Women Agricultural Workers

and the Right to adequate Food and Nutrition
16 September 2014
Report

While access to waged agricultural work can bring about benefits to women, this paper aims to shed light on the discriminatory working conditions women agricultural workers endure in industries where women have traditionally constituted a significant share of the workforce.

Women and girls play an essential role towards the food and nutrition security of their families and communities through infant and young child feeding, the selection and preparation of food for their families, and the production of food for family consumption and for the market.

While their precise roles and activities vary considerably among and within regions, women and girls often have one thing in common: the continuing threat of structural violence and discrimination that impedes the full realization of their human right to adequate food and nutrition, with broader implications not only for women and girls, but also for men, boys and their communities.

Many countries are experiencing a “feminization of agriculture” or substantial increases in the female share of the agricultural sectors in great part caused by the present agribusiness-dominated food system which is often accompanied by land grabbing, displacement, destruction of livelihoods and rural-to-urban migration of male heads of households. As a result, women and girls are increasingly left to carry the full burden of agricultural work in addition to their disproportionate load of unpaid care responsibilities at home.

Women work as farmers in their own farms, as unpaid workers on family farms and as paid or unpaid laborers on the farms and plantations of others. In addition, while women are increasingly responsible for the production and processing of food as farmers, fisherwomen, forest gatherers and waged agricultural workers, they do so with very little legal protection in their access to natural and productive resources and in the workplace.

While the key role of smallholder farmers in food and nutrition security, the constraints they face and the impact of these on the realization of the right to adequate food and nutrition have been increasingly recognized over the years, the important role of waged agricultural workers and the exploitative conditions many endure as laborers on the farms and plantations of others are often invisible.

This neglect, in particular as it relates to women waged agricultural workers, has deleterious effects not only on the realization of women’s right to adequate food and nutrition, but also on the realization of their children’s, families’ and communities rights for generations.

While access to waged agricultural work can bring about benefits to women, this paper aims to shed light on the discriminatory working conditions women agricultural workers endure in industries where women have traditionally constituted a significant share of the workforce – namely, many of the plantations for high-value agricultural products such as fresh fruit, vegetables, tea and flowers – and provide an analysis of these conditions from a human right to adequate food and nutrition perspective in order to offer recommendations to states about how to address these.