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a. Gender equity

133. Women constitute an estimated 43% of the global labour force in agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa on average, women make up close to 50% of the agricultural workforce; in countries like Lesotho, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire the figure is closer to 60% (FAO 2011a).  Despite this, there is a widespread and deep-running bias against women farmers: Conway (2012) estimates that women working in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors have received only 7-9% of agricultural development assistance in recent years. Partly as a result of this neglect, women farmers today tend to be the poorest and most excluded.
134. Women farmers face a range of gender-specific constraints that result in them producing, on average, 20-30% less than their male counterparts.  However, it is widely recognised that, given the same access to agricultural resources, women farmers can be just as productive as men, which would translate into a 2.5-4% increase in agricultural output in the developing world (FAO 2011a).
135. Women farmers have less access to assets, inputs, services and markets than men. Their rights to land and other natural resources are often less secure.  Land available to women farmers tends to be of poorer quality, and they have less access to high-yielding seeds, fertiliser, pest control measures and mechanised equipment. Women are time-poor due to competing demands of childcare, household food processing and preparation as well as collecting water. Women have less education and are frequently excluded from training and extension services, and women farmers often have no representation in farmer groups (FAO 2011a). Women spend an average of 20% more time than men working on farms and often have far less control over the land they cultivate or the income they earn (DFID 2012). 
136. Helping women has a disproportionately positive effect on poverty levels.  Poor women are much more likely than their male counterparts to invest additional income in their children’s health, nutrition and education (Hodinott & Haddad 1995; OHCHR 2012).  The FAO estimates that closing the gender productivity gap in agriculture could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by as much as 100-150 million people.
137. Given these statistics, closing the gender gap should be an integral part of efforts to support Africa’s smallholder farmers.  Every law, policy, regulation and practice needs to be carefully assessed from a gender equity perspective: will the proposed measure have a negative effect on women farmers?  Will it help redress existing gender inequity?
138. A range of sources deal with the question of how best to help close the gender gap in agriculture and ensure that women are seen as equal partners in sustainable development.  In a 2011 briefing, ActionAid urge the international community and the Committee for World Food Security (CFS) to “(r)ecognise women are farmers and support interventions which specifically focus on their unique circumstances. These should include: public credit and financial services; guaranteeing secure access, use and control over good quality agricultural land and other productive resources, including appropriate seeds; and targeting women smallholders through agricultural research and extension services. In order for policies and programmes to succeed, they need to incorporate an understanding of women’s multiple roles in food provisioning as well as help address gender constraints at the household and community level through empowering women smallholders.”  The report also recommends setting specific and measurable targets for actions on women farmers; gender-targeted budgeting; and increasing the share of public budgets and agricultural aid that supports women farmers. Finally, the international community should act quickly to provide the material support for country-owned initiatives that prioritise smallholders and women farmers, as promised by the G8 and the G20 (ActionAid 2011a).
139. Better data and greater awareness would also help.  Researchers, policy-makers and development agencies should be encouraged to collect more detailed and practical gender-disaggregated information from the field about the particular constraints faced by women farmers, in order to craft more nuanced potential solutions. Advocacy to sensitise policy-makers as well as male farmers and farmer representatives about women farmer’s specific needs would also help ensure an environment that is more conducive to women farmers (FANRPAN 2012, OHCHR 2012).
140. Further policy recommendations from the large literature on the subject[1] include:

  • Provide labour-saving technologies and public goods and services.
  • Make rural labour markets work better for women.
  • Invest in rural infrastructure beyond agriculture, including health, education, water and sanitation, to reduce women’s time poverty and ensure their health and well-being to enable improved livelihoods.
  • Train female extension workers to improve women farmers’ access to extension.
  • Ensure that disaster risk reduction at all levels addressed the different vulnerabilities and risks faced by women and men (especially in the most marginalised and vulnerable communities).
  • Eliminate all forms of discrimination in law.
  • Engage women in policy-making and planning processes and make women’s voices heard in decision-making at all levels.

Box 6 Addressing gender bias and increasing market access for women fish farmers in Kenya

The aquaculture sector in Western Kenya is constrained by poor investment in infrastructure, finance, and education. These problems are magnified for female farmers who have specific difficulties entering the captured fish trade.

There are considerable structural barriers that limit female economic empowerment in this environment.  In general this sector is dominated by male farmers and fishing itself is segregated by gender - men catch the fish and women process it. Processing adds value to fresh catch and in turn provides the potential to increase household wealth and security including food, income and capital security. However in reality it does not lead to the financial or social advantages associated with the ownership of fresh stock.

Women are also placed at considerable personal risk within this value chain. In the Lake Victoria Region there is a practice known as “Jayoba”, or sex-for-fish. In addition there are a number of cultural practices such as widow inheritance and polygamy that are having negative financial consequences for women. The ability for women to access finance is also severely limited by the related lack of access to capital and the high interest rates applied to loans.

In the face of these gender specific problems a number of stakeholders, including ASFG member Practical Action, have designed a project that offers an alternative way for women to access the market; namely fish pond farming. This has already had some positive impacts.  Indications are that the project ‘Empowering Women in Nyanza through Capacity Building and Aquaculture’[1] has the potential to radically transform female participation in the fish market system and for women to develop as farmers.

The project has faced its own significant challenges however due to the business and policy environment in which it operates. The government’s economic stimulus package (ESP) subsidises fish pond construction and provision of fingerlings, but not fish handling facilities, inputs (feeds and fingerlings) and financing. Farmers therefore cannot expand their production beyond the government supported ponds to optimise the market potential. Private sector education regarding business opportunities e.g. micro-finance and inputs provision has remained a major gap.

Practical Action suggest that there are two key areas that could help to bring about change specifically for women in aquaculture: first, women’s access to credit could be enhanced through removal of legal restrictions and modifying administrative formalities in credit institutions such that women can obtain credit in their own name; promoting women’s saving groups and co-operatives to facilitate the financing of investment beyond the capability of individual women; and training and assisting women in financial management, savings and investment. Second, as the fishery sector is characterised by low levels of education, efforts should be made to increase years at primary school and improve the ability of women to take ownership of projects as they would have a greater literacy and numeracy skills.

141. In his report to the UN’s Human Rights Council on Women’s rights and the rights to food, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, reiterates that “(i)nternational human rights law requires States to guarantee gender equality and the empowerment of women...  States’ obligation to remove all discriminatory provisions in the law, and to combat discrimination that has its source in social and cultural norms, is an immediate obligation that must be complied with without delay” (OHCHR 2012).

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[1] Drawn from FAO (2011a), ActionAid et al (2011b), OHCHR (2012), Vorley et al (2012)

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