This week farmers — including women’s farmers groups, researchers and local government leaders and policy-makers from across the country gathered to talk about and get a better understanding of the critical role of empowering women in agriculture.
The forum, organised by Action-Rwanda, set out to highlight the importance of reducing the gender gap in agriculture and identify ways to ensure that men and women are equal partners in food and nutrition security by ensuring they are included in the budget planning process.
The timing of this initiative is more important than ever.
Although women make up at least 60 per cent of Rwanda’s agricultural labour force, rural women attending the forum spoke of how they have limited access to land, how they are excluded from the decision making processes and limited access to credit due to lack of collateral demanded by financial institutions.
Most women also find it difficult to access credit for the reason that they need approval from their husbands.
Moreover, most of these rural women are not in a position to take decisions after harvests, as men remain the decision makers in most homes.
The rural women also spoke of how they feel left out of the budget planning process with most interventions in agriculture failing to take into account issues that undermine their effective participation.
Yet this gender inequality comes at a huge cost, not just for women, but society as a whole. Discrimination against women can undermine economic development by limiting food security for families and preventing women and girls from achieving greater opportunities in education.
In addition, many agricultural research and development programmes ignore the needs and hopes of women farmers.
But research from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that if women had the same access to non-land resources as male farmers, they could lift 100 million-150 million people out of hunger.
When women farmers have secure land rights family nutrition improves, women become less vulnerable to contracting HIV/Aids; they may be less likely to be victims of domestic violence; children, especially girls, are more likely to receive an education and stay in school longer; and women’s participation in household decision-making increases.
While climate change, population growth and other factors present challenges to all farmers, women face unique challenges including failure to have a Plan B to fall back to once their agriculture output is destroyed by weather as the majority of rural women alternative working in agriculture with unpaid care work, unlike men who may have alternative sources of income.
They also often lack access to the technologies and innovations that can help them improve yields and increase income. Ensuring that women also have the tools to succeed is key to eradicating poverty and hunger but also improving agricultural productivity.