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EDITORIAL: How strange that agriculture – perhaps the oldest profession and the reason mankind developed cities, settlements and militaries – still struggles with gender equality even though women have traditionally farmed land alongside men for the good part of the last 10,000 years.

And if the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) hadn’t finally looked into this matter very closely, we might never have known that closing the gender gap in this old sector stands to benefit the global economy by as much as $1 trillion.

FAO’s report, which updates its 2011 study on the same issue, made the rather obvious observation that women continue to occupy a “marginal” place in agri food systems and must “cope with work conditions that often are more difficult than those of men, in that they are confined to jobs that are casual, part-time, informal or low-skilled”.

It should also have noted that in some parts, especially in South Asia, they are expected to do all this in addition to the home and kitchen work that form their prime household duties.

While women form just under half the agri workforce in Southeast Asia, and more than half in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, they still lag behind men when it comes to access to land, resources, fertiliser, seeds, financing and technology, even though they depend on agriculture to survive, which means that they are never able to snap out of a vicious cycle that keeps a lot of them trapped in extreme poverty.

Unfortunately, this trend hasn’t changed too much for centuries. And in more than 40 percent of countries that provided UN with data on women’s land ownership, “the share of men who hold the rights to property or are guaranteed rights of agricultural land is two times higher than that of women”.

This means that the status of women as second-class citizens of the household in largely agrarian societies, who must do all the house work and in addition to helping men in the fields, has been firmly entrenched over millennia and there’s little that anything or anyone can do about it; except produce reports confirming such sorry trends.

Agriculture is, of course, just one of many sectors where women are routinely sidelined. One way of fighting their way out of such marginalisation, as some societies have proved, is by empowering them with education. Yet while that has enabled vertical movement in the social hierarchy for a lot of women in a lot of countries over many years, it does tend to enable them too much in some instances to continue to bother with things like agriculture.

And as a lot of them move out of agriculture and into more fashionable, and higher paying, professions, the ones that remain in what the industry refers to as the “food system” usually have very little to write home about. And so we’ve gone round in circles since the dawn of time.

It is, however, the first time that a global body like the UN has put a price tag on all the lost opportunities. If a world economy still suffering from the Covid hangover and expecting another recession soon can indeed earn an extra trillion dollars just by giving women the rights and respect they deserve in the agri sector, then everybody only stands to gain from overcoming prejudices that have already lasted for thousands upon thousands of years.

But saying it and doing it are two very different things. The UN does a great job of collecting data from all corners of the world because of its unparalleled footprint and associated networks of non-government organisations (NGOs) that work with it. But it has zero leverage when it comes to policy, especially in backward societies where women often don’t even have half the rights of men.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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KU Apr 21, 2023 11:21am
We all know that articles on agriculture woes are an attempt to keep the subject relevant, but soon we will see agriculture practices in museums only. Expecting any good deed or plans for the revival of agriculture in Pakistan is useless as long as this sector is in the hands of the government. The welfare of people in rural areas and associated with agriculture is dependent on law, cost of production, access to low-cost agriculture machinery, and price of grains. The current practices and the power of money change the local patwari’s honesty, and records are tampered with to deny the women the right to their share of land. Access to education for women exists in almost all tehsils, but parents do not send their girls to school because they do not see any benefit in it. The UN can only advise and raise alarms for developing countries, but when leaders and civil government is steeped in corrupt practices, no progress in any sector can be realized.
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Tulukan Mairandi Apr 21, 2023 02:16pm
Pakistan is one of the worst places to be a women. Animals get better treatment than Pakistani women.
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