Towards a sustainable food system: the deplorable situation of women in Africa

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Women participate significantly in the rural economy. They produce most of the local food and feed the family. In addition to this back-breaking agricultural work, they also fulfill their role as mothers, managing the household and educating the children. It is estimated that their overall activities occupy them on average 13 hours more per week than men.
[AEFJN]

In the experience of FAO, IFAD and WFP, when rural women have better access to resources, services, economic opportunities and decision-making, the results are palpable: communities have more food, their nutrition improves, rural incomes increase and food systems become more efficient and sustainable.[1]

In Africa, rural women are the pillars of agricultural production and food security. They better manage household resources and reinvest up to 90% of their income to meet the needs of their families compared to 75% for men. Yet they suffer from many inequalities, and their voices are all too rarely heard.[2]  When women own property, their holdings are one-third smaller than those of men. Their livestock is also smaller. Their economic resources are correspondingly diminished. Access to loans is not as easy for them as it is for men: in Africa, only 10% of loans are granted to women. This limited access to resources and women’s insufficient purchasing power are the result of a series of interrelated social, economic and cultural factors that impose a subordinate role on women, to the detriment of their own development and that of society as a whole.[3]

Generally speaking, the different political systems function in the same way in some areas. As far as women’s rights are concerned, each country still has a lot to do. Women farmers are still very far from being recognized; even when they are heads of families in practice, tradition, political or religious systems often do not recognize them as having the same status as men. They need access to technology, markets and a voice as agricultural scientists to produce climate-resilient crops. They have the solutions, they need to be recognized and listened to by politicians.  Even if governments adopt egalitarian legislation, its implementation is still far from materializing because local traditions persist where women have no say. In Senegal, for example, the law is clear: as far as land is concerned, men and women have the same rights; but in reality, women farmers often have access to land without controlling it.[4]

The industrial agriculture widely practiced in Africa by large companies mainly for large-scale monoculture does not help. The objective of this type of agriculture being first and foremost the satisfaction of the needs of industry, women have neither a share nor a place in it. Agricultural production is declining both in quantity and quality, and women have difficulty finding food for their families; their incomes are declining and are less and less sufficient to meet their daily needs.

Women have had to face the disapproving gaze of society when they have had to do the work traditionally done by men, with some men not hesitating to assert that “Women should live on charity”. These societal discriminations, added to hard agricultural work and itself emphasized by the consequences of climate change and globalization, then aggravate the “feminization of poverty”.  Yet, with better access to information, training and technology, they can influence food production and consumption patterns in support of sustainable land and resource management.[5]

It can never be said enough that a sustainable food system cannot achieve the expected results without taking into account all components of society. Women are full-fledged actors in this dynamic and their place must be recognized as such. Attitudes must change concretely to recognize and strengthen the capacity of women farmers to participate fully in the achievement of a sustainable food system.

Odile Ntakirutimana

AEFJN Policy Officer

[1] http://www.fao.org/news/story/fr/item/1265056/icode/

[2] https://www.sosfaim.lu/les-femmes-piliers-de-lagriculture/

[3] http://www.fao.org/FOCUS/F/Women/Sustin-f.htm

[4] Elles sèment, qui récolte ? Trimestriel no 11 mars 2020 :  https://www.sosfaim.be/elles-sement-qui-recolte/

[5] Les femmes dans l’agriculture, des agents de changement pour le système alimentaire mondial : https://www.banquemondiale.org/fr/news/feature/2017/03/07/women-in-agriculture-the-agents-of-change-for-the-food-system

[Odile Ntakirutimana – AEFJN]