Journal article: Women in agriculture: Four myths


by PIM | November 7, 2017

Doss, Cheryl; Meinzen-Dick, Ruth; Quisumbing, Agnes; Theis, Sophie. Women in agriculture: Four myths. Global Food Security. Available online 6 November 2017. 

Open Access funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

As the global community mobilizes in support of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality and women's rights, at least 11 of the 17 SDGs require indicators related to gender dynamics. Goal 2, ending world hunger, explicitly mentions addressing the constraints for women small-scale food producers and the nutritional needs of women and adolescent girls. This has contributed to a growing demand for nuanced and accurate data on women's contributions to food security. Despite this emerging global movement for reliable indicators, well-intentioned but statistically unfounded stylized facts on women, agriculture, and the environment continue to circulate.

This paper inspects four pervasive gender myths:

  1. Women account for 70% of the world's poor;
  2. Women produce 60–80% of the world's food;
  3. Women own 1% of the world's land; and
  4. Women are better stewards of the environment.

These claims are myths. Like all myths, they embody an important truth, in this case that women control fewer resources than those required to fulfill their responsibilities to ensure food and nutrition security for themselves and their families. However, none of these myths are based on sound empirical evidence. While intended to highlight rural women's contributions to food security and natural resource management despite inequality and discrimination, these stylized facts promote stereotypes of women as either victims or saviors; treat women as a monolithic group; ignore the role of men, communities, and institutions; and provide a simplistic and even misleading basis for the design, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs to promote food security and advance gender equality.

These stylized facts give the impression that they are based on data that are conceptually sound, adequately measured, and statistically representative, when the reality is the reverse. Not only are the underlying data not available, but it is also unclear what data would be needed to support these claims, because the concepts behind the statements are not straightforward. To develop effective policies to promote food security, it is necessary to have appropriate data on women's and men's roles in food production and natural resource management and the gendered constraints that they face. By evaluating the data and assumptions behind these myths, we contribute to both the academic and policy conversations on gender and rural development, making the case for collecting and using better data to capture the variation—over space and time—in the roles and status of women.

Read the article

Funding support for this study was provided by the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM), the International Food Policy Research Institute Gender Task Force, and the Gender, Agriculture, and Assets Project Phase 2 (GAAP2), supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationUSAID, and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

Also read:

Three myths about rural women (Thompson Reuters Foundation oped by the authors dedicated to this year's U.N. International Day of Rural) Women)