty reduction.

Given that 70 per cent of the developing world’s 1.4 billion extremely poor people live in rural areas, raising rural women’s economic participation is crucial for achievement of the global poverty reduction and social development targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the report adds.

“It is interesting to observe that 90 per cent of the wage gap between men and women in developed or developing counties is unexplained; in other words, it is attributed to gender discrimination,” the report says.

“With job losses and cuts in spending on social services and infrastructure, women’s care burdens and unpaid work have intensified, and their financial contribution to household food security is likely to decrease,” the report says. ‘This is particularly dramatic for female-headed households.”

According to the report, the enormous economic contribution of women’s unpaid work must be recognized and measures implemented to reduce and redistribute the burden of housework in order to reap better rewards for women.

Public works programmes can support gender equality in rural employment, especially if beneficiaries are genuinely involved in designing them, the report notes, adding that promoting quality female education in rural areas and reducing gender gaps in primary and secondary schooling could improve women’s access to decent employment.

The report recommends policy measures to address the many gender differences in rural employment. The measures should include legal reforms that promote gender equality; social safety nets; assistance to organizations supporting farmers, women and youth; child care programmes; education; and better access to information and labour markets.

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