The United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to promote and develop constructive relations between the United Nations and civil society organizations.

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UN-Civil Society Engagement

10 February 2011

Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment: Differentiated pathways out of poverty

Gender inequality varies considerably across regions and sectors, depending on social, cultural, religious and economic factors. Nevertheless, a recently released United Nations interagency report on the gender dimension of agricultural work finds that there is evidence that, globally, women still benefit less than men from (decent) rural and agricultural employment, whether in self- or wage-employment. Progress to overcome this inequality has stalled due to the recent economic and food crises.

Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural employment: Differentiated pathways out of poverty, a joint effort by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), aims to highlight the importance of women for rural economic growth and poverty reduction. The report underlines that women fill many crucial roles, as farmers, wage labourers and small-scale entrepreneurs, as well as caretakers of children and the elderly and are therefore capable to lift their households and communities out of poverty. However, it finds that women still face persistent gender iniquities that limit their access to decent work, land, credit, a broad range of technologies, information, advisory services and training, and to farmers’ organizations, workers’ unions and community networks. In other words, women still lack access to vehicles for economic empowerment, social advancement, and political participation. For example, the report observes that that 90 percent of the wage gap between men and women in developed or developing countries is unexplained: and can be attributed to gender discrimination.

The report aims to support policymakers, researchers, and development practitioners in their search for an adequate response to this situation of persistent gender inequality and to fill current gaps in data and analysis on this issue. It (i) examines gender patterns of rural and agricultural work and relates them to poverty, international trade, migration, and HIV/AIDS, among others; (ii) identifies gender constraints, including the burden of unpaid work, and their unequal access to education, land, credit and markets; and (iii) analyzes the consequences of gender inequality and the policy options for gender equitable rural employment.

The report states that these policy options are highly context-specific. “Pathways out of poverty vary for rural women and men depending on socio-economic structures and institutional settings. A different policy mix is required in each setting to generate decent jobs and facilitate women’s and men’s equal access to them. Some broad policies are needed across the board, but their design and implementation will have to be context-specific.”

It further finds that measures to generate decent jobs must be designed in such a way as to reflect the complexity of gendered rural livelihoods. “Policies to address rural poverty cannot be treated in isolation and hence it is also important to implement education, land and credit measures, as well as active labour market policies and social protection, in an integrated manner, understanding their interdependencies and fostering synergies.”

Some of the report’s main findings include:
• The urgent need to better acknowledge the important economic functions of unpaid activities and to implement measures for reducing and redistributing the burden of housework;
• Public works programmes can be effectively used to support gender equality in rural employment, especially if genuine efforts are made to involve beneficiaries in the design of programmes from the outset. A truly gender-aware employment guarantee scheme (EGS) is one that fulfils the two objectives of: (1) making it easier for women to participate on equal terms as men (e.g. by providing child care on-site); and (2) creating useful assets that reduce aspects of women’s domestic workloads (e.g. piped water);
• Promoting appropriately designed female education in rural areas and trying to reduce gender educational gaps at primary and secondary levels is important to improve women’s access to decent employment; and to address gender labour-market segregation.
• Rural non-agricultural employment is a potential income source and a possible pathway out of rural poverty, which, under certain circumstances, can also lead to greater gender equality. However, policies must avoid simply shifting low-productive agricultural employment into low-productive non-agricultural employment as in certain circumstances this can contribute to reinforcing rural poverty and consequently gender inequalities and stereotypes. • Constraints in access to land, credit and technology are mutually interdependent.
• Non-traditional agricultural exports (NTAE) offer an opportunity for generating quality employment for rural women and men, but there are also risks, especially for women, who are often the weakest nodes in the supply value chain. Promoting synergies between labour legislation and voluntary codes of conduct appears to be a promising approach for maximizing women’s employment gains from wage work in non-traditional agricultural exports.
• The introduction of new technology, either in NTAE plants or in other rural sectors, including in response to the need to protect the environment, may constitute a potential risk for the job security of rural women unless concerted efforts are made to provide skill upgrading and to ensure that employers retain their female labour force and remain committed to investing in their training.
• It is essential that countries continue to ratify fundamental ILO Conventions and, even more vitally, that the gender-equitable implementation of relevant labour standards, including those related to social security, safety and health, is ensured. Rural workers, and in particular women workers, must be covered more fully under national laws and regulations as well as in practice.

As the cornerstone of the report’s analysis is ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, which focuses on better jobs, social protection, universal application of labour standards and promotion of equitable rural institutions, the report further highlights that just creating more jobs for rural men and women will not be enough as the quality or decency of those jobs also matters.

To download the full report, click here.