Empowering Women in Agriculture is Critical

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women farming rice in green field

Why Should Women be Empowered in Agriculture?

Supporting women farmers would help hundreds of millions fight hunger, poverty and climate change. 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.

Oxfam states: “About 80 percent of the world’s food is produced by small-scale farming. Women make up on average 43 percent of this agricultural labor in developing countries. They are the majority in some countries. In South Asia, more than two thirds of employed women work in agriculture. In eastern Africa, over half of farmers are women.

Yet, they produce 20 to 30 percent less than men farmers because they face two compounding layers of exclusion – as smallholder farmers and as women.

Equalizing this gap could boost agricultural output and decrease global hunger by 17 percent.

Gender Inequality in Farming: the Barriers Holding Back Women

Agriculture is more likely than other sectors to provide diverse opportunities for empowering women. However, women farmers are held back by barriers that prevent them from feeding their families and reinvesting in their livelihoods.

They face restrictions due to gender while also suffering financial struggles shared by all small-scale farmers.

1. Women do not receive the same support as men farmers do. They have less access to land, loans and machinery.
2. Women are heavily involved in domestic activities including caring, cooking and cleaning, which remain hidden economically.
3. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change and face greater exposure to climate risks due to the same barriers that reduce their productivity.

Would help ‘hundreds of millions‘ fight Hunger, Poverty and Climate Change

Growth in small-scale agriculture is two to four times more effective at reducing hunger and poverty than any other sector.

Women farmers are playing a central role. They produce a huge amount of food for their families and surrounding communities.

Yet, little action has been taken to ensure that they have the resources they need to improve their livelihoods, tackle food insecurity and build their communities’ resilience to climate change.

Governments must break down the barriers that are holding back women farmers and preventing them from accessing critical farming inputs. They must ensure women have secure land rights, and provide women with vital funding and support for farming and adapting to climate change.

Such support would protect their rights and boost their productivity. It would unleash the potential of hundreds of millions of women farmers to effectively reduce poverty and hunger.

The Domain of Time Use/Time Poverty

Women make up approximately 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. However, because of cultural norms, they remain the primary domestic caregivers and caretakers of household. Deliberately programming to reduce time constraints on women and girls remains a challenge.

Agriculture programs can tackle this challenge through mindful and deliberate approaches, such as considering women’s workloads and availability when scheduling meetings or trainings events, and planning activities that involve their time.

Programs can also explore ways to encourage men to participate in caretaking activities and share domestic responsibilities. It is important to monitor changes in women’s workload and time use to ensure they are not overburdened; or assess how newly introduced technologies and practices affect women’s time and workloads.

The term time poverty first appeared in literature on poverty in the late 1970s in reference to women’s work burdens being characterized as time-consuming and unavoidable. Since then, research has acknowledged that time poverty is a critical gender dimension of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, not only because of the extent of women’s work burdens, but also their long working hours and the trade-offs they are forced to make due to competing claims on their time.

The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (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.

Women play a critical and potentially transformative role in agricultural growth in developing countries, but they face persistent obstacles and economic constraints limiting further inclusion in agriculture. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (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 is a significant innovation in its field and aims to increase understanding of the connections between women’s 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.

It also measures women’s empowerment relative to men within their households.

Women play a crucial role in all farm-related activities from land preparation to marketing. They contribute a higher proportion of labor in agricultural sector than men. However, they are not active in decision making. This research note discusses the impact of Green Revolution and mechanization on farm women in India.

It stresses the need for a new agricultural research and extension agenda which integrates gender analysis into the process of technology generation and dissemination. It also comes up with future strategies to make women a more active part of important farm decisions both at the household and legislature level.

This research note emphasizes the importance of balancing agricultural research systems, extension education, and policy-making bodies to attain women empowerment in agriculture.

In agriculture and food systems around the world, persistent and systematic inequalities in resources, power, and roles disproportionately affect women and girls; this limits their opportunities and development, and contributes to global hunger and poverty.

Supporting women’s and girls’ ability to fulfill their potential and make strategic life choices within agriculture and food systems requires that we closely examine those systems, and identify where women and girls face key empowerment gaps.

women are the positive change in agriculture and feeding our world

Women’s World Banking

Fostering global economic development requires big thinking, but not necessarily big loans.

1 BILLION women remain outside the formal financial system today.


Women’s World Banking supports millions of women entrepreneurs around the globe with credit and financial advice. So we were honored to support Women’s World Banking with strategic advice when the microfinance landscape began to change.

Women’s World Banking’s global network of 39 microfinance institutions has offered credit and financial advice to more than 24 million low-income people – 80% of whom are women – in 28 countries worldwide. A microloan – sometimes as little as $100 – can give entrepreneurs the help they need to make their business a success: it’s the resource to buy fertilizer to yield a bigger harvest, to expand the range of products a bodega carries, or to upgrade a stove at a bakery.’

For more information, visit the website of Women’s World Banking.

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