The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that the majority of employed women in the least developed countries work in agriculture. Often, poor women in rural areas take on the burden of farming and food production.
And yet, despite women’s importance in the agricultural sector, they are still more likely to live in extreme poverty, to be less educated, and to lack access to basic needs.
Studies have shown that agriculture can be a vital source of economic and social empowerment for women. When women own their own farms, have access to new technologies, control their own incomes, and are able to feed their families independently, they also have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty.
These benefits extend beyond women and can affect their families and entire communities as well.
Despite the challenges they face, these five countries put women are at the forefront of agriculture.
Pakistan has an agriculture-based economy as most of its economic resources are generated by the agricultural sector. In Pakistan, 74% of employed women work in agriculture, according to WorldAtlas.
Since formal female labor force participation is generally low in Pakistan, it is likely that there are even more women who work informally in agriculture.
Men in the country are generally responsible for the more physically intensive tasks in farming such as land preparation, while women take on tasks like planting and weeding crops.
Pakistan is one of the world’s largest producers of raw cotton and most women work picking cotton. In the fields, women face heat stroke, snake bites, exposure to pesticides, and deal with cuts on their hands from the rough cotton bolls, but are compensated with low wages.
Their sacrifices yield cotton that is used around the world to make clothing, linens, and industry products.
Agriculture is a primary source of livelihood for Tanzanians and more than two-thirds of the employed population there work in agriculture — 70% of employed women work in the agricultural sector.
There are more women working in agriculture in Tanzania than in any other sub-Saharan country: 81% of the female population works in agriculture there, compared to 55% in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, according to a 2011 study by the University of Washington.
Most Tanzanian farmers are smallholders and work on family-owned farms that are usually less than two hectares, which has been a challenge for women in the past as land laws in the country have prevented women from owning their own land.
3. The Gambia
The agricultural sector in the Gambia is the most important sector in the country’s economy. For many Gambians living in rural areas, farming is the only way to earn an income.
Across the country, 80% of Gambians work in agriculture and 38% of employed women work in the sector.
Aside from pump-irrigated rice crops, most of the country’s agricultural sector is controlled by women — although this varies across different ethnic groups and regions.
Rice farming is considered a women’s job in the Gambia and women are thought to be better at managing and identifying crop variety compared to men. Therefore, Sinkiros, the female equivalents to village chiefs, are responsible for the overall production of rice crops.
4. Sri Lanka
Agriculture is the most important sector of the Sri Lankan economy and 34% of employed women work in agriculture.
Women in Sri Lanka often work in paddy fields, a flooded field used to grow rice, or in Chena cultivation, which is an ancient Sri Lankan way of growing vegetables and grains. Women are also very involved in the post-harvest production of food and account for 50% of workers during this season.
However, due to traditional societal norms, women sturggle to gain equitable access to agricultural resources in Sri Lanka.
Climate change is also threatening the agricultural industry in Sri Lanka, as ongoing droughts mean people are unable to earn a living from their crops. Many men are leaving farming in rural areas in favor of working for wages in cities, leaving the responsibility of farming to women.
Agriculture has become less prominent in Turkey's economy in recent decades, but as men begin working in other industries, women have taken over the operation of family farms across the country. In Turkey, 32% of employed women work in agriculture, in predominantly rural and poor areas.
The FAO reported that the majority of women’s work is non-paid and often seasonal during harvesting, which makes it difficult to gain accurate statistics on the number of women working.
Since women farmers are not a part of the formal labor force, they often miss opportunities like social benefits and pension access.
Women in these five countries and millions of others around the world are essential to the production of the world’s food and resources — yet they are often underpaid or forced to work in unsafe or unfair conditions.
If women working in agriculture were given the same education and access to resources as their male counterparts, the National Geographic reported that women’s production could increase by 30%, which would help eliminate hunger for an estimated 150 million people.
Beyond ending hunger, empowering women farmers has also been linked to decreasing poverty and fighting climate change.