Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality! Voices from the field: investing in women in farming

08 Mar 2016

 (Photo: ©UNDP Cambodia)

Today, March 8, the world  observes the International Women’s Day under a global theme, Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality. Planet 50-50 is a time-bound goal in which women and girls have equal rights and opportunities by 2030

At the 2015 ‘Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen made a national commitment to end gender inequalities by increasing investments in gender equality, ensuring the protection of women’s rights and their equal participation in decision making, strengthening accountability mechanisms for gender equality, and promoting women’s involvement in the economy.

What does this commitment mean for women from family farms? Family farm remains a core agricultural production unit in Cambodia which has about 82 per cent of its population living in rural areas and close to 71 per cent engaging in agriculture for their livelihoods. While there are almost equal numbers of men and women in the agricultural population, the national data records more men taking up the leading position in agricultural households and farming.

According to a report by the National Institute of Statistic that bases its analysis on the latest General Population Census, men lead 80 per cent of agricultural households. A more recent Census of Agriculture records a slight difference, with 78 per cent of male-headed households. This official nomination and the use of the concept of ‘household head’ can be problematic. First, it gives legitimacy of power and control to the head who happens to be men in most cases. Second, it can potentially disadvantage women from farming families in a way that it leaves them at the background, renders their works less important, and limits them from accessing farming resources and services.

If Cambodia is committed to support women in farming by diversifying and commercializing farming as stated by the Prime Minister during the 2015 Global Leaders meeting, it is essential to look beyond numbers and take into account women farmer’s needs and interests in rural development policies and programmes.

In my study of rural women in Cambodia, which involved a six-month ethnographic fieldwork in rice farming villages in Kampong Speu, Battambang and Mondulkiri, there is no doubt that women are farmers in their own right. They equally work in family farms in addition to caring for their families and their housework responsibilities. More importantly, they see their contribution no less significant than the contribution of their male counterparts.

Furthermore, what is striking now is the need to invest in women farmers and to improve their capacity. It is because about 90 per cent of Cambodia’s agricultural holdings have less than four hectares of agricultural land and more than half of them work on less than one hectare of land. Limited farming resources, rising temperatures and unpredictable weather make farming harder and less rewarding. As a result, farmers take off-farm employment, some of them migrating to find jobs in other countries. In the rice farming communities that I conducted my study, it is common that husbands and adult sons and daughters migrate to find jobs elsewhere. While many take seasonal migration during the dry season, others migrate for a few or several years leaving behind women to manage the farm by themselves.

To achieve the goal of Planet 50-50 for these women farmers, there is an imminent need for the Government and its development partners to further step up through an increased and targeted investment to improve women’s farming knowledge and sustainable farming practices and technologies that can adapt to the changing climatic conditions. Over and above investing in women and girls as an investment for our future, gender equality is an ultimate goal in itself and women and girls should have equal rights and opportunities to men and boys. 
 

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UNDP along with its development partners has supported Cambodia’s Ministry of Women Affairs in developing the Gender and Climate Change Strategic Programme that aligns with other relevant national policies. The strategy draws on women’s knowledge and roles relevant to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

In addition, women are put at the core of protecting forests through the Sustainable Forest Management project, wherein gender issues are mainstreamed within the development of a framework of community-based forest management. At the commune level, women are trained in producing and marketing energy-efficient stoves, providing them sustainable livelihoods and a viable source of income.