|Rural women and food security: current situation and perspectives. (1998)|
|3 Constraints faced by women farmers|
While countries in the region fare relatively well when compared with the rest of the world in terms of food security indicators such as the number of poor people, calorie intake and the percentage of undernourished children, they compare a lot less favourably when rural women's issues are examined. This is especially true with respect to their representation in national and local power structures, at decision-making and policy-making levels, and at the farm household level. Without adequate representation and access to power, women cannot be involved in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. Thus, rural women are unlikely to have any significant impact on the formulation of policies aimed at increasing food production and ensuring food security at the household level.
Women in the region lag far behind their counterparts in the rest of the world in their economic and social participation and decision-making (UN, 1991), in spite of substantial improvements in institutional representation and support since the early 1980s. While most countries in the region have granted women equal rights with regard to important legal issues, education, private ownership, employment, social security and welfare services, large gender gaps continue to exist in these domains.
When regions of the world are compared, the percentage of women in parliamentary assemblies is lowest in North Africa and Western Asia (UN, 1991:32). In fact, in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, the Sudan, Cyprus, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates, women make up less than 4 percent of parliamentary representation.
In ministries of agriculture, men still comprise the overwhelming majority of those employed. Very few women hold high-ranking policy-making positions. In Egypt, in 1992, less than 5 percent of the 62 administrative positions at the Ministry of Agriculture were held by women. In Syria and the Sudan, only one out of the 49, and one out of the 61 managerial positions at their ministries of agriculture were held by women, respectively. In Yemen, in 1990, only 3.7 percent of the policy-making positions were held by women and, in Jordan, the figure was only 1.5 percent (FAO, 1995c:24). Turkey, with 6 percent, has the highest representation of women in decision-making positions in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.
Women in the region are also unlikely to participate in agricultural cooperatives or other rural organizations, either as office-bearers or members. In the countries where data are available, women constitute less than 10 percent of members in various cooperatives and rural organizations (in Iraq, 9.4 percent; Jordan 9.3 percent; Iran 9 percent; and Turkey 1 percent). As office-holders in cooperatives and rural organizations, women constitute 29.4 percent and 5 percent of employees in Jordan and Iraq, respectively, while 18, 3 and 2.6 percent of decision-making positions in these organizations are occupied by women in the Sudan, Cyprus and Mauritania.
Women's participation in these organizations can promote household food security by assisting them in selling their produce and: "are often channels through which agricultural extension services, agricultural inputs and credit are directed... (and) serve as a platform for making the voice of farming women heard more effectively in matters that concern them" (FAO, 1990a:8).
There is insufficient research in the region regarding who makes decisions at the household level. Since men have predominant control over productive inputs and cash income, it would be safe to assume that men generally control decision-making, especially since the majority of households in the region are male-headed and patriarchal. Thus, men are likely to decide on the agricultural practices to be pursued during the season, and when to buy or sell crops and livestock, livestock feed, fertilizers and seeds. They are also more likely to control financial matters such as credit and loans, marketing and the allocation of income and savings and land selling and rental transactions.
Some evidence suggests that certain types of decisions are made jointly between men and women, and that women predominate in issues relating to family matters such as marriage, education, divorce, child care, nutrition and household food purchases.
Women are more likely to have a greater say in domains in which they provide a significant portion of the work required, such as in livestock, poultry and kitchen garden food production. Moreover, some studies have shown that a woman's negotiating power and her status within the household improve if she is married with children (especially sons) and if she is elderly (Taylor, 1987). Additional power is wielded if she brings in cash income and contributes to household expenditures. Thus, any efforts to increase women's access to resources and skills in income-generating activities have the spillover effect of improving women's authority and decision-making power at the household level.