According to the World Bank, agriculture employs 25.4% of all working women globally, about equal to total global employment in the sector. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) puts the number at 48%.
In emerging countries like Colombia, it’s about 7.6%. Employment in agriculture is declining rapidly worldwide, but why the apparent gender gap?
The Economic Reality Of Colombian Women in Agriculture
As access to education, electricity, utilities improves, one would think that women’s participation in agriculture would increase as well.
The truth is that in rural areas where farming activity is abundant, female labor is often informal and unaccounted for. It is estimated that over 50% of Latin American women working in the agricultural sector are informal – that is to say, not officially recognized by their governments or their employers.
Similarly, women are less likely to secure formal employment or land ownership rights due to policy constraints and gender stereotypes. Coupled with unemployment, these factors create a dire situation for women in the ag sector. In light of this, it’s no surprise that women from rural areas in Colombia are 3.5 times more likely to be unemployed than men.
Today, the world is finally acknowledging the importance of women in the global economy, especially in the developing world. Labor formalization and, perhaps more importantly, formalized land titling inclusive to women unlocks a wellspring of potential.
Providing opportunities for rural women in agriculture while developing formal employment positions is an important step. Organizations like AGRO SAS are nurturing a more resilient economic reality for Colombian women in agriculture.
Reducing Poverty, Increasing Inclusivity
Empowering women in agriculture has demonstrable positive effects on a country’s economy. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) revealed that land ownership rights inclusive to women increase agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4%.
Beyond profits, the ESG benefits are loud and clear: enabling women farmers could potentially reduce global hunger by 12 to 17%.
Emerging economies would be losing out on a trillion-dollar opportunity by not addressing such issues.
Forward-thinking countries are behind the idea — the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals list women-inclusive property rights and tenure security in agricultural land as a top priority.
Luckily, Colombia has made massive strides in gender equality, rising to 22nd out of 153 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index. Just two years ago, the country was sitting at 40th place.
Colombia’s robust legislation for protecting women’s rights and their inclusion in public institutions will ultimately transform multi-generational issues at the local level.
Evening The Playing Field: Land Ownership And Property Rights
In general, women tend to have less access to land, credit, appropriate technology, adequate agricultural resources, and market opportunities.
As of July 2014, Colombian women have primary responsibility for 29% of farms in the country. However, the unofficial number of women participating in agriculture, including unreported participation, is likely much higher.
In some sectors, the ratio is much broader. Women account for 70% of the country’s flower industry labor force and 40% of the coffee sector.
And yet, land ownership by women ranges from 7.8% to 30.8% in South America. It is an alarming imbalance at a time when land ownership is increasingly fragmenting in developing countries and emerging economies (86% of farmers own less than 2 hectares of land).
The inequity in land ownership creates severe socio-economic problems. Women have trouble accessing credit from banks to purchase land and equipment, which holds agricultural enterprise back. That ultimately intensifies food insecurity.
Colombia’s previous land reforms have made an enormous difference. Following the country’s enforcement of joint titling for land parcels, the number of women beneficiaries quadrupled.
Filling The Pay Gap
Women in emerging economies continue to be paid less than men, despite their double responsibility of working the farm and tending to the home and children. Countries like India have mandates in their constitution requiring men and women to be paid equally for equal work, yet the inequality persists.
When women find empowerment in agriculture through formal employment, entrepreneurial support, and land ownership, their security raises their family’s wellbeing and community participation.
When multiple women advance in their communities, their increased involvement in community governance affects the entire area. With more equal land tenure rights, people collectively make longer-term investments to better their communities, and social and economic stability improve as a result.
It’s about time policies encourage direct domestic reinvestment into resilient, gender-equal communities. Joint titling mandates are a positive first step, but there is much left to do in leveling the playing field.
Women in Ag Leadership
UN Women is one such organization strengthening women’s leadership, and their goals are lofty, but their success is getting noticed.
Targeting inclusive economic development in the southwest Cauca Department, UN Women builds strategies for attaining Sustainable Development Goals.
Andrea Villareal from UN Women explains:
“Our idea is to strengthen existing proposals of women’s organizations. The leadership program aims not only at improving women’s access to economic resources, but it also empowers women so they can influence the economic and political decisions that affect their lives and make sure their contributions to the economy of the region are valued.”
UN Women supports hundreds of women from multiple economic initiatives, such as the Almaguer Rural Women Association (AMURA).
With more than 600 women representing indigenous and lower-income communities in Colombia, AMURA is one of many groups transforming Colombian agriculture at scale.
An Inclusive Workforce Benefits Everyone
When we talk about gender equality in agriculture, we’re not simply doing it to pat ourselves on the backs and feel good about things. We’re doing it because women’s participation in agriculture is directly linked to sustainability and other development goals. We’ve seen time and again that countries which incorporate women into agriculture on a larger scale have more resilient industries.
For struggling rural populations, women in agriculture can have a huge effect on regional industries. Colombian women especially are faced with a unique opportunity to lead their nation forward in terms of agricultural production. With a concerted effort on the part of businesses and governments, along with the women themselves, Colombia is striving towards a more equal ag industry.