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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Busting the Gender Myths. It’s that simple

International media services such as IPS (Inter Press Service) and Devex are writing about it; the keynote during last month’s seminar on Gender and Climate Change in Paris was a big success; the articles and filmed presentations have been tweeted and shared on other social media many times;

What is the buzz?

 Busting the Gender Myths.

It’s that simple.

Not much has changed since the 80’s regarding gender, agriculture and development.  We are still pushing the same issues and concerns related to gender equality and women’s access and control of key resources, says Jacqui Ashby. This showcases that during the past years there has hardly been any progress made on new data concerning gender and agriculture (and even less on how these topics relate to climate change). In other words, rural women finding themselves farming in changing contexts are being left by themselves; we are leaving them by themselves through our use of incomplete and incorrect data without trying to understand their situation. As a consequence, we are all losing out on their knowledge concerning the major issues the world is facing today: food security and climate change.

Therefore, CIAT’s social scientist Jennifer Twyman and CGIAR’s senior adviser on gender and research Jacqui Ashby decided it’s time to bust the existing myths and add the ‘real’ information to this.

  1. MYTH: Women produce 60-80 percent of our food and own less than 1% of the land.

“That 60-80 percent is a zombie statistic, but there’s some truth behind it,” Twyman said. “Women do contribute a lot to agricultural production. FAOSTATS report that in developing countries, 79% of economically active women  say agriculture is their primary activity;” states Twyman, “however, that doesn’t say much about how much women actually contribute to agricultural production overall.”

This statistic about women’s contribution to food production is often combined with the myth that women own less than 1% of the land. However, a recent study by Cheryl Doss shows that there is not any evidence to support this number.  Some of the landownership data is derived from comparing land ownership by male-headed households versus female-headed households. However, such comparisons ignore the possibility of joint titles between spouses in male headed households.  

Ashby and Twyman therefore give the recommendation that data on women’s control of land and the income derived from it would be much more useful. How much of the land does she have access to? What farming decisions is she making?

Photocredit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Photocredit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

  1. MYTH: Rural women are not more vulnerable to climate change because they are more likely to be poor

This myth is completely based upon adding up of wrong assumptions: “The assumption is that the poor are the most vulnerable to climate change, and that women make up 70 percent of the world’s poor”, states Twyman.

However, first of all there is no evidence to support the affirmation that 70 percent of the world’s poor are women and then there’s the stereotype that women are vulnerable, or more vulnerable than men at least. This contributes to the general portrayal of women as victims.

Furthermore, such statistics are not very useful; more useful would be to understand WHEN (i.e. under what circumstances) & WHY women are more vulnerable than men. Is it because they have less access to weather information, or new practices? Is it because they have less say in what practices to use in the household? Because they are less mobile and can therefore migrate less easily? If so, how can we change that? We must tackle these bigger problems that hinder both men and women in different ways, and not simply blame unequal vulnerability to climate risks and shocks on gender.

  1. MYTH: Rural women make better stewards of natural resources

This myth is derived from the fact that the social and cultural roles and tasks of women often deal with natural resources, such as water, firewood and farm work. However, this does not mean they are then better stewards of natural resources. One study showed that out of 13 empirical studies, in eight of them women were less likely than men to adopt climate-smart technologies. In research in East-Africa it can be seen that decisions to adopt practices that will preserve natural resources depend a lot on social class, and the incentives given, regardless of gender. So we need more precise targeting based on gender and social class.

Photocredit: Neil Palmer

Photocredit: Neil Palmer

  1. MYTH: New technologies alone can close the gender gap

Agro-climatic technologies are needed and useful, but we must consider equal access to such technology in order to start reducing gender inequalities.  An example Ashby gives is: ”In one of the case studies we reviewed a new technology was introduced that increased women’s labor and men remained in control of crop choices and sales. So women were working harder to produce income over which they had very little control,” she said. Therefore, a key to successful innovation is in understanding the user’s perspective. In Malawi, for example, rural women have been involved in designing a range of labour saving agri-processing tools. As they will be the primary users of such technologies, having their input is vital to ensure a viable end product (for the video, for the corresponding presentation and blogpost).

They concluded the session with repeating that researchers will be encouraged to undertake the challenge of collecting better data about rural women in order to bust existing myths and move beyond them for a clear understanding of women’s situations, which will be beneficial for men and women alike.

Jennifer Twyman and Jacqui Ashby presented their findings at the seminar on ‘Closing the Gender Gap in Farming under Climate Change’ in Paris on the 19th of march. Their presentation can be viewed here. You can also look back at the recording of the High Level Panel and all sessions. All PowerPoint presentations are now available online as well as the video onInspiring women share views on how to close the Gender Gap’. 

Manon Koningstein is a Communications Specialist for the Gender & Climate Change team and is based in Cali, Colombia.

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