When it comes to labor markets, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is one of the most gender-unequal regions in the world. Although agriculture is the largest employer of women in the region, they still face significant challenges accessing land, benefitting from technologies, and enjoying equitable labor conditions.
Drawing on research in Egypt and Morocco funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, we present four ways of strengthening gender equality in agriculture in the MENA region.
1. Recognize women as workers, not helpers
In Egypt, research shows that women in agriculture are widely categorized as ‘helpers’ to male workers rather than workers in their own right. Listed as ‘housewives’ on their national ID cards, while men are listed as ‘agricultural workers,’ women farmers are often marginalized from social protection and development programs.
Legally and socially recognizing women as workers is therefore a key first step towards gender equality.
2. Change perceptions of land ownership
The MENA region has the lowest share of women landholders in the world, at just 5%. Research in Egypt shows that women tend to identify land officially owned solely by themselves as belonging to themselves and their husbands — although more recently land distribution quotas have been introduced to encourage land ownership among women.
Policy change on its own is not enough to tackle these low landownership rates — changing perceptions of land ownership must be part of the solution.
3. Enforce legislation for equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment
In Egypt and Morocco, women are designated lower paid and more time-consuming tasks, and are systemically paid less than men, even for the same tasks. Women agricultural workers face high levels of sexual harassment and have limited bargaining power.
Moroccan legislation includes equal pay and zero tolerance for sexual harassment, but enforcement remains weak. Enforcing existing proactive legislation must be a priority.
4. Revitalize agriculture as a valuable and necessary occupation in society
Much of the world sees agriculture as an occupation of last resort. When surveyed, men and women in Morocco complained about agricultural work being an unstable and unreliable way of making a living. In both Egypt and Morocco, women who worked as wage workers were associated with a tarnished reputation and had difficulty marrying.
To shift how agriculture is viewed and rebrand it as an important and respected occupation, it needs to be reformed as a safer, more equal and respectful space for both women and men.
Funders of this work include the CGIAR Research Program on Wheat (WHEAT), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).
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