While women account for 51.2% of the South African population their majority status is not reflected in the agricultural sector, experts argue.
As the nurturers and care givers of society, women have a crucial role to play within the agricultural and rural economy. Despite their roles as farmers, labourers and entrepreneurs they have been met with adversity in their efforts to penetrate the predominantly male industry.
As we wrap up Women’s Month, experts say that closing the gender gap in agriculture will be a daunting task.
It was 18th century economist Frederich Engels, who wrote: “The emancipation of woman will only be possible when women can take part in production on a large scale and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”
A silenced Mbokoto
The notion that women comprise the majority of the SA population and do not have an equal footing in the agri sector needs urgent intervention, says Progressive Socio-Economic Investment Institute (PSEII) founder, Sediko Rakolote.
Historically women have been constrained by numerous challenges including unequal access to productive resources, insufficient information, and developmental funding opportunities.
Rakolote says that more needs to be done to “liberate women from the patriarchy of the industry”.
He adds that statistically there is a cry for help and an urgent need for renewed and accelerated focus on improving the lives of women, and moreover the girl child who aspires to be a farmer.
“We can’t be having a country that has a population of about 52% of women but they are the least represented when it comes to the sector. We need to step up and confront the issue and deny the exclusion of the majority of the population to participate in the sector.”
According to the South African employment equity report for 2019/2020, women only comprise 45.3% of the economically active population.
Rakolote says that the recent report illustrates the gap and imbalance in the distribution of opportunities amongst men and women.
“Funding institutions in particular, like the Land Bank and other developmental funding institutes, should opt for a 50/50 gender parity in the rolling out of funds.
“We must demand that if people are applying for funding, the majority should go to women owned companies,” he says.
The road towards levelling the playing field
Meanwhile progressive and simple interventions in place are set to be a powerful place to start, North West MEC of agriculture and rural development, Desbo Mohono believes.
“Women have been suppressed for years and were not allowed to show their potential in the sector. We are trying very hard to maximize the presence of women in the industry through various initiatives aimed at women empowerment.”
It is a disheartening reality that women have been side-lined in the sector, the MEC adds. “Remember that you are a nurturer by nature – a caregiver – and at the same time, agriculture is also a demanding business on its own.”
The playing field in the sector is grossly unbalanced as women have not been given exposure when opportunities to flourish in the industry arose, Mohono says. “When land was being availed, it was predominantly availed to men, but now women are a priority of government.”
Women, youth, and people with disabilities are central to the transformation of the industry as government attempts to mitigate and fill the gap.
‘We need to step up and confront the issue and deny the exclusion of the majority of the population to participate in the sector.’ – Sediko Rakolote
“During the covid-19 relief funding the instruction from the minister was clear, 54% of the beneficiaries should be women. It clearly tells you that as government we are deliberately taking a stance of ensuring that our women get priority, they are being empowered, they are being supported.”
Limpopo-based agripreneur and managing director of Legae La Banareng Farms Thato Moagi, says that that for women to formalize their businesses and interact with commercial markets, “policies should incentivize the funding and support of women in the rural environment.”
‘As government we are deliberately taking a stance of ensuring that our women get priority, they are being empowered, they are being supported.’ – Desbo Mohono
There is a need for equal female representation on governing bodies, boards and management level in order to get the valuable female voices to balance perspectives in decision making, she adds.
“There needs to be more awareness and education that promotes the entrance and inclusion of women in agriculture. Women need to know that the industry needs them and that they can make a living participating in agriculture.”
CEO of Kwanalu, a Kwa-Zulu Natal-based agricultural lobby group, Sandy La Marque says women’s inclusion in the sector is highly dependent on policy interventions and creating equal opportunities.
“Policies are helpful and are making an impact, but coupled with this is the need for a greater emphasis on social cohesion and a continued effort to shrink the gender gap.
“Through collaborative efforts, purpose and a greater sense of unity women can work together and make a difference,” La Marque says.
The land question and women
Constitutional law expert prof. Elmien du Plessis says the importance of securing land tenure in the promotion of sustainable agricultural development, has long been recognized by government.
Women have hardly benefitted from land distribution and some case have seen their customary rights disregarded due to gender bias. Efforts have been made to strengthen women’s tenure rights within marriage and as individuals, she says, but these attempts have had their shortcomings.
“These efforts are often frustrated by a combination of legal and cultural practices that still favour men,” du Plessis says.
In terms of customary law, du Plessis says, “It is important that we emphasise the fact that we are a participatory democracy and that women must be included in conversations and decision-making structures pertaining to land. We must resist elite capture.”
Du Plessis adds that we need to break free from gender stereotypes regarding farming, when statistics shows that women are the people who mostly produce Africa’s food.
“They (women) should be seen and supported and given secure rights in land so that they can have the same economic, social and political opportunities as men.”