Rural women: a driving force against hunger, malnutrition and poverty

In the varied and vital roles they play – as farmers, farm workers, entrepreneurs, caregivers and community leaders – rural women form the backbone of rural societies. Almost everywhere, they make crucial contributions to food production, food processing and marketing. Indeed, because women produce, process and prepare much of the food available, they are critical to the food security of their families and their communities.

In developing countries, women make up 45 percent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to up to 60 percent in certain parts of Africa and Asia. Rural women’s skills and energy permeate all parts of the food system, and are key to fostering sustainable agriculture diversification, promoting bio-fortification, reducing food loss and waste, and supporting food processing for improved nutrition as well as food safety.

Improving women’s social and economic status within their households and communities has a direct impact on food security and nutrition, in particular on child nutrition. For example, evidence shows that women, if given the opportunity to control additional household income, tend to spend more of it on food, health, clothing and education for children, than men do.

Gender equality is therefore essential to achieving food security and nutrition – both now and for future generations. Enabling and empowering rural women translates into improved overall well-being for children, households and communities, which in turn contributes to long-term social and economic growth.

Turning evidence into action – what can be done?

Evidence from Africa, Asia and Latin America consistently shows that significant improvements in food security can be achieved by expanding women’s access to productive resources and technologies, including land, market opportunities, decent employment and social protection, and by enhancing their role in decision-making at all levels.

Policy interventions can empower rural women and help close the gender gap in agriculture and rural labour markets. These include, but are not limited to:

∙ facilitating women’s access to agricultural resources, education, extension and financial services

∙ investing in labour-saving and productivity-enhancing technologies and infrastructure that reduce women’s drudgery and free up their time for more productive activities

∙ promoting women’s access to decent jobs and fair labour markets

∙ increasing women’s inclusion in decision-making processes within households, communities, and rural organizations, as well as at all levels of government

Watch this video to learn more about how FAO supports countries in designing and implementing gender-responsive laws, policies and programmes.