Thursday, March 10, 2016

Women rice farmers in Southeast Asia are more empowered, says expert

LOS BAÑOS, Philippines—“Women rice farmers in Southeast Asia are more empowered compared with women in other developing countries,” said Pieter Rutsaert, a social scientist at the International Rice Research Institute.

“Research indicates that regional trends contradict the conventional narratives of gender equality in agriculture,” Rutsaert said during a live Periscope broadcast (view on YouTube) in celebration of International Women’s Day on 8 March. Citing a study of women rice farmers in Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand, he said: “Women have good access to productive resources such as land inputs and greater control over household income than men in all four countries.”

The CORIGAP (Closing rice yield gaps in Asia with reduced environmental footprint) project, for which this study was carried out, aims to close rice yield gaps while reducing the environmental footprint in the major rice granaries in Asia. “Compared with women in South Asia and Africa, women rice farmers in Southeast Asia have good decision-making power at the household level,” said Rutsaert.

Both husband and wife work in the rice fields and share resources. For example, the income of both is pooled into the family’s income. A woman manages this income independent of how much she contributes to it.

“So, regarding project implementation, we try to be inclusive—both men and women,” said Rutsaert.  “Even if a man or just a woman attends a training activity, the whole household benefits from it.”

Community-level decision making is a different story. The study revealed that, at the community level, women in Thailand and the Philippines have a strong voice and good access to information and extension services. In Indonesia and Myanmar, however, women don’t have a lot of voice in community decision-making.

Understanding what is at play at the community level also has implications for agricultural practices. In Indonesia, for example, decisions about variety selection, planting dates, and irrigation schedules are made on a community level where women have no voice. Moreover, Indonesian women have very limited access to information and extension services.

“We found that this is something that needs further improvement and focus,” Rutsaert concluded. “Understanding the local situation regarding gender equity is important so we can adapt our activities to local needs.”

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