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Women in agriculture: Four myths


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PIM Webinar conducted by Cheryl Doss (U of Oxford), Agnes Quisumbing (International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)) and Ruth Meinzen-Dick (IFPRI). More at

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Women in agriculture: Four myths

  1. 1. Agnes Quisumbing Cheryl Doss Ruth Meinzen-Dick Presenters
  2. 2. Four myths 1. Women produce 60-80% of the food 2. Women own 2% of the land 3. 70% of the world’s poor are women 4. Women are intrinsically better stewards of the environment
  3. 3. Role of myths Embody important truth, BUT • Archetypes of women as victims or saviors • Not based on sound empirical evidence • Treat women as a monolithic group • Ignore the role of men, communities, and institutions • Provide simplistic/misleading basis for policies and programs to promote food security and advance gender equality To develop effective policies to promote food security, necessary to move beyond the myths to get appropriate data on women’s and men’s roles and the gendered constraints they face.
  4. 4. Women produce 60- 80% of the world’s food Source:
  5. 5. Women produce 60-80% of the world’s food
  6. 6. • Kernel of truth: Women are important producers of food and deserve more recognition and investment in agriculture. • Issues with this assertion: • How do we measure women’s contribution to food production? • If women produce 60-80% of the food with 43% of the labor AND fewer other resources, they are miracle workers! Women produce 60-80% of the world’s food
  7. 7. Conceptualizing and measuring women’s contribution? • To substantiate this claim, we would need to allocate food production to men and to women. • When women own the land, manage the farm, provide the labor and control the revenue, then we might say that they produce the food on that plot. • But most household plots have both men and women contributing labor.
  8. 8. Women’s agricultural labor is often undercounted • FAO SOFA 2011 data on economically active population in agriculture: Globally 42% of agricultural labor force is women. • Sub-Saharan Africa still < 50%. • LAC is 16%! • Social norms influence how women smallholder farmers respond to primary occupation question. • Women’s agricultural contributions often not counted at all
  9. 9. How much time do women spend in ag labor? • What is considered agricultural labor? • Work in own fields? • Homestead gardens? • Care for livestock (fetching fodder, milking, etc.)? • Off-farm post-harvest processing? Domestic work is often under-recognized but important part of household livelihood and of food production
  10. 10. Whose production? • Even if we have good data on labor contributions of men and women, how do we allocate the contribution to food production? • If man plows, woman weeds, both harvest, and woman sells, who produced the food? • If women work as paid agricultural laborers on farms owned and managed by men, who is producing the food? • If a man grows crops on his plots and harvests them and his wife processes the produce, gathers firewood, cooks the meal and cleans up afterwards, who is producing the “food”?
  11. 11. More important to recognize women’s contributions and constraints to rural livelihoods • If we knew how much food was produced by women, how would that affect policy? • Though men and women have differentiated roles in agriculture and rural livelihoods, they often work together • Recognize different roles and constraints to production, including time and assets • Rather than focusing on women’s (independent) contribution to agriculture, recognize the importance of agriculture to women’s livelihoods and of women to food production.
  12. 12. Women own 1-2% of the land Source:
  13. 13. • Kernel of truth: patriarchal gender norms prohibit or make it difficult for women to purchase, inherit, or defend ownership of land. • Issues with this assertion: • How do you define ownership? • And of what land? • Little data on land ownership at the individual level Women own 1-2% of the land
  14. 14. Who owns the land? • Ownership is usually defined as having the legal rights to the land. • Only land that is titled in the person’s name? • Registration or certification documents? • Inherited land where the name on the documents have not been updated? • No land under customary tenure?
  15. 15. All land Agricultural land Land owned by households Urban and uncultivable land Public or common land Men’s solely owned land Jointly owned land Women’s solely owned land Women’s solely owned land Women’s sole and jointly owned land
  16. 16. LSMS-ISA Uganda: Distribution of land area Women's ownership, undocumented, 13% Women's ownership, documented, 3% Men's ownership, undocumented, 24% Men's ownership, documented, 6% Joint ownership, undocumented, 32% Joint ownership, documented, 10% Accessed, 11%
  17. 17. Distribution of Land Area, LSMS-ISA Ethiopia 16% 6% 19% 17%41% 31% 0.2%32% 0.4% 13% 0.6% 22% Malawi 7% 0.4% 49% 5% 22% 2.9% 15% Niger 14% 1% 36% 5% 31% 5% 8% Tanzania 13% 3% 24% 6% 32% 10% 11% Uganda Women's ownership, undocumented Women's ownership, documented Men's ownership, undocumented Men's ownership, documented Joint ownership, undocumented Joint ownership, documented Accessed Owned, undocumented (men and women) Legend 3% 68% 7% 22% Nigeria* *In Nigeria “ownership is defined as the right to sell or use as collateral”
  18. 18. • It is certainly not true that women own 1-2% of the world’s land and men own 98-99%. • But substantially less land is owned by women than by men. • We do need to document women’s land ownership to monitor the impact of programs and policies. • Strengthening women’s land rights is not enough: women also need to be aware of their rights and be able to enforce them • Community-based legal aid programs can help fill the gender gap in land-rights knowledge Photo: Valerie Mueller, Lucy Billings
  19. 19. 70% of the world’s poor are women So it must be true, right?
  20. 20. 70% of the world’s poor are women • Kernel of truth: Women face broad economic exclusion, especially as single heads of households, and even within the household may have less access to resources than men • Problems with this assertion: i. Data is at the household level ii. Demographic plausibility iii. Ignores sharing of resources within household
  21. 21. Poverty data is collected at the household level • We can compare male and female headed households, but this doesn’t give use measures of individuals in poverty. • Data is available to analyze the percentage of those who live in poor households who are women. • To calculate the share of women who are poor, we would need rates of individual level poverty and need to define how we consider individual poverty
  22. 22. Demographically possible? • “Women” defined as adult females – what about children? This would imply that men and children are only 30% of the world’s poor. • Main explanation given is that poor, female-headed households contain more female than male members. • But because female-headed households account for a much smaller proportion of the population than male headed households, and female-headed households also tend to have fewer members, there are many more women in absolute terms living in male-headed households than there are women living in female-headed households.
  23. 23. Ignores sharing of resources within households • Strong evidence that resources are not shared equally within households. • While we don’t have measures of poverty at the individual level, it would be possible to calculate consumption and assets at the individual level. • Because resources are shared within households, individual income is not a good measure of individual poverty.
  24. 24. Implications • Focus on women as disproportionately poor and focus on female headed households as vulnerable can distort policies • Women are not homogenous – there are wealthy women as well as poor women • Heterogeneity among female headed households as well, particularly whether receive remittances • Identifying the poor • Using both monetary and nonmonetary measures • Need to measure income, expenditure and assets at the individual as well as household level
  25. 25. Women are better stewards of the environment
  26. 26. Women are intrinsically better stewards of the environment • Kernel of truth: Because of women’s traditional roles gathering firewood, collecting water, and managing agriculture, they are affected by resource depletion and climate change, and therefore have incentives to conserve resources • Problems with this assertion: i. Ignores other issues that influence conservation: ii. Evidence is mixed
  27. 27. Other factors that affect conservation • Women are less likely to have secure tenure, so weaker incentives to practice conservation agriculture • Women have less access to other complementary resources: information, cash, credit, markets. • Thus, we would expect women to be less likely to adopt conservation agriculture and environmentally friendly technologies.
  28. 28. Evidence is mixed For example, within the forestry sector: • + correlation between proportion of women on the executive committee of forest user groups and improved forest governance and resource sustainability in India • Female-dominated groups were less likely to adopt new technologies and resource monitoring practices associated with improved sustainability, in Kenya, Uganda, Mexico, and Bolivia • In Indonesia, women were more likely to accept hypothetical offers of conversion of forests to oil palm and monoculture rubber plantations, while men expressed stronger conservation belief.
  29. 29. • Women do face constraints in participating in natural resource governance (e.g. water user associations) • We should neither ignore women entirely, nor expect them to be independent drivers for conservation • Need to work with both men and women, and understand gender roles and dynamics between them
  30. 30. Myths undercut our work • These myths are hard to get rid of in part because: • They contain a kernel of truth • Better data are currently not available • Simpler stories, “killer facts” are more popular than nuanced pictures • Using myths : • Kills credibility • Demonizes men and victimizes women • Disguises cross-sectional nuance and drivers of change • Inhibits ability to measure change over time • Misses out on opportunities to build on women’s agency • In many cases we can collect better data to replace these myths, and hold projects and governments accountable
  31. 31. Related resources • Doss, Cheryl; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth Suseela; Quisumbing, Agnes R.; and Theis, Sophie. Women in agriculture: Four myths. Global Food Security. March 2018, Pages 69-74 • Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project (GAAP) website • IFPRI Gender Website • Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) Resource Center • Blogs: • Killer factcheck: ‘Women own 2% of land’ = not true. What do we really know about women and land? • The zombie statistic about women’s share of income and property • Gender and sustainability: a matter of balance • Four Fast Facts to Debunk Myths About Rural Women • Ten essential reads on gender and land tenure • Takeaways from twenty years of gender and rural development research at IFPRI
  32. 32. Agnes Quisumbing Cheryl Doss Ruth Meinzen-Dick