Restrictive gender norms affect innovation in the agri sector

SINCE there’s a progressive trend towards diversification into the non-farm sector, farm size reduction, and loss of the ability to earn solely from agriculture, the role of women in the sector is becoming increasingly important.

“Time is overdue to start reforming gender norms that affect Pakistan’s agriculture sector,” says the just-released research report published by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT). Despite successful harvest seasons, feeding Pakistan’s large and growing population requires continual innovation, it says.

The research report recommends that Pakistan must leverage all of its resources to meet its development challenges and goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) signed by Pakistan include a number of gender and food security indicators, such as eliminating hunger for all.

All of the SDGs aim “to leave no one behind” and deliver more equitable development outcomes. Around $100 billion could be injected into Pakistan’s economy annually if women had equal opportunity of contributing.

Already about 75 per cent of women and girls in Pakistan are employed in the agriculture sector, 60pc of them unpaid. Hence, a new and inclusive approach to agricultural development is required

Already about 75 per cent of women and girls in Pakistan are employed in the agriculture sector, 60pc of whom are unpaid. Hence, a new and inclusive approach to agricultural development is required.

The research report, titled “Opportunities for strengthening gender equity in Pakistan’s wheat sector,” collates evidence from four research activities. The report authored by Dr Kristie Drucza, reveals “what is required to increase technology adoption and new agriculture practices that will help increase yields.”

Some of the strongest forces behind persistent gender gaps are harmful social norms and stereotypes that limit expectations of what women can or should do, and this ultimately limits the country’s food security and growth.

Rural women are shut out of decisions, consultations, and research at the local and national levels. Existing gender inequalities put women in a disadvantaged position in the agriculture sector and hamper their economic contributions to the household and nation, Dr Drucza says.

Women’s contribution to agriculture, as identified by national statistics, is under-reported and under-valued.

Dr Drucza points out that women’s contribution to the agriculture sector – home-based livestock rearing and vegetable farming – are devalued by extension workers and researchers and are not considered ‘agriculture’.

This framing, along with a limited understanding of ‘gender’ and a male bias in agriculture, limits the support women receive when trying to innovate in agriculture and support their families.

Not enough is known about women in Pakistan’s agricultural sector, especially in male-dominated crops such as wheat. Rural livelihoods are changing in Pakistan and more knowledge about how male and female farmers are coping with these changes is needed to ensure food security for new types of households.

While gender norms are frequently cited as barriers to change, they can be harnessed to deliver positive change for women, men, families and communities.

Agricultural research for development professionals, policymakers, and extension workers should consult women more, advocate for women’s participation in extension activities, promote gender equality, and collect more data on women’s role in agriculture.

Dr Drucza argues that women should be involved in agricultural research as principal investigators, designers, analysts, scientists and authors. Pakistan needs to leverage all its resources to create inclusive and sustainable development.

The research concludes that restrictive gender norms have a negative impact on women’s ability to innovate and be productive, but can be reduced by policy initiatives that raise awareness on gender inequality and emphasise female-headed household participation and husband and wife co-participation in extension activities, among other culturally nuanced recommendations.

The report emerged from evidence collated from a four-year research for development project funded by the German government and sought to improve the gender-equality focus of wheat-related research and development.

Amin Ahmed