Celebrating Human Rights Day should be all about celebrating the achievement of fundamental human rights for all people. It should be about reflecting on the sacrifices that were made to ensure that every person has been guaranteed the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which include the right to life, the right to food, and the right to education. When we reflect on the attainment of human rights, we are reminded that many people continue to be discriminated against because of their race, gender, class, or religion. Many people still do not have access to nutritious food, clean water, adequate shelter, or quality education.
Women, in particular, continue to be discriminated against, especially those involved in agriculture. Women comprise 43% of the global agricultural workforce and contribute significantly to food production, especially in developing countries. Yet they continue to face many barriers. Women own less than 20% of land in the world, and they do not have the same rights to inherit, access, or use land or to the financing and resources men have. Many also do not have suitable working conditions or receive equal pay for their work. As such, many women in agriculture are labourers instead of landowners and have fewer opportunities to generate income and improve their livelihoods.
Women are also constrained by their lack of involvement in decision-making, at a government level and in the household. Women, especially migrant labourers, and refugees, have less access to legal and social protection services. This lack of access contributes to the high levels of abuse and exploitation that millions of women face daily. International data shows that one in three women has endured physical and psychological violence, and there are reports from across the world that women working in the agricultural sector are continuously exposed to gender-based violence.
Women are also generally more constrained in time. They take on the role of the caregiver at home, undertaking more than 75% of unpaid care work in the world, which contributes to over three times more labour than men. Women are responsible for cooking and cleaning, which they must do on top of their paid activities. For some women, taking care of children or the elderly limits opportunities to receive an education or secure a paying job. Childcare responsibilities and domestic work mean that women are unlikely to be able to travel to places where education and job opportunities are more abundant, such as cities. Women may not necessarily have a support system or the financial capital that would enable them to rely on someone else to help take care of their children. Legislation such as limited paid paternity leave and a lack of father-friendly early parent education programs has also contributed to the notion that women are responsible for childcare.
These factors have contributed to the higher rates of poverty, hunger and malnutrition experienced by women. The SOFI 2022 report stated that in 2021, 31.9% of women worldwide were moderately or severely food insecure compared to 27.6% of men. The OECD points out that the key to ensuring women’s full engagement in agriculture is to break current legal and cultural barriers. Women must be supported to access resources and opportunities through legislation in a socially and culturally appropriate manner. This would require the government to design and implement legislation with a gender-sensitive approach.
An example is ensuring that women can inherit and own land. Women should also have equal access to education and skills development opportunities. Children need to be better protected from practices such as child marriage, which limits their freedom and opportunity to become financially and socially independent. Women need to be part of developing solutions, and government needs to ensure that women have a seat at the table when decisions are made. The government must ensure that justice systems are functional and inclusive and that the law protects women better. This could include better training of the police to be more gender-sensitive, increasing access to legal aid, or making it easier for women to get divorced. It would also include better access to social protection services such as easing the ability to obtain identity documents, closing the gender pay gap, and increasing affordable childcare and home-care services.
Men need to be included more in conversations about gender equality. Sensitising men on the role that they can play in promoting gender equality is essential. We need to work with political and traditional leaders in the system to change the perception that “a woman’s place is at home”, a stereotype endorsed in many cultures and religions.
Women’s role in society should be enough to encourage leaders worldwide to promote gender equality, not just in the agricultural sector but in all sectors. Women deserve much more credit than what they are given. They carry the weight of the world on their shoulders but continue to be denied equal rights. On this Human Rights Day, we need to remember that we all have a voice, and we need to use it to promote change and ensure equality, freedom, and justice for all.