Like a gift box, as soon as it is opened, buzz words are flying out all over: Sustainable Development Goals, biotechnology, “globesity”, value-added growth and a lot more. Somewhere in the midst of the excitement, the word “women” is mentioned, very quickly, and then left on the ground. If the chatter is about agriculture, shouldn’t women also join the commotion up in the air?
After all, women make half of all farmers in Southeast Asia and one-third in South Asia, according to Gert-Jan Stads in his presentation on Tuesday. This means that women in the region actually contribute as much as men in agriculture, food production and income generation.
Yet his findings show that women are still significantly underrepresented in agricultural research and development in many Asian countries. Is this surprising? Not really. As in other sectors and with other marginalized groups in society, women in general still struggle to make it onto the same platform as men. Their views and roles are usually undermined and their needs overlooked. Rarely are they included in consultation and decision making processes. This is particularly common in rural areas, areas where nearly all agricultural production takes place.
There is no denying that cultural context factors into this equation. Conventional customs still regulate the roles of men and women in family and society. In many rural agricultural settings, women hold unwritten authority and control inside their houses: for family consumables, prices of perishable and secondary crops, and a few other areas. Outside their houses, they have little influence.
Some practitioners in the field argue that growth in agricultural production does not equate to poverty reduction. Having access to food does not mean it is nutritious. Healthier diets can reduce health-related spending. Nowadays we have more food available, eat more often and have more choices. Obesity is no longer the problem of only industrialized countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) uses the term ‘globesity’ – or global epidemic of excess weight and obesity – to highlight this alarming phenomenon. Ironically, this problem is the most rampant in Southeast Asia and western Pacific region. India and China have seen rapid growth rate of obesity and type 2 diabetes amongst children.
This is important to highlight because as Dyno Keatinge pointed out in his presentation, “home gardens (put) household nutrition in the hands of women”. This means by empowering women with necessary knowledge and skills they can make ‘healthier’ choices to feed their families. This also suggests that women need to be at the center of decision making process, with men, in the selection and value of crops.
So, would it be too much to imply that lack of attention to women’s needs and regards to their potential contribution and roles in agriculture are among the issues that hinder global efforts to fight poverty and secure food for all? Maybe it is time to really include women in the game and empower them. Take the chance, it may be worthwhile.
Blogpost by Detty Saluling, #GCARD3 Social Reporter – detty.saluling(at)recoftc.org
This post is part of the coverage during the APAARI High Level Policy Dialogue in Bangkok, Thailand, 8-9 December 2015. The view in this post represents that of the author’s only.