Gender Equality and Agriculture

Today is International Women’s Day 2017, and to mark the #BeBoldForChange campaign, USAWA is blogging about the importance of gender equality with regards to agriculture.

How can we #BeBoldForChange in one of humankind’s most ancient practices – agriculture and all that comes with it (subsistence farming, cash crops, aquaculture, livestock husbandry, etc.)? Why is gender equality, and in particular women’s empowerment, important in the realm of agricultural practices? And how can Volunteers promote gender equality in agriculture/environment-related projects and programs? 

A large percentage of the workforce in sub-Saharan African countries do agricultural work, and a larger percentage of that workforce is female. In Tanzania, the largest sector of employment is agriculture, and rural communities are dominated by the industry, with most individuals working on their own family/personal farms. As of 2009, 78% of the population in Tanzania was rural versus 22% in urban, city settings (like regional capitols). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (2014),

The agricultural sector generates 25 percent of the GDP, employs about 88 percent of the employed population, and accounts for between 50 and 66 percent of exports, according to different sources. Food crop production is the most prevalent land use: 85 percent of the 5.1 million hectares cultivated annually are used for a wide range of food crops.

Despite these facts, the World Bank estimates that the gender gap between men and women farmers represents a loss of around $105 million per year due to a variety of factors that limit the earning potential of women farmers.  Why does this gender gap exist?

  1. Land Ownership: Most of the tribal cultures in Tanzania, with some exceptions, are patrilineal. Land ownership rights generally favor the male, whether through inheritance from parents or from deceased husbands. Legally, equality exists in ownership rights, but culturally, this is far from the truth. Legal protections for women are often overlooked in lieu of cultural and traditional practices which, in rural communities, take precedence over these protections. In the case of divorces or the death of a spouse, women are often dispossessed of land; sometimes, women can still farm that land to support households, but ownership is not conferred to women. Women often do not know their legal rights in terms of property ownership, and similarly, how to navigate the legal system of Tanzania.
  2. Education: Although Tanzania has generally high levels of educational access for boys and girls, there is still a significant gap in the attendance and achievement of girl students when compared to boy students. This is clear in recent studies on the educational attainment by sex and location; urban residents achieve higher levels of school completion (and more years of education) than Tanzanians in rural communities, and in both urban and rural areas, males outperform and continue with school longer than females. Similarly, across all income brackets, male heads-of-household have higher levels of education than female heads-of-household. Educational gaps, in turn, lead to a cycle of employment gaps, health gaps, lower incomes, etc. 
  3. Employment Opportunities, Division of Labor, and Gender Roles: These are quite distinct areas of the gender gap, but because they overlap and influence one another, they can be discussed together. Traditional gender roles influence the division of labor between men and women. Women are often responsible for a bulk of domestic duties; child-rearing, cooking (and all of the associated tasks with that: fetching water, firewood, food), cleaning, maintaining the home, etc. These are all unpaid duties that take time out of a woman’s schedule and, thus, impact her productivity in terms of engaging with agricultural work or other forms of employment. Men, traditionally seen as the “breadwinners” for the family, have more access to paid employment, positions of which are often combined with agricultural duties. Because women are in charge of more domestic duties than men, they have less time to engage in formal or informal forms of employment as well, impacting the earning potential of women. In Tanzania, there is generally a shared sense of responsibility in terms of engaging in agricultural work between men and women. However, men often perform more labor-intensive tasks, whereas women are often the gatherers, seed-sowers, water-fetchers, etc. (though this is not always universal in Tanzania). Given that agricultural work is often seasonal, off-seasons allow men the opportunity to engage in alternative forms of paid employment while women focus on domestic activities in accordance with gender roles and expectations.
  4. Income and Access Opportunities due to Income: With employment comes income, and within the traditional context of Tanzanian households, households with men as the head tend to be male-dominated in terms of income expenditures. Women are not often in control of family finances. This, in addition to the other points raised, limits the access by women to opportunities to control resources. For example, in Tanzania, men often control farming practices of more expensive and lucrative cash crops and raising of more prized livestock (such as cows). Similarly, men, through income, often have higher access to labor-saving equipment and supplies, such as pesticides and insecticides, plows and tractors, improved seeds, etc. Being able to afford amenities that save time creates more profit, in turn, as productivity increases. Men farmholders outnumber women 73% to 27%, and farms owned by men are generally larger and are tended to by hired workers more often than women-owned farms, which are smaller and usually used for subsistence farming only. Hired workers on farms do tend to be women more than men, but the wages of those women are significantly lower than wages of men in similar positions. 

There are a number of other factors that contribute to the gender gap in agriculture as well, but these are some of the highlights. You can read more here and here! Or here and here!

These are huge issues that most sub-Saharan countries face, so what can we, as Peace Corps Volunteers, do about them on a smaller, grass-roots level? How can we have any impact on this gender gap? Can that impact even be sustained?

Yes! It can! We can! We have! One of the most important things to remember as a Volunteer is that behavior change is indeed hard, but bringing awareness and contemplation about new behaviors or practices is already a huge step in the process of development. And slowly, though tried methods and projects, elements of change stick with the communities we serve and become catalysts for action. The connection between sectors is huge, as well. As articulated above, education is an extremely important determinant of poverty and health outcomes, hence the huge effort to promote Let Girls Learn in sub-Saharan countries, including Tanzania! Health projects serve to reduce time barriers and improve overall quality of life; a farmer cannot work, a student cannot attend school, and a member of a household cannot contribute if he or she is sick. Nutrition, HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other areas of health are important as well and can be approached from a gender point-of-view (check out our blog post about Gender and HIV). Thus, our work as Volunteers is interconnected and very cyclical, and sometimes, we do not realize the impact our primary or secondary projects might have on these other areas of the lives of our community members.

With direct consideration to agriculture and environment projects, here are some ideas:

  1. Fuel-Efficient Stoves: Building fuel-efficient stoves saves time and resources (natural and financial) for families, while reducing overall environmental impact. Time is clearly a barrier for many rural families (and women especially), so this can be an important opportunity.
  2. Gardening and Farming Techniques: Small gardens improve nutrition outcomes by diversifying crops. The simple bag garden can reduce time as a barrier for families and women and is an easy alternative to traditional farms. Crop rotation techniques and other smart-technology forms of farming can also assist farmers while reducing environmentally harmful practices.
  3. Irrigation Solutions and Water Projects: Drip-irrigation technology, whether via PVC pipes in farms or gardens, or through vertical gardens, or other methods, can greatly assist in gardening and farming techniques. And overall, water catchment or well projects have HUGE impacts on schools and communities by reducing the barrier of access to clean water sources and freeing up additional time that would otherwise be used to fetch water.
  4. Mama’s Groups: To really empower women to take ownership of their agricultural responsibilities, use Mama’s Groups to create supportive environments for a variety of projects with income-generating goals; Mama’s Groups can cook new foods for sale, create products for sale like beauty supplies, handicrafts, or useful items that can be used in the community, for Bee-Keeping projects by overseeing apiaries specifically for women, small animal husbandry projects, or other IGAs.
  5. Informational Seminars: Hold informational sessions or seminars on legal rights for women, including property ownership, in conjunction with supportive village leadership. Identify the rules and regulations that exist in your district or region and promote the legal practices for which the community should be accountable. Or, hold seminars on good farming practices and alternative methods for community farming groups (both for men and women). Subtle messages on property rights, gender norms and equality, and other issues can be incorporated into these sessions.
  6. Environmental/Agricultural Clubs: Empowering today’s youth will have a profound effect on the course of Tanzania in the future. Use USAWA’s Mazingira Mazuri curriculum to train a new generation of environmentally-aware youth and incorporate life skills and gender equality into your lessons. Sustained interventions among youth populations have quantitatively-significant influence on behavior change practices of youth and increase sustainability and capacity building.

If you have other ideas, please share them with the FEAST and USAWA Committees and help us promote food security/agriculture/environment and gender equality/women’s empowerment among PCVs. It is our hope that we can all #BeBoldForChange together in working towards closing the gender gap in agriculture, and it is with this hope that USAWA is working with Food Security Coordinator Clement to plan a potential Gender and Agriculture training directly linked to Let Girls Learn outcomes in the second half of 2017! 

Happy International Women’s Day – Usawa juu!


Screen Shot 2017-03-08 at 12.00.08 PM

Estimated benefits of closing the gender gap in agriculture by UN Women and the World Bank

USAWA Member Chris Biles’ environmental club in Njombe



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s