Authors: Ana Paula de la O Campos, Elisabeth Garner
Affiliated organization: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Type of publication: Discussion Paper
Year of publication: 2014
Rural women experience shocks more severely than men do. To mitigate the negative effects of high and volatile food prices, policy design must account for the systemic barriers and social roles that determine the differentiated impacts of these shocks on women. Two main aspects determine these impacts and women’s ability to cope with them:
1) Social inequalities that create a gender gap in rural development: these inequalities limit women’s access to productive resources and better-paid jobs, hinder their social participation and political representation, and place them in a more vulnerable position in the face of food price shocks than men.
2) Gender-based social norms and intrahousehold power dynamics: these determine coping behaviours that can result in more harmful impacts for women, even if women have demonstrated better adaptive capacities than men in times of crisis.
In order for countries to better respond to high and volatile food prices, it will be necessary to refine policy design by improving monitoring and research on the gender-differentiated impacts of high food prices and volatility, and to conduct more evaluations of projects and programmes that aim to support rural women before and during times of crisis. Better research can also bring to light areas where rural women could benefit from mechanisms that strengthen their coping capacity, or even from higher food prices.
Impacts of the 2007/08 food security crisis on female-headed households
Although there have been price shocks before, price volatility in global agricultural markets is a relatively new phenomenon, and thus most studies look towards relevant findings from the sudden onset of high prices in 2007/08 to envisage the potential risks. Research into specific, gender-differentiated impacts on vulnerable groups, as well as their coping behaviours during the 2007/08 food price crisis is scarce.
A review of the existing evidence on the impacts of the 2007/08 food security crisis shows that within the poor and marginal food consumption groups, female-headed households (FHH) were 1.6 times more likely to be food insecure than male-headed households (MHH).
More importantly, their analysis highlights the importance of households’ pre-crisis resiliency: because of inadequate resources, specifically unequal access to land, FHH experienced greater difficulty on average in fulfilling their food consumption needs than MHH.
High and volatile food prices: How women are affected differently
Social inequalities in rural development limit the ability of producers not only to benefit from high prices, but also to respond and meet increasing food demands. While this is generally true for small producers, our focus is on rural women as they are disproportionately represented among those under-served by institutional support, and less likely to have quality income opportunities and access to financial resources. Furthermore, the stress of food security shocks affects rural women in particular, as they are traditionally responsible for food consumption and food preparation in the household.
The gender gap: decreasing rural women’s resiliency
The gender gap in rural development creates strong barriers to women’s resiliency. Equal and adequate access to resources would allow women to increase their productivity and earning potential, and help them in savings and investment. Without equal and improved access, women remain more vulnerable to shocks than men, with severe consequences for their households and communities.
Social inequalities that create a gender gap in rural development: these inequalities limit women’s access to productive resources and better-paid jobs, hinder their social participation and political representation, and place them in a more vulnerable position in the face of food price shocks than men
The gender gap in rural labour and the implications of male migration
Since the 1980s, major policy shifts have occurred in the agricultural landscape towards more commercial agriculture and away from smallholder family agriculture. In addition, decreasing state support has contributed to an increase in rural households’ diversification of livelihood strategies, as these increasingly pursue non-farm employment, both rural/urban and formal/informal. In this context, income from wage employment has become essential to supporting family agricultural practices and diversifying risk, as well as substituting for the frequent lack of formal finance opportunities in rural settings.
However, evidence has shown that it is more difficult for women to access this form of employment. For them, limitations in access to salaried employment (which has a higher probability of having both better pay and employment benefits) come mostly from inequalities in education, training and access to markets, and are compounded by the time burden of domestic unpaid work, making much of women’s work seasonal, unpaid, subsistence-based and small-scale.
Similarly, men’s inability to access rural employment affects household food security. This can become more acute in times of high food prices when males migrate in search of higher income or additional employment, leaving behind de facto female-headed households.
Male migration also has implications for agricultural labour and farm productivity, diminishing women’s ability to respond to food price changes: women suddenly faced with the family farm’s management may have to wait for their husbands’ approval before making decisions
For example, in Kenya male migration was a common strategy during the food security crisis of 2007/08; however, women complained of their husbands’ abandonment, as they did not return nor send remittances. Although these payments may provide great support to female-headed households, these need to reach them in a constant, reliable manner, and in response to price volatility. Thus households who have recent outmigrants owing to food price shocks may not be able to rely on remittances, as these may reach them much later than needed.
Male migration also has implications for agricultural labour and farm productivity, diminishing women’s ability to respond to food price changes: women suddenly faced with the family farm’s management may have to wait for their husbands’ approval before making decisions, such as planting a different crop or hiring labour.
The gender gap in productive resources
Female farmers often lack key productive resources, such as land and capital, and the ability to hire labour, purchase inputs, and access marketing channels. Land in particular is a crucial resource for food security in rural areas, yet women tend to manage smaller plots of land than men, often of inferior quality and with insecure tenure. Insecure property rights are a factor in women’s inability to access appropriate credit services, as they limit the collateral women need to access these formal institutions of financial support.
Observations from the 2007/08 food security crisis conclude that those who are able to profit from high price levels are those with a large market share, substantial access to credit or other financial resources, and infrastructure. Thus, women farmers’ reduced access to productive resources in agriculture means that they are poorly equipped to increase farm productivity and unable to benefit from high prices or to meet increased food demands. Faced with these systemic biases against ownership and control over productive resources, many women are unable to invest during food price shocks, even if inclined to do so.
The gender gap in financial services
Formal credit becomes more important in times of high food prices, as alternative mechanisms and resources such as community support and social capital can be strained. Accessible credit can not only help households adjust to higher prices and maintain food consumption, but also improve their purchasing and investment opportunities for future production. It also allows households to purchase larger amounts up front, and enables them to make investments in order to improve food storage.
In fact, credit (both formal and informal) was a major source of income used to buffer against the high food prices in 2007/08, and was also an important support for production. Unfortunately, minimal access to formal credit and savings often keeps poor households from easily protecting themselves in such periods of high food prices. When not able to buy food in large quantities, households are more likely to pay higher prices over time for the same quantity of food.
Fostering access to cheaper financial services for female farmers, as well as creating financial packages that take into account female asset limitations and risk aversion, can improve rural female farm production and food security during times of high food prices and price volatility.
How can policies better respond to the differentiated impacts of high and volatile prices on rural women?
Gender equality has a strong relationship with increasing the capacity of rural households to adopt viable coping mechanisms to crises, as well as with overall effectiveness in poverty reduction interventions. At the same time, by helping women earn higher incomes and access physical and human capital, gender-equitable policies and programmes also help women become more self-confident and able to increase their bargaining power within their households and communities, which is essential to adopting fairer and less detrimental coping strategies.
If policies and programmes adopt both a “household approach” meaning engaging all household members in the process as well as a “gender-transformative approach”, which seeks to transform gender relations to promote equity, these become easier to implement in the short run, and their effects persist in the long run. In this chapter we give examples on how policy response to higher and more volatile food prices can become gender-responsive.
Closing the gap in rural development: building women’s resilience before shocks occur
By reducing gender inequalities in rural development, polices can proactively address the barriers that keep rural women from building the necessary resources to buffer against fluctuating food prices. Furthermore, reducing the gender gap in rural development will not only improve individual and household food security, but also increase food supply in rural markets, and lower prices by increasing competition.
Policy-makers must remember that high food prices do not automatically translate into greater profits for rural producers, in particular women, who face the strongest barriers to accessing and acquiring assets to respond to changes in market demand. In fact, a price increase linked to a rise in cost of production inputs may make it difficult to maintain food production; therefore, addressing risk aversion and lack of access to credit and other financial resources is fundamental in helping female farmers invest in and improve their agricultural contributions. Securing land tenure, ensuring both primary and extension education, and gaining market access to inputs and value-added processes are also important for improving female farmer livelihoods.
Supporting producer organizations that provide women with more access to markets and market information
Supporting agricultural cooperatives that effectively incorporate female participation particularly those that offer credit and financial resources, support in buying productive assets, and access to markets, in addition to providing information on food markets and prices using available cheap technologies (i.e. text messaging in mobile phones) can help female farmers better cope with price shocks and even benefit from higher food prices. These organizations link small, otherwise isolated female producers at the grassroots level, and connect them not only to service providers but also to policy-makers. The latter are particularly useful for supporting women’s voices in political negotiations during periods of high food prices.
Designing safety nets to help women avoid negative coping strategies
In addition to supporting women in building their resiliency, policies must mitigate the coping behaviours that households adopt which are detrimental to women’s welfare. Safety nets work both ways: not only do they build women’s assets before price shocks, but they also provide alternatives to negative coping strategies through income and consumption smoothing when the need is greatest.
Thus, it is important that countries establish safety net systems during non-crisis times, as an established programme can be more easily scaled up and expanded to reach target households at the right time. Certain safety net programmes and their design can be more beneficial to women than others during food price shocks.
School feeding programmes: keeping girls in school
In general, school feeding programmes play a great role in student retention as well as in improving nutrition, which is linked to better school performance. In addition, they may also play a vital role in fostering gender equality in education in the longer term. For example, these schemes have shown to increase the value of keeping girls in school in times of high food prices, where women’s time is constrained and household expenditures decrease, and have also shown to ease the strain on household expenses associated with education. Evidence on their effectiveness in meeting these objectives comes from the Food for School Feeding Program in the Philippines and the World Food Programme’s school feeding programme in southern Madagascar.
Education: a key aspect for success
The role of education requires special mention. As we have seen in previous section, there are several initiatives that can be undertaken to help rural women and their households cope with food price volatility; however, their success lies heavily in the capacities of the beneficiaries to seize these opportunities and carry on their benefits in the long run. Both formal training and “gender training” are important in this sense.
Formal training for both men and women, as well as the young and the old, is necessary for them to broaden their understanding of prices and the market, use available technologies, and adapt to other more innovative and productive agricultural practices. Gender training, on the other hand, promotes an environment of non-discrimination, and challenges detrimental gender roles that limit rural women and other groups when accessing the resources they need in order to cope in times of crisis.
Conclusions and recommendations
Closing the gender gap in rural development requires improving women’s access to assets and other productive resources; creating decent rural employment for women, and promoting their access to the labour market; and promoting women’s participation and representation in farmers’ organizations and agricultural institutions. Investments in infrastructure and public services in rural areas can also play a key role in connecting female farmers to markets and in providing food, input and energy price information.
Safety net schemes, such as cash transfers and public works programmes, are important mechanisms for providing immediate support and avoiding negative coping strategies during food security crises. It is vital that they be established before crisis, as they not only increase women’s household resources (and thus women’s resilience) before a shock occurs, but also can then be scaled up and expanded during crisis, according to the severity of the shock. Furthermore, governments need to tailor safety net programmes to address women’s specific needs and constraints, using a gender-transformative approach.
This calls for the implementation of policies and programmes that strengthen women’s household bargaining position and create incentives to maintain female health and education during consumption shortfalls, with the help of household members as a whole. In responding to food crises, policies and programmes must acknowledge the important roles that women play, both in maintaining household food security and in reproductive labour, by incorporating flexibility into working hours and responsibilities. Additionally, an understanding of intrahousehold dynamics will improve a programme’s success, for example when determining whether policy-makers should aid families through cash or food and through whom distribution should occur.
Les Wathinotes sont soit des résumés de publications sélectionnées par WATHI, conformes aux résumés originaux, soit des versions modifiées des résumés originaux, soit des extraits choisis par WATHI compte tenu de leur pertinence par rapport au thème du Débat. Lorsque les publications et leurs résumés ne sont disponibles qu’en français ou en anglais, WATHI se charge de la traduction des extraits choisis dans l’autre langue. Toutes les Wathinotes renvoient aux publications originales et intégrales qui ne sont pas hébergées par le site de WATHI, et sont destinées à promouvoir la lecture de ces documents, fruit du travail de recherche d’universitaires et d’experts.
The Wathinotes are either original abstracts of publications selected by WATHI, modified original summaries or publication quotes selected for their relevance for the theme of the Debate. When publications and abstracts are only available either in French or in English, the translation is done by WATHI. All the Wathinotes link to the original and integral publications that are not hosted on the WATHI website. WATHI participates to the promotion of these documents that have been written by university professors and exper