By Connor J. Wangler
Men and women throughout African nations experience wide gaps in equal treatment, access, and privilege. From local communities to the national scale, women have long been treated as second class to men as a result of cultural, political, and economic factors. The process of development, however, has brought the issue of gender equality to the social forefront. The role of women in improving the quality of life in developing countries is now being recognized by individual governments and private organizations. This has spawned the implementation of several policies and initiatives aimed at closing the gender gaps in several areas, such as political representation and access to economic services. There is a level of difficulty, however, at identifying which areas need to receive the focus of governments and NGOs. Thorough research is necessary to understand in which areas inequality exists and what factors have led to the gap; even more studying is required to then formulate policy direction that will accurately reduce the inequality.
One area that has been of recent attention for the African countries is the role of women in agricultural production. Almost fifty percent of agricultural production in Africa is performed by women. The first study released on the gender gap in this area was released in 1996 by Christopher R. Udry, a professor at Yale University and member of the Poverty Action Lab. Udry’s study found that agricultural production differed between plots operated by men and women. This goes against the micro-economic understanding of “Pareto Efficiency,” in which all resources are equally distributed among household plots to achieve maximum return. A 2014 report by the World Bank and the ONE Campaign reaffirmed this observation by noting than in six countries profiled, women produced less than men, from thirteen percent in Uganda to twenty-five percent in Malawi. Here is a video by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization that details the issue in further detail:
The report identifies ten key policy areas that require attention to reduce the gap that exists in production levels. Many of the suggestions focus of improving womens’ access to critical resources. For example, the report encourages policies that increase womens’ access to property ownership and land rights, hired labor, community child-care centers, higher quality fertilizers and seeds, and financial services and commodity markets. Other suggestions are focused on providing women farmers increased education and training. For example, policies that should be addressed must increase women’s knowledge of tools and equipment to reduce the amount of human labor needed, be tailored to women’s needs and use social networks to improve the dissemination of this knowledge, promote the cultivation of high-value and cash crops, and improve access to formal education opportunities. Not all of these suggestions are agreed upon by those studying the issue. For instance, in Udry’s 1996 study, he noted that increased access to property rights and labor may not necessarily solve the problem.
The World Bank report suggests that if this gender gap is reduced, between twenty and thirty percent more food could be produced by women farmers in Africa. This increase, the report notes, could raise 150 million out of hunger. Clearly, anything that could carry such an impact must be made a top priority of those working to reduce global extreme poverty. While access to resources is not enough to effectively close the gap, it seems necessary that it be apart of any attempt to address this inequality. Further research into the area may be needed to produce more effective policy, but the suggestions made by the World Bank report are good place to start for governments wishing to make the change.