Women in Agriculture: Challenges and Options
By Miguel García-Winder, IICA Representative in the USA
Based on my contribution to Farming First on the occasion of the Celebration of Women´s Day 2018: https://farmingfirst.org/gender-gap/griselda-velazquez/
As I start this commentary, I recognize that my vision, as a man, could not exactly represent the vision, experiences and feelings that women may have on these issues. However, in them, I do so, convinced of the extraordinary and fundamental role that women play in all facets of our lives, and recognizing that we have a historical debt with them.
As the former President of Costa Rica, Mrs. Laura Chinchilla, expressed on the occasion of the International Forum “Women in Agriculture” organized by IICA in 2010, “…there is no social sector more invisible, less understood and less served, than that of rural women, despite the vital role they play in our rural communities...”
Several estimations indicate that rural women in Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) are responsible for the production of approximately 45% of the food consumed by rural households in the region (several other estimates indicate that rural women are responsible for the production of 60-80% of food produced in developing countries around the world). Additional to their role as producers, rural women in LAC, and similarly to what happen in other regions of the world, have other important roles as they serve as marketers of surpluses, administrators of the home, healers, counselors, community leaders, mothers and wives. Their day starts normally before five am and end past 9 pm, surely a busy day!
Additional to the challenges natural to their multiplicity of roles and responsibilities, rural women in LAC confront other obstacles that limit their development and prevent the full expression of their productive capacity. One of the most important challenges is the access to education, an example of this comes from Guatemala, where more than 60% of rural women dedicated to agriculture cannot read or write.
Other issues that limit the development of women in the rural areas are inequality in labor conditions and access to work opportunities; limited access to productive inputs, particularly to land ownership; and insufficient credit. All of these has resulted in increased migration to urban areas, particularly by young women, where they become prone to exploitation and in several cases to new forms of slavery.
There are many possible interventions that are needed if we are to increase women opportunities in agriculture across the region including: the equal application of the law, the provision of productive opportunities, the pertinence of education, the development of leadership abilities, the importance of granting access to productive assets and the importance of linking rural women to value chains. However, the most critical issue is the need to transform old cultural and socio-economic norms and patterns.
Public policies are needed, transparency and accurate implementation are needed, new extension and education services are needed, and better education and labor markets are needed too. All of these is needed, but what we need the most, is to recognize that women and men are equal, that they deserve and have the same rights, that they need to be treated equally and that both should have the same opportunities. Latin America and the Caribbean need a new generation of women, but also need a new generation of men, that work side by side, as equal with women, to make this a better world and to preserve our Mother Earth for future generations.
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* The ideas and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the author and does not represent any official position of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture or its authorities.