The rural woman – a powerful force that can drive global progress

15 October 2020

IITA joins the rest of the world to spotlight the people who feed the world—women.

We can recognize a rural woman from a distance. Her clothing is usually different from the urban woman’s; it is loose-fitting, mismatched, and often, this woman carries a baby with a few toddlers and grown offspring surrounding her. Most people would praise her by calling her “strong.” Indeed, she is strong, for only a strong woman can raise seven children, till the land, and take care of her other chores! But the rural woman is much more than the above stereotypes. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, describes the rural woman as she truly is. “An early adopter of new agricultural techniques, a first responder in crises, and an entrepreneur of green energy; rural women are a powerful force that can drive global progress.”

The rural woman – a powerful force that can drive global progress

Some facts about rural women and girls:

  • Women and girls play a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities.
  • Women produce up to 80% of foodstuffs for household consumption and sale in local markets.
  • Over 60% of all employed women in sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture.
  • Women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labor force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households in rural areas.
  • They contribute to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and building climate resilience.

IITA board member Rhoda Tumusiime and Steven Cole, an IITA senior scientist and Gender Research Coordinator, authored an opinion editorial titled Gendering Agriculture, so Women Take the Lead in Feeding Africa. They call upon Africa to reflect more on the role women play in food and nutrition security and land and water management. Among other measures, Tumusiime and Cole recommend designing gender-responsive actions that can strengthen women’s ability to provide food for their families and broader communities. IITA, through its gender research strategy, aims to bring an end to gender-blind agriculture research and policies.

“Women farmers are disadvantaged by a range of factors, such as laws, policies, gender-blind development programs, and entrenched norms and power imbalances within and outside their homes and communities,” Tumusiime and Cole state.

Women and girls in rural areas suffer disproportionately from multidimensional poverty. While extreme poverty has declined globally, the world’s 1 billion people who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty are mostly in rural areas. Poverty rates in rural areas across most regions are higher than those in urban areas. Yet smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80% of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and supports the livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people. Women farmers are as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts but cannot access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets, and high-value, agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.

Gender-accommodative policies confirm that gender constraints exist and can propose ways to work around them for the benefit of women. To promote women agripreneurship and gender-responsive policies, IITA, with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), launched 80 research fellowships for young African scholars under a project called Enhancing Capacity to Apply Research (CARE). CARE focuses on young female professionals and students acquiring a master’s or doctoral degree. Grantees are offered training on research methodology, data management, scientific writing, and the production of research evidence for policymaking.

It is a three-year project, which aims to build an understanding of poverty reduction, employment impact, and factors influencing youth engagement in agribusiness and rural farm and non-farm economies.

For example, in southern Benin, graduate student Grace Chabi looked at why young agricultural entrepreneurs are predominately male. Among her policy recommendations is a call to remove gender biases from land ownership, credit, and employment practices. Policies should also facilitate female agripreneurship networks and target funding to agribusinesses owned by women.

IITA’s gender-transformative approach addresses the root causes of gender inequalities to sustain meaningful change for female and male youth in agriculture.

Rural women are already feeding the world. We all need to join hands and improve their capacity to produce more efficiently. This requires gender-accommodative policies and research, alleviating the care burden and sharing it between men and women, and access to credit, land, and new technologies. But today, we shine the light on the rural woman and celebrate her.