CGIAR Gender

Crafting the next generation of gender research – From the feminization of agriculture to gender equality

One of the final outputs of the CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research, a book, introduces critical ideas for the next generation of CGIAR gender research,: ‘How can agricultural research contribute to gender equality in its own right?‘. This series introduces each of the forthcoming book chapters.

In this post, we zoom in on the chapter ‘From the feminization of agriculture to gender equality’.

Much has been written on how the changing labor patterns in the rural sector, including men’s migration out of agriculture, are affecting gender equality. This chapter flips the question to explore how agricultural research can support these processes to move gender equality rather than increasing inequalities?  This chapter draws on work from all of the CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) and Centers. There is an extensive body of work on the changes that are happening with rural transformation, but not all of them address gender issues. Following the ‘Seeds of Change’ conference in Canberra, a group from nine CGIAR projects met to develop a conceptual framework for understanding the processes of the ‘Feminization of agriculture.’  These discussions and the resulting framework provided a basis for analysing the work that the CGIAR is currently doing.

Two narratives dominate the work on the feminization of agriculture.  One says that when men move out of agriculture, women gain control over the resources and decision-making on the farm and in the community. This process is empowering for women. The other says that when men leave agriculture, women are left behind on unproductive farms with little access to the resources needed to earn a livelihood; a disempowering process. 

The reality in rural communities is much more complex.  While in many places, women are taking on new roles in agriculture as men leave the sector, in other regions, they are not. Rural communities are seeing a broad range of changes in the labor patterns, with both men’s and women’s roles changing and we need to be attentive to all of these.  They may improve gender equality in some domains, but not in others, depending on the specific context. The context of rural communities includes gender norms, property rights, and conditions of wage employment. With all of these changes, it is also important to consider how social norms are changing. In some cases, gender norms shift rapidly to accommodate the changes in work. In other cases, the gender norms are much more rigid. One issue is whether women retain all of their domestic responsibilities when they take on additional agricultural work. A second is the extent to which women have control over the outputs or their wages. Understanding when gender norms adapt to new situations and support women’s empowerment will be key to ensuring that the changes in the rural sectors move us towards gender equality.