Gender roles in rice-based agriculture
Women contribute significantly more to rice-based agriculture than men. This is the finding of many rigorous studies on the different roles and responsibilities of men and women from different socioeconomic groups in rice-based agriculture (crop, livestock, agroforestry, fisheries) in Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The roles of women and those of rural men are conditioned by several interrelated socioeconomic (including class, ethnicity, age, religion), political, and environmental factors and are known as ‘gender roles’. However, these roles are dynamic and can change over time.
Women often have specific tasks such as transplanting, weeding, or harvesting. Their participation in rice production varies by country, production systems, type of household (nuclear or extended), social and economic status, and availability of male family members. Studies on the gender division of labor in rice production reveals that women in Southeast Asia contribute 25–60% of the required labor; in South Asia it is as high as 60–80%. In Africa, 80% of Africa’s food is grown by Africa’s 100 million rural women. Women undertake much of the work in traditional rainfed, mangrove, and upland rice in Africa. They are mainly responsible for ensuring household food, health, and nutritional security.
The participation of women in crop and natural resource management increases with poverty and environmental stresses (drought, submergence and problems soils). Thus, women in semi-subsistence farming in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean play crucial roles as producers/farmers and consumers, farm managers, income earners, and processors of small-scale value-adding activities for rice products. They are often responsible for food storage and seed selection/storage.
Removing gender inequities
Despite women’s important contributions in farming and livelihoods, women have less access than men to knowledge and skills, productive assets, including agricultural inputs, improved seeds, land, credit, agricultural extension services, and small equipment/light machinery. Similarly, in the world of national and international agricultural research, women continue to be underrepresented and their contributions are not fully tapped.
IRRI’s experience in conducting participatory varietal selection (PVS) in stress-prone rice environments revealed gender differences in knowledge, needs, and priorities, as well as differences in access to control of resources. Men’s and women’s preferences for varieties may be similar or different depending upon the gender-specific tasks and livelihood use of rice and degree of market orientation. Aside from high and stable grain yield and tolerance of stress, women look for other traits, for example, quality of rice straw for animal fodder, eating and cooking quality traits for rice as food and as special food products, postharvest quality and duration so that they can grow other crops after rice.
Because women play large and crucial but often unrecognized roles across the rice sector, extra efforts are needed to ensure they have the same opportunity as men to access new technologies. The challenge is to ensure that gender issues are identified through rigorous gender analysis with emphasis on differential access to assets and technologies, technology impact assessment, and involving both men and women in adaptive research along the whole rice value chain, as well as in capacity enhancement programs, with a view to enhancing productivity and incomes, and empowering women farmers to remove gender inequities.
Changes in rice production technologies: gender considerations
Economic development and technological response options affect women in different ways, depending on whether they are paid or unpaid laborers. Migration of men to work in urban areas often means that women are left behind to do the drudgery of working in the rice fields. A shift from transplanting to direct seeding may specifically affect the livelihoods of women since transplanting is their traditional task in most Asian and African societies. If they are unpaid laborers, the shift will remove the drudgery and back-breaking burden of transplanting. But if they are paid laborers, it will deprive them of a source of income. The same reasoning holds for weeding because practices to reduce water use, such as alternate wetting and drying, may promote weed growth and increase the need for manual weeding.
For the reasons above, it is important to include a gender perspective in the development of new crop management practices, production technologies, and new rice varieties. Women should be specifically included in activities such as participatory varietal selection, as they often have different perceptions of relevant crop traits. For example, because in many cases, it is women who tend the livestock, they have valuable knowledge to inform choices on grain quality and feed quality of the straw.