Food for thought about rural women

True, women farmers have less access to training, land, and inputs than their male counterparts. But some commonplace myths need to be debunked. Photo: Ray Witlin (World Bank)
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avr 22, 2015

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David Valentin Schweiger (CCAFS)

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Despite advances in global gender equality, "we are still failing rural women, particularly women farmers", write Jacqui Ashby and Jennifer Twyman.

As is often the case, failure is rooted in missing information. We are failing rural women farmers by not empowering them to improve the wrong data which we use to describe their situations, the authors write. As a result, the knowledge we need in order to boost food supplies in changing climates is much less complete than it could be. 

In a recent article published on Interpress Service, Ashby and Twyman offer four fast facts to help debunk myths about rural women. 

1. Rural women have more access to land than we think:

For decades the same data has done the rounds, claiming that women own as little as 2 per cent of land. While this may be the case in some regions, these statistics are outdated and are answering the wrong questions. For example, much of this data is derived from comparing land owned by male-headed households with that owned by female-headed households. Yet, even if the man holds the license for the land, the woman may well have access to and use part of this land.

The better question, according to the authors, is how much control a woman has over how land and the income derived from it are being used. Plenty of evidence supports the fact that women play a crucial role in agricultural production across the globe. That role does not only deserve recognition but also demands that women in agriculture be given better access to the resources, inputs and services they need for their management.  

Watch their presentation about myths regarding gender, farming, and climate change: 

2. Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are women:

We need to look beyond gender to determine the root causes of why individuals and communities are more vulnerable to climate change. We have found that many other contributing factors, such as gender norms, social class, education, and wealth, can leave people at risk.

One of the questions worth adressing is how we can increase women's control over important resources if they lack decision-making power in the very fields they manage. In doing so, we need to consider something more than gender as a biological fact and consider how their cultural and socio-economic situations shape their realities. 

3. Rural women do not automatically make better stewards of natural resources:

Yes, rural women are largely responsible for collecting water and firewood, as well as a great deal of farm work. But the idea that this immediately makes them better stewards of natural resources is false. In fact, the evidence is conflicting. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, women were less likely to adopt climate-smart technologies in eight of them.

However, some research shows that, for instance, women in East Africa are more likely than, or just as likely as men, to adopt climate-smart practices. This is "because women do not have a single, unified interest", Ashby and Twyman suggest. 

4. Gender sensitive programming and policymaking is not just about helping women succeed

We all have a lot to gain from making food security, climate change innovation and gender-sensitive policies. The millions of poor farmers, both men and women, all over the developing world have an untapped wealth of knowledge that we are going to need if we are to successfully tackle the greatest challenge of our time: safeguarding our food supply in the face of climate change.

Women and men in Nicaragua, for instance, have been found to have very different concerns regarding climate change adaptation. Women, who typically manage household food production face very different incentives from the men, who are predominantly in charge of cultivating cash crops. Being aware of and understanding different concerns like those will help ensure more secure livelihoods, food availability and nutrition. 

Read the original IPSnews article, "Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Women", by Jacqueline Ashby and Jennifer Twyman.

For a show of the lecture slides, use the arrows below the video to navigate through the pages.