As a woman working in the commodities sector, and an ardent supporter of women empowerment, the lack of women in strategic positions within agriculture is a disturbing reality that should not be ignored.
Looking at interventions aimed at women in this Covid-19 period, some Sadc countries like South Africa can be lauded for being proactive, evidenced by how the government has made available R1,2 billion for farmers with a priority on women, youth and people with disabilities.
Although this can go a long way, specificities regarding the allocation of the funds would have been ideal.
It is notable to mention that within the Sadc region, women regarded as smallholder farmers are considered as large contributors to food security at different levels of society and this pandemic has inhibited their capacity thereby prompting urgent intervention.
The agricultural space is fraught with inequality. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 10, talks about reducing inequality and within the agro space, this can be achieved with relative ease.
Failure to acknowledge the visibility of women in farming would be an erroneous account, however, in reducing inequality women need to be visible within the technical training platforms, leading smart climate farming as well as owning their own farm lands.
According to the Sadc Food Nutrition Security Strategy, an estimated 72 percent of agricultural labour is attributed to women with a 60 percent food production directly credited to them.
West and East Africa, despite falling under the Sub-Saharan African region, have targeted interventions for women in agriculture which will be discussed in a succeeding issue.
What can be stated at present however is that they face, likewise, inequality particularly regarding land ownership which is still largely decided with a patriarchal bias.
Eliminating the gendered approach towards women in theory and practice is the first step towards moving for equality.
As the running of households, particularly in the rural areas is largely attributed to the participation of women, however, this is not an economically measureable venture thereby not contributing to their empowerment.
A report compiled on the participation of women in Malawi indicates that interventions to assist the women during Covid-19 should be in the agricultural sector.
Zimbabwe and Zambia in 2018 provided an overview of the present state of women against that of men.
The initial analysis table shows that the key findings, critical to supporting the empowerment of women in the sector need more women participation.
Taking Zimbabwe as an example, in the 2019/2020 period, the country has had to increase its import of maize owing to poor harvests due to drought.
As a country, it consumes an estimated 1,2 to two million tonnes of maize annually.
From that, notwithstanding the drought, it has been suggested in order to yield a significant harvest, weeding is an unavoidable step presently done by 80 percent of women labour.
It is our responsibility as those that have made significant strides in this industry to change this narrative by bringing opportunities and solutions to the table and to our Government.
The relegation of mundane and repetitive roles to women should be redressed as a pathway to achieving women empowerment.
A notable admission by women farmers/labour is how they would rather perform less arduous ventures that would leave them with sufficient time to satisfy their household responsibilities.
Additionally, the bulk outcome of these ventures are consumed by the family. Compared to their male counterparts, women need to have direct access to the market thereby enabling them to reap maximum profit from their labour.
There is still much to be done in order to have an inclusive and empowered agricultural landscape. Below are few of the current pathways to realising this:
- To support and facilitate preferential entry and participation for women and youth in gainful and attractive agri-business opportunities.
- AU Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality adopted in 2004
- International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 100 (1951) on equal pay for work of equal value
- The voluntary guidelines on the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries and forests in the context of national food security
- Key Commitment
States should consider the particular obstacles faced by women and girls with regard to tenure and associated tenure rights, and take measures to ensure that legal and policy frameworks provide adequate protection for women and that laws that recognise women’s tenure rights are implemented and enforced.
Zambia on the 2018 Gender Inequality Index (GII) ranked 131/160 while Zimbabwe ranked 126/160 and South Africa measured at 97/160. France on the other hand measured at 6/160.
One can argue that the government and private sector backing of French women in agriculture has brought this direct impact. Initiatives such as the bygone
“Agriculture au féminin” brought the plight of women onto the agenda and the present representation ratio of one woman in every four farmers speaks to that progress.
There is still much to be done within the European Union block such as mainstreaming gender in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which would increase the decision making power of women as well as their inclusion for critical training.
The vast potential within the agricultural sector for both community building and wealth creation is something that should become a reality and no longer a mere policy opportunity. Practical benchmarks with measurable outcomes should be initiated with a specified timeframe. The gendered approach towards women participation in agriculture should be eliminated and women should participate on account of their accrued expertise and not a quota measurement.
Moreover, the invisible female (market) prejudice on compensation for similar produce should be redressed with a disciplinary consequence for the offenders.
A strategic partnership between the government and private sector role-players would enable significant strides for this agenda. The domino effect of this, among other measures, would be the creation of employment in a sector that will be accurately representative of the demographics of the state.