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Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the international community aims to achieve by 2030, gender equality (SDG n. 5) has a key role in reducing worldwide poverty and hunger, and in increasing socioeconomic growth. Gender, rather than a biological status, is a complex set of norms and roles socially constructed which have always shaped women and men’s lives. The American anthropologist and feminist Gayle Rubin, known as the first scientist to have defined the gender system, in 1975 described it as ‘the set of arrangements by which a society transforms biological sexuality into products of human activity, and in which these transformed sexual needs are satisfied’ (G. Rubin, The Traffic in Women).
Women make up more than half of the global population, yet are still struggling for social justice and basic human rights such as equal access to food, education, employment, health and reproduction. As most of these issues faced by women and girls are based both on their sex and on how this is represented by patriarchal cultures, societies have to deeply change their approach to gender roles. As stated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979), State Parties are expected “to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women’, eliminating all the ‘practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women’ (CEDAW, Art 5-a).
Women make up more than half of the global population, yet are still struggling for social justice and basic human rights such as equal access to food, education, employment, health and reproduction.
Women represent around 43 percent of the labour force in agriculture in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa (FAO, 2017). Besides food security, nutrition and sustainable production, agriculture represents a strategic industry for the economic growth, too. Yet it is underperforming, in part because of the lack of resources and services needed by women, which causes a great loss of their time and money. Even though there are many differences among rural women in developing countries, by region, age, ethnicity and social class, they experience similar barriers at many levels. There is a persistent gender-based discrimination within and outside the family, which means that women do not have equal access to land rights, technology, education, infrastructures and services like men do. In addition, time-use studies (ESA, 2011) show that rural women work more hours than men, including the unpaid work in household responsibilities, and are paid less than men for doing the same work. This gender gap imposes costs not only on women themselves, but on the agriculture sector, the broader economy and society as a whole. It is estimated that if women had the same access than men to resources they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent (FAO, 2011).
There is a persistent gender-based discrimination within and outside the family, which means that women do not have equal access to land rights, technology, education, infrastructures and services like men do.
Addressing gender equality can have a positive and more sustainable impact on economic development at local and national level, improving also issues such as the population nutrition security (CEDAW, 1979; FAO, 2017), as most of the poverty lies in rural communities. In 2011, FAO estimated that ‘closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger’.
It is worth highlighting that women working in agriculture carry out their traditional caregivers role. The more women are economically empowered the more their family members benefit from it with regard to health and education. In fact, closing the gender gap in agriculture would also mean recognizing fair labour’s conditions for women in terms of rights and money: when women control additional income, they invest in their families, in feeding children, clothing and education more than men do. With their work, women significantly contribute not only financially at the household level, but also culturally and socially by improving rural economies in local communities and empowering themselves as leaders.
With their work, women significantly contribute not only financially at the household level, but also culturally and socially by improving rural economies in local communities and empowering themselves as leaders.
Beyond doubt, achieving gender equality in agriculture would make development processes more equitable and sustainable, both locally and globally. This process should be part of a widespread progress contributing to all aspects of women’s lives, as recommended by the UN General Assembly through the CEDAW. Ending all forms of discrimination and violence towards women and girls represents a prerequisite to achieve the global goals set in the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development; but first and foremost it matters because it’s about women and girls’ fundamental human rights.
[Cover photo © 2010 Arne Hoel/World Bank]
Sabrina Allegra is a freelance sociologist and activist for women and girls’ rights based in Italy. She holds a Diploma in Early Childhood, a Bachelor’s in Sociology and Social Research, and a Master’s Degree in Sociology. Sabrina’s main fields of interest include identity, gender equality and minorities rights, in particular those involving Roma people across Europe. Sabrina is the founder of Women Social Inclusion, a nonprofit organisation advocating for the empowerment of all women and girls.