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 January 16 2008
Technical and extension support is vital, especially in providing women farmers with gender-specific practical technologies and information on agriculture and rural livelihood.

Technical and extension support is vital, especially in providing women farmers with gender-specific practical technologies and information on agriculture and rural livelihood.

SEOUL, KOREA - Recognizing the need to overcome gender issues in agriculture and rural livelihoods, FFTC in cooperation with the Rural Development Administration (RDA), Korea, organized the international seminar on Enhancement of Women Farmers' Role in the Development of Rural Asia . The overall goal of the seminar was to ensure an evolving and dynamic understanding, at different levels, of the situation of women in agriculture in order to improve their status and enhance their contribution to rural development. Equally important was the goal to promote the integration of women's concerns in rural development policy agenda, particularly of developing Asian countries.

Held on October 15-19, 2007 at the International Conference Hall, ITTC-RDA, Suwon, Korea, the seminar was attended by 15 international participants from 10 countries and about 150 local participants (rural women-farmer leaders, researchers, officials and guests). During the two-day paper presentation and deliberations, the participants looked more deeply into gender-demarcated responsibilities in agriculture in terms of social and economic activities, access to resources, and decision-making authority. A field observation tour of rural women organizations' agricultural and livelihood activities provided the participants with an insight into Korea's policy to encourage income-generating activities and volunteer works among rural women.

Issues and concerns faced by women farmers

The countries that make up the Asian region are characterized by considerable diversity in terms of geography, culture, religion and political systems, as well as economic performance and social development. Hence, programs and policies in gender equality in support of women farmers differ considerably among countries. The more developed Asian countries are much ahead in terms of enhancing women farmers' welfare and their empowerment under a new rural environment. However, in other less developed countries, rural women continue to struggle with dual responsibilities of economic production and domestic labor, and most are confronted by poverty, illiteracy, high health risks, inadequate access to productive resources, and lack of credit/market access.

Rural women in their dual roles as producers in the farm and the home and as caregivers need appropriate technologies to ease their work stress and to improve productivity. In developing countries, technology development and extension programs have not been responsive to household drudgery associated with different production activities undertaken by women. Hence, rural women's demand for technology that improves their productivity while reducing drudgery must be recognized.

Most countries still lack adequate provision for women to hold land rights independently of their husbands or male relatives. Statutory laws often do not ensure independent land rights for women. In traditional or under customary practices, women's direct ownership access to land may be limited, yet they may have greater management and use rights than men. Land ownership in rural areas determines the asset for production as well as access to credit and agricultural support services and the social power to negotiate for resources and membership in decision-making agencies. Hence, rural women must be empowered with legal and institutional measures to secure land and other productive resources.

The development of women's groups should be promoted as a strategy to expand women's access to information, increase their comparative bargaining power, and create opportunities for collective action to access economic inputs. In reality, however, persisting gender biases, deep-seated community dynamics and women's time constraints prevent women from actively participating in these organizations intended to bring about social capital benefits and female empowerment.

Literacy has serious implications for the future of the agriculture sector's productivity and the food security in many countries across the region. Prevailing shortfalls in rural female literacy achievement, coupled with trends towards the feminization of farming, underline the urgency to improve the skills and knowledge of rural women as a means to advance their technological and economic empowerment.

Successful cases of women empowerment

A country's economic and social development is a significant factor in creating recognition of the role women farmers play in rural development, and in bringing about gender-sensitive policies in the agriculture sector.

The Korean government provides vital support to the Rural Women Leaders Federation (RWLF), an organization of rural women playing lead roles in promoting healthy rural home and prosperous local communities. Govern-ment organizations like RDA have also been introducing various approaches in the promotion of rural values and enhancement of living standards among women's organizations through non-formal adult education, support for non-farm income activities, and capacity building activities. Korea's agricultural cooperatives also support rural women by organizing them into cooperative work programs, giving them the means and opportunities to buildup their own capacities in order to have access to extension/credit/marketing services.

Japan's "Farm Management Agreement" which rationalizes women's role in the farm through appropriate division of roles, ownership of property, share in income, and improvement of working condition, has considerably raised the status of women farmers in the country. The agreement is an effective tool in building a comfortable environment for farm families under a new social system in the rural areas, focusing on the promotion of gender-equal society in the aspects of agricultural production and daily living, and a more efficient farm management.

Recognizing the importance of creating jobs or favorable environment for woman entrepreneurs, the Taiwan government has been sponsoring projects to increase the financial viability of rural women for income generation and entrepreneurship. The projects make extensive use of internet marketing or even virtual shops as additional income sources, allowing women to work from their home while taking care of the family. The project named "Tien-Ma-Ma" initiated in 2001 has become a model for creating job opportunities by embracing modern communication and marketing channels.

Prospects and recommendations

What are the needs of Asian women farmers given their increasing role in the development and stabilization of rural communities in this new era, and what are the strategies, policy and program interventions needed to refocus attention on the situation of rural women in agricultural development?

Technical and extension support is vital, especially in consistently providing women farmers with gender-specific practical technologies and information on agriculture and rural livelihood. Education opportunities for women are also critical not only in the fields of agriculture and in non-agricultural gainful employment, but also in the sectors of health, nutrition, children's education, and family planning. Women must also be given institutional and legal assistance toward having equal access to and control over productive resources, particularly land; make it possible for them to participate in business activities; and guarantee them a right to membership and voting in labor/credit organizations. Measures facilitating household work and care of the children should be introduced to increase the chance for women to participate in economic and training activities. The importance of women's unpaid work in the home and farm production systems should also be clearly recognized.

In the Asian region, more efforts should focus on the integration of gender considerations and gender-differentiated indicators in the policy formulation process and in designing strategies to improve opportunities for rural women. Toward this end, sex-disaggregated data and gender-differentiated information for all aspects of agriculture and rural development must be collected to be used in policy and program formulation for the advancement of rural women.