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8 Mar, 2012

Rural Women Can Be More Productive Than Men in Central America


Mexico City – According to a new UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) study entitled Agricultural productivity of rural women in Central America and Mexico, rural women can be more productive than men in Mexico and Central America. However, they require the appropriate tools, such as productive inputs, microcredits, technical assistance and training to achieve it.

Photo: Martine Perret/United Nations

This study, prepared by Diana Ramírez of the Agricultural Unit of ECLAC Subregional Headquarters in Mexico, examines the existing publications on female productivity in the rural world; presents a diagnosis of labour in this sector of the population; and analyses the differences in productivity of men and women in Guatemala and El Salvador.

The document is being released to coincide with United Nation’s commemoration of the International Women’s Day 2012, whose this year theme is: Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.

According to the publication, women’s participation in agricultural production has risen over the past years.

Food security in many rural homes in Central America and Mexico depends on women, but the fact is that “they have limited access to productive resources and credits, they require technical assistance and training, and very few women have land and those who do, have small, poor quality land.” The study states that, “their low productive development is detrimental to their communities and countries.”

In 2010, approximately 28% of the economically active rural population were women, both in Central America and Mexico. Most of them work part-time in low productivity jobs, such as looking after livestock, collecting water and processing agricultural products. Although women have a lower income in relation to the hours worked, they are just as productive as men and in some cases, for example in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Honduras, they are more productive.

According to the study, raising these women’s income means increasing the resources of more than 40% of poor rural homes in Central America where they are heads of households. This would lead to better education and nutrition of children, and greater economic growth in the countries.

One of the main obstacles to increasing women’s income is their limited time available. The statistics show that rural women in Mexico and Central America work twice the number of hours that men and they additionally do household duties. The numerous activities which they carry out, such as collecting firewood, fetching water, going to health centres and caring for their children, limit the time which they could dedicate to productive activities.

“Rural-related issues are given less and less importance on national agendas. However, a strategy which encourages women to become food producers and income providers in households is needed as a result of food insecurity in the region,” states the document.

“A gender perspective must be integrated into public policies that promote equality, as well as the productive potential of women. Recognition of the equal distribution of responsibilities, opportunities and rights is fundamental to promoting fair, inclusive societies,” it adds.

The study suggests improving public services and access to communities; adopting policies which encourage the exchange of information among women; and encouraging their participation in cooperatives to have greater access to land, microcredits and technology, among other measures.

Increasing the productivity of rural women is essential to reduce poverty in Mexico and the Central American region. The study shows that with the appropriate incentives, rural women could become the driving force of development in the region.