Posts Tagged ‘IWD2020’

Four ways of strengthening gender equality in the agricultural sector in the MENA region

by Dina Najjar and Lone Badstue

Growing vegetables in Tunisia. Photo: ICARDA

When it comes to labor markets, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is one of the most gender unequal regions in the world. The male labor force participation rate in MENA is no different from other regions, at around 75%, but female labor force participation rates have remained stubbornly low, at around 20% .

Agriculture is the largest employer of women in the MENA region and the female share of the agricultural workforce increased from 30% in 1980 to almost 45% in 2010, exceeding 60% in Jordan, Libya, Syria and the occupied Palestinian Territory. However, women in the region still face significant challenges accessing land and benefitting from technologies and decent, equitable working conditions.

In the fall of 2019, a group of experts, including London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) professor of Gender and Development Naila Kabeer, came together to discuss the persistent limited access to labor market opportunities for women in South Asia and MENA, despite an increase in women’s education and access to fertility planning. The workshop organized by LSE discussed barriers, opportunities and policy challenges.

Vegetable gardening in Tunisia. (Photo: ICARDA)
Vegetable gardening in Tunisia. (Photo: ICARDA)

We share some of the expert panel’s key recommendations for the MENA region, which featured research funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat.

1. Recognize women as workers not helpers

According to the World Bank, agriculture employs 36% of women and 22% of men in Egypt. However, research shows that women who work in agriculture are widely categorized as “helpers” to male workers rather than workers in their own right. What’s more, women are listed as “housewives” on their national ID cards, while men are listed as “agricultural workers.” As a result, these women are unable to even access opportunities to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Legally and socially recognizing these women as workers is a first step to introducing equal pay legislation for men and women in agriculture. It would also justify their inclusion in agricultural extension services and strengthen social protection measures.

2. Change perceptions of property ownership

The MENA region has the lowest level of women’s landownership in the world, at just 5%. Our research findings indicate completely different perceptions of ownership among women and men.

Research in Egypt shows that women tend to identify land officially owned solely by themselves as belonging to themselves and their husbands. Men, on the other hand, are less likely to consider their wives as co-owners, identifying male relatives instead.

In the New Lands — lands irrigated after the building of the High Aswan Dam in Egypt — there are land distribution quotas to encourage more land ownership among women. This has enabled some women to gain significant economic, social and political power. Despite this, these women still prefer to bequeath their land to their sons rather than their daughters due to social pressure and the expectation that their sons will provide for them in their old age.

To mitigate these low levels of women’s land ownership, policy change on its own is not enough. Changing perceptions of land and property ownership needs to go hand in hand with changes at a policy level.

3. Enforce legislation for equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment

In Morocco, female employment in agriculture has jumped from 29% in 1980 to 48% in 2010. However, women’s wages, working conditions and bargaining power have not risen with it.

Research shows that women are designated lower paid and more time-consuming tasks, and are systemically paid less than men, even for the same tasks. Women agricultural workers also face high levels of sexual harassment and have limited bargaining power.

Moroccan legislation already stipulates equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. However, enforcement remains extremely weak. Enforcing existing pro-active legislation is an essential step towards equality for women in agriculture.

4. Revitalize agriculture as a valuable and necessary occupation in society

Much of the world sees agriculture as an occupation of last resort. When surveyed, men and women in Morocco both complained about agricultural work being an unstable and unreliable way of making a living. Women were found to be hired more easily but only because they were paid less than men.

To shift how agriculture is viewed and rebrand it as an important and respected occupation, it needs to be reformed as a safer, more equal and respectful space for both women and men.

Building resilience for smallholder farmers in marginal drylands. (Photo: ICARDA)
Building resilience for smallholder farmers in marginal drylands. (Photo: ICARDA)

A key overall take-away message from the expert panel is that supportive policies alone are not enough. Rather, in order to tackle the institutionalization of harmful gender norms and stimulate actual change in practice at all levels, policy interventions need to go hand in hand with strong consciousness-raising, critical reflection and behavior change initiatives.

Read the full report:
Women’s access to market opportunities in South Asia and the Middle East & North Africa: barriers, opportunities and policy challenges

Moving out of poverty or staying poor

This story by Lone Badstue and Patti Petesch was originally posted on the CIMMYT website.

Farmer Bikram Daugi (right) ploughs with his oxen as Dhansa Bhandari walks behind sowing maize seed in Ramghat, Surkhet, Nepal. (Photo: P. Lowe/CIMMYT)
Farmer Bikram Daugi (right) ploughs with his oxen as Dhansa Bhandari walks behind sowing maize seed in Ramghat, Surkhet, Nepal. (Photo: P. Lowe/CIMMYT)

Although the conventional wisdom in South Asian rural villages is that men are principally responsible for pulling their families out of poverty, our recent study showed the truth to be more subtle, and more female.

In our new paper we dig into focus groups and individual life stories in a sample of 32 farming villages from five countries of South Asia. Although we asked about both men’s and women’s roles, focus groups of both sexes emphasized men in their responses — whether explaining how families escaped poverty or why they remained poor.

“Women usually cannot bring a big change, but they can assist their men in climbing up,” explains a member of the poor men’s focus group from Ismashal village (a pseudonym) of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The focus group testimonies presented rich examples of the strong influence of gender norms: the social rules that dictate differential roles and conducts for men and women in their society. These norms significantly influenced how local people conceived of movements in and out of poverty in their village and in their own lives.

According to the women’s focus group from Rangpur district in Bangladesh, women “cannot work outside the home for fear of losing their reputation and respect.”

However, in these same communities, men’s and women’s productive roles proved far more variable in the mobility processes of their families than conveyed by the focus groups. We encountered many households with men making irregular or very limited contributions to family maintenance. This happens for a number of reasons, including men’s labor migration, disability, family conflict and separations, aging and death.

What’s more, when sharing their life stories in individual interviews, nearly every woman testified to her own persistent efforts to make a living, cover household expenses, deal with debts, and, when conditions allowed, provide a better life for their families. In fact, our life story sample captured 12 women who testified to making substantial contributions to moving their families out of poverty.

Movers and shakers

We were especially struck by how many of these women “movers” were employing innovative agricultural technologies and practices to expand their production and earnings.

“In 2015, using zero tillage machines I started maize farming, for which I had a great yield and large profit,” reports a 30-year-old woman and mother of two from Matipur, Bangladesh who brought her family out of poverty.

Another 30-year-old mover, a farmer and mother of two from the village of Thool in Nepal, attests to diversification and adoption of improved cultivation practices: “I got training on vegetable farming. In the beginning the agriculture office provided some vegetable seeds as well. And I began to grow vegetables along with cereal crops like wheat, paddy, maize, oats. […] I learnt how to make soil rows.”

Among the women who got ahead, a large majority credited an important man in their life with flouting local customs and directly supporting them to innovate in their agricultural livelihoods and bring their families out of poverty.

Across the “mover” stories, women gained access to family resources which enabled them to step up their livelihood activities. For example, three quarters of the women “movers” spoke of husbands or brothers supporting them to pursue important goals in their lives.

Women’s most important relationship helping them to pursue goals in life.
Women’s most important relationship helping them to pursue goals in life.

Sufia, from a village in the Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, describes how she overcame great resistance from her husband to access a farm plot provided by her brother. The plot enabled Sufia to cultivate betel leaves and paddy rice, and with those profits and additional earnings from livestock activities, she purchased more land and diversified into eggplant, chilies and bitter gourd. Sufia’s husband had struggled to maintain the family and shortly after Sufia began to prosper, he suffered a stroke and required years of medical treatments before passing away.

When Sufia reflects on her life, she considers the most important relationship in her life to be with her brother. “Because of him I can now stand on my two feet.”

We also studied women and their families who did not move out of poverty. These “chronic poor” women rarely mentioned accessing innovations or garnering significant benefits from their livelihoods. In these life stories, we find far fewer testimonies about men who financially supported a wife or sister to help her pursue an important goal.

The restrictive normative climate in much of South Asia means that women’s capacity to enable change in their livelihoods is rarely recognized or encouraged by the wider community as a way for a poor family to prosper. Still, the life stories of these “movers” open a window onto the possibilities unlocked when women have opportunities to take on more equitable household roles and are able to access agricultural innovations.

The women movers, and the men who support them, provide insights into pathways of more equitable agricultural change. What we can learn from these experiences holds great potential for programs aiming to relax gender norms, catalyze agricultural innovation, and unlock faster transitions to gender equality and poverty reduction in the region. Nevertheless, challenging social norms can be risky and can result in backlash from family or other community members. To address this, collaborative research models offer promise. These approaches engage researchers and local women and men in action learning to build understanding of and support for inclusive agricultural change. Our research suggests that such interventions, which combine social, institutional and technical dimensions of agricultural innovation, can help diverse types of families to leave poverty behind.

Read the full study:
Gender Norms and Poverty Dynamics in 32 Villages of South Asia