15 October is the U.N. designated International Day of Rural Women. It is a day in which to highlight the need to increase food production, especially in those countries that face a persistent food deficit. There is a need to increase production, create better storage methods to prevent post-harvest loss, and improve distribution methods.
Women play a crucial role in every link of the food chain: production, storage, marketing, and finally in the preparation of food for the family. Therefore it is important to look at some of the blocks and drawbacks that prevent better production and to analyse the persistent inequalities and discrimination that women face at the village level — discrimination in schooling, especially at the technical and higher levels, discrimination in land ownership and land tenure, discrimination in inheritance of land and access to resources. We must look at what factors stand in the way of transforming gender relations and of eliminating gender inequalities. Promoting gender equality is an important part of a development strategy that seeks to enable all people — women and men alike — to escape poverty and to improve their standard of living.
We must look not only at drawbacks but give special attention to methods used for the empowerment of women and gender equality in the food cycle. There are a growing number of households headed by women in rural areas. The reasons vary but most often the reasons are associated with migrations, divorce, abandonment, widowhood, civil strife, and absent-father adolescent parenthood. I will use examples from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where I have worked.
The division of labor between men and women in agriculture can vary greatly from one ethnic group to another even within a limited region and often concerning the same crops and activities. That is why all generations are dangerous and why detailed study of specific patterns is important. A useful tool for study is the gender tool kits prepared by the World Bank’s Gender Analysis and Policy Section. While one may be justly critical of some of the World Bank’s loans and policy directives, the Bank has developed good guides for research such as Monica Fong and Anjana Bhushan’s Toolkit on Gender in Agriculture. See the Bank’s GenderNet http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender). The Net has two subsection on gender in Africa and gender in Latin America and the Caribbean. (1)
While recalling the danger of generalizations, there are nevertheless certain patterns that one finds so often that such patterns merit special attention — such as food preparation nearly exclusively by women. Thus it is important to note both the work in the fields, at the market, but also in the home with the preparation of food and care of children if we want to have a complete picture of the role of women. Household division of labor needs to be looked at closely. Because women in Vietnam do the household budgeting, it is often assumed that women do not need independent access to resources and that they have full control over household income regardless of who earns it. Field research now indicates that this is not always the case and thus it is necessary to look closely at the decision-making structure of rural households to see if there are unmet needs.
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