International Women’s Day - celebrating female farmers
8 March 2023
This International Women’s Day #IWD2023, we are shining the spotlight on the female farmers we engage with through our work at twentyfifty. We have asked our colleagues Daisy Banda and Mildred Mushinga who live and work in Southern Africa, to share their reflections.
Let’s start with the facts
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that women make up 43% of the global agricultural labour force in developing countries. Although smallholder farming provides a critical path out of poverty for many women, being a female smallholder farmer is a real challenge. Not only do they face the same struggles as any farmer, they also experience restrictions based on their gender such as less access to loans and machinery that could improve their productivity. They are discriminated against over land rights and livestock ownership, equal pay and decision-making opportunities. As the woman of the house, whether the head of the household or married, they are often heavily involved in unpaid domestic activities such as caring, cooking and cleaning, on top of their farming duties.
All these factors create barriers that reduce their productivity. Oxfam says that in eastern Africa, over half of the farmers are women, yet they produce 20-30 per cent less than male farmers. The Gates Foundation suggests that in Nigeria, closing the gender gaps for female farmers could add as much as US$9.3 billion to the national economy.
The importance of the individual
The FAO estimates that if female farmers were given equal access to resources as men, they could increase their yields by 20-30 per cent and reduce the number of hungry people by 12-17 per cent. Tackling gender inequity in agriculture in the Global South could lead to less hunger and healthier communities.
In our conversations with female farmers, we see that every farmer has a different story to tell. One farmer may not have access to the same resources as another, even if they are working on the same plot of land. Each farmer needs to be recognised as an individual and supported in different ways.
The need for equity of opportunity
We have observed that women are often seen as co-workers alongside the men they work with, yet in Sub-Saharan Africa, they rarely own land and usually access land through a male relative. Whether working the family-owned farm or land owned by a landlord, female farmers are rarely paid the same as their male counterparts even when they are doing the same type of work and working the same number of hours. Often with no land rights of their own, female farmers can be left landless following a death, divorce or a change of heart. Female farmers need equity of opportunity through joint land registration, better access to seeds, farming tools, equipment and training in financial services and agricultural practices.
We work with our clients to deliver equity-based solutions that recognise that not everyone started in the same place. Through our Human Rights Impact Assessments, we engage with rightsholders on the ground and recognise the diverse lived experiences of individuals and communities. We then work with those rightsholders to co-create long-term sustainable solutions that tackle the many systemic and structural barriers that female farmers face.
An outcome of many of our projects is the need for a living income to enable farming families to afford a decent standard of living. Reaching a living income is not a case of creating equal pay for all, it is a process that involves understanding the circumstances of each farmer, each family, and each community, and responding at an individual level. Repeatedly we see that women are best placed to know the issues they face and how to solve them.
Successful interventions depend on whether those women can take part in the planning and running of any new projects. From the initial design to each step along the way, women need to be consulted and be part of the decision-making process.
Equity leads to thriving
Reaching equity involves changing the systemic and structural barriers that get in the way of a female farmer's ability to thrive. We believe that businesses flourish when people flourish; when the rights of female farmers are respected, they will not only survive but have the chance to grow. We call this human flourishing, and it’s at the heart of everything we do.
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twentyfifty specialises in designing human rights business strategies that bring the voices of workers from across the value chain into business planning and execution. We do this by working with a network of local consultants across Africa, Asia and South America, who are experienced in engaging with rightsholders in their local language and embedding human rights due diligence from the ground up.