Why we need to close the gender gap in agriculture
Gender inequality stands in the way of building a food-secure future for children and their communities. In many countries, women and girls are prevented from participating fully in agriculture due to discrimination, harmful gender norms, and systemic barriers. This is in spite of women making up a significant portion of the agricultural workforce. In Ghana, for example, women make up 70% of the workforce but earn less than 10% of agricultural income. Similarly, women make up 45% of the Ethiopian agricultural workforce, but 56% of them are unpaid.
When women and girls have economic autonomy, they can raise their families and communities up and out of the depths of poverty. In fact, by closing the gender gap in the agrifood system, global GDP could be boosted by $1 trillion (USD), and the number of food-insecure people could be reduced by 45 million.
SHINE: Improving food security through gender equality
Canadian Feed The Children’s SHINE project (Sustainable Development, Human Rights, Inclusion and Equality) was launched to make this a reality, by helping establish sustainable, female-led agriculture and agribusinesses in Ghana and Ethiopia.
The project provides female farmers with the productive assets, inputs, training, and agricultural extension services they need to expand their farming activities and boost food production. It is also helping to dismantle the long-standing gender discrimination that limits women’s participation in agriculture through gender-responsive project design with communities.
Gender inequality holds families back
We recently caught up with Vida and her husband, Robert, who are vegetable farmers in Ghana with two young daughters.
In the past, Robert was solely responsible for decisions like what crops to cultivate and how to spend and invest their income while Vida was responsible for all the household chores and caring for their children.
“He was hiding his income from me. I did not know how much he earns and how he spends it,” Vida recalls.
Vida knew little about farming techniques and had her hands full with the chores and children, so Robert handled much of the farming while she assisted as needed. He always felt it was a challenge to scale their business because they did not earn enough to afford high-cost farming tools.
Robert: “There was little or no support from our wives because it was seen as men’s job to farm for the family.”
Dismantling gender roles and uplifting families
Through the SHINE project, the couple participated in gender equality training. Vida also joined a local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) and a business incubation program where she is learning how to save for their children’s education and trade the vegetables they grow. Meanwhile, Robert joined a Farmer Based Group where he attended training on agricultural best practices and learned how to productively share resources and farm with his wife.
Vida shares that after the training, Robert allocated some farming land to her where she now grows her own vegetables and is responsible for the proceeds. She has also taken the lead on selling their vegetables and investing in additional capital. She is heartened that Robert now sees the family as one, sharing his earnings with her and consulting her on the family’s financial decisions.
It is clear to us that we need to support each other as husband and wife to make our home grow well. I am more confident to contribute because I now see it as my role and my right as well,
Robert also now has a better understanding of the barriers to women’s business and the role he can play in reducing them.
“Women do not own land and they have financial constraints for inputs and startup capital. I also realized that my wife is overloaded with household chores and childcare. I now help her with bathing the children, taking them to school, fetching water, and even cooking so she can find time for her farming,” Robert says.
Paving the way for a food-secure future
Vida and Robert demonstrate the value of gender equality training in changing attitudes about traditional gender roles and family values.
Providing avenues for women to participate economically is rewarding for the whole family. In addition to enabling more productive and sustainable income generation, it strengthens harmony between husbands and wives and provides both partners with opportunities to be equal caregivers and bond with their children.
My views have changed. Now, we do everything together. I now involve my wife fully in our farm work and she too supports me. We see ourselves as partners in all family matters and business now and this has raised our farming income.
Vida is looking forward to learning more about networking and marketing through SHINE's business incubation program while Robert is excited to assist his wife with further building her farm in the fall. They both intend to raise their daughters to be confident and live up to their full potential, unconstrained by their gender.
In our podcast First Comes Food, we go on a journey through Indigenous food forests in Saskatchewan, farming communities in African countries and early childhood community programs in Bolivia to meet the people who are growing food security for everyone. Their stories may surprise you.
Listen to First Comes Food, now streaming on our website and wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.