Including African Women Benefits Everyone

I am Generation Equality.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme recognizes women all around the world for their contributions to society, education, science, politics, healthcare, and of course, agriculture. But this day is also about acknowledging that, despite progress, women and girls around the world continue to face barriers that prevent them from contributing equally to society. In her book, “The Moment of Lift,” philanthropist and women’s rights advocate Melinda Gates states,

“As women gain rights, families flourish, and so do societies. That connection is built on a simple truth: Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community.”

For a society to reap the full benefits of economic development, growth must be shared by everyone–no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or income level. For example, if women around the world had the same access to agricultural resources as men, they could increase farm yields by 20-30 percent, feeding an additional 150 million people a year. Indeed, by closing the gender gap alone, we could make critical strides in the fight against global hunger. As Gates said, “Gender equity lifts everyone.”

Across rural Africa, women make up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, yet only 15 percent own land. They lack access to essential resources and support and have limited decision-making power. This is due to government policies, in some places, and traditional or cultural inequities in others. Regardless of the reason, the result is more women disproportionately affected by hunger and poverty, which negatively impacts their families, their communities, and the economy.

African women account for the majority of postharvest work in agriculture, yet they still rely on traditional, manual methods long since abandoned by industrialized economies. The grueling physical labor required by women to process crops not only negatively affects their physical health and well-being, but it also severely limits their ability to process crops sufficiently. Without modern technologies, women are unable to reach their full business potential, keeping them trapped in a cycle of poverty that is almost impossible to escape.

That’s why we need to support women’s contributions to African agriculture by working to close the gender gap. We can do so by creating access to tools, services, and opportunities that support women farmers. At Bountifield, we are doing this and more by cultivating programs that are appropriate, effective, and accessible to all who can benefit, especially women.

We recognize the complexities of reaching rural women effectively. Differences of culture, values and language, layered with financial and ownership limitations, are all challenges for reaching women with the postharvest tools, training programs, and support services they need to be successful. Yet we see the value, need, and potential of investing in opportunities that support African women in agriculture and agribusiness. Because when we invest in postharvest opportunities for rural women, we invest in the growth, development and nourishment of entire communities.