1. Women produce 60-80% of the
2. Women own 2% of the land
3. 70% of the world’s poor are
4. Women are intrinsically better
stewards of the environment
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.
80% of the
• 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
Conceptualizing and measuring
• 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
• But most household plots have both men and women contributing
Women’s agricultural labor is often
• 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
• Women’s agricultural contributions often not
counted at all
How much time do women spend in ag
• What is considered agricultural labor?
• Work in own fields?
• Homestead gardens?
• Care for livestock (fetching fodder,
• Off-farm post-harvest processing?
Domestic work is often under-recognized
but important part of household livelihood
and of food 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
• 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”?
More important to recognize women’s
contributions and constraints to rural
• If we knew how much food was produced by women, how would that
• 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
• 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.
1-2% of the
• Kernel of truth: patriarchal gender norms
prohibit or make it difficult for women to
purchase, inherit, or defend ownership of
• Issues with this assertion:
• How do you define ownership?
• And of what land?
• Little data on land ownership at the individual
Women own 1-2% of the land
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?
Land owned by
Public or common
Men’s solely owned
Jointly owned land
Women’s sole and
jointly owned land
LSMS-ISA Uganda: Distribution of land area
Distribution of Land Area, LSMS-ISA
Women's ownership, undocumented
Women's ownership, documented
Men's ownership, undocumented
Men's ownership, documented
Joint ownership, undocumented
Joint ownership, documented
Owned, undocumented (men and women)
*In Nigeria “ownership is defined as the right to sell or use as collateral”
• 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
• 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
70% of the
So it must be
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
Poverty data is collected at the
• 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
• “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
Ignores sharing of resources within
• 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.
• 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
• Heterogeneity among female headed households as well, particularly whether
• Identifying the poor
• Using both monetary and nonmonetary measures
• Need to measure income, expenditure and assets at the individual as well as
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
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.
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
• Women do face constraints in
participating in natural resource
governance (e.g. water user
• We should neither ignore women
entirely, nor expect them to be
independent drivers for
• Need to work with both men and
women, and understand gender
roles and dynamics between them
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
• 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
• 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