According to the United Nations, women make up some 43 percent of the world’s agricultural labor force. Although figures suggest that agriculture’s share of this labor force is declining, female participation remains high in many parts of the world – a ‘feminization’ of agriculture that is prevalent across many of the areas targeted by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.
It is particularly marked in West Asia and North Africa – women undertake 60 percent of agricultural work in Syria and Jordan, for instance – and there have been modest increases in female participation across sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
Despite their obvious importance to production systems, women remain a marginalized demographic whose subordination and disempowerment is a common feature across most dryland countries: women have unequal access to resources, their behaviors are conditioned by prevailing norms and belief, and their contributions to decision-making processes are often limited.
However, evidence tells us that these constraints are not static – and can change in response to economic, technological, social, environmental, and political change, providing women with new opportunities and the chance to improve their situation.
This is where the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems comes in. The Program prioritizes the needs of women, promoting their access to, and control over, productive assets, inputs, services, information, and, market opportunities – actions that will help women to capture a more equitable share of increased income, food, and other benefits.
These activities demonstrate the importance attached to gender equality - a core development objective in its own right. Yet interventions also make simple economic sense – promoting the interests of women raises overall productivity and can improve other development outcomes, including prospects for the next generation and enhancing societal policies and institutions (an argument put forward by the World Bank).
Addressing ‘Gender Gaps’ – a term used to denote the large gender disparities in access to agricultural resources – would, according to FAO figures, raise yields on women’s farms by 20-30 percent. This would contribute to a 2.5-4 percent increase across developing countries, enough to feed an additional 100-150 million people.
The Dryland Systems approach
In order to tackle ‘gender gaps,’ the Dryland Systems program seeks answers to the following questions, which will provide a foundation on which to build strategies that effectively target female disempowerment:
What are the specific gender knowledge gaps that have important implications for gender-equitable, demand-driven technology development and adoption by men and women?
How do cultural, ideological, normative, and institutional factors affect gender relations?
What are the promising ways of facilitating transformative change in norms, attitudes, and practices underlying gender disparities?
What are the promising technologies that can reduce the drudgery of women’s household and agricultural work, to free up time and energy to engage in agricultural diversification, intensification, and value-addition activities?
Taking the Program’s gender activities forward was the purpose of a recent workshop in Amman, Jordan, which broiught together gender experts to devise a work plan can be applied across the five regions targeted by Dryland Systems.
Participants reviewed evidence, compared the situation in different regions, and initiated discussions on the specific activities that need to be implemented over the coming three years – using a new gender strategy to guide their efforts.
The meeting was a sign that the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems takes gender disparities seriously and perceives prevailing ‘gender gaps’ as a key impediment to rural development – not only because they hold back women, but also because they hold back productivity generally.
This blog was originally published on the website of the ICARDA-led CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems.