Women’s role in agricultural production and its health consequences: Issue for research


M.E. Chiong-Javier

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Conference Proceeding or Document


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Introduction: Women have long occupied a central place in agricultural production in non-industrialized countries, underpinning food security for their households and their communities. However, it was only in the last 30 years that the importance of their role as food producers had received attention and support from international bodies and their own national governments. Spearheaded by the United Nations (UN), various international activities initially directed attention to the subject of women and food. The 1974 World Food Conference acknowledged women s contributions to the battle against world hunger. Through its declaration of 1976-1984 as the Decade for Women, the UN then introduced the concept of integrating women in development which subsequently became gender in development. The 1977 UN report Women in Food Production, Food Handling and Nutrition advanced these themes in the agenda of international organizations and national agencies that were oriented or reoriented to women and gender issues. It was believed, however, that the 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development provided the turning point as it underscored greater support for women s economic roles, a methodical accounting of rural women s contribution to agriculture, and provision for women s equitable access to productive resources such as land, water, inputs, and services (FAO, 1981 cited in Holmboe-Ottesen, Mascarenhas, and Wandel 1989).

These early events had helped to systematically awaken worldwide concern for farm women s welfare and their inclusion in rural or agricultural development policies and programs. In their wake came funding support for rural women s organized initiatives such as alliance-building and various projects to address their specific needs. Also generated were a tremendous research interest on farming women and more avenues (particularly international conferences) for regularly assembling, discussing, and sharing information and research findings on the current state, unmet and emergent needs, and accomplishments of rural women. Lessons from the women in development (WID) thrusts of the first two decades since 1976 firmed up a shift toward mainstreaming gender and development (GAD) in the nineties and up until today.

In the course of this international call to act on rural women s welfare, many studies have been undertaken to establish or document their baseline situation especially the nature of their needs and problems, the determinants influencing their conditions, the necessary policy reforms and action projects, and the successes and failures of national efforts to address their needs. However, one sphere that has yet to receive adequate attention is the relationship between women s work and women s health in the agricultural setting. There was some impetus to build a database on the subject over a decade ago but this focused on the impact of pesticides and other hazardous agrochemicals on women. Previous studies as well as current investigations on women s health also tended to emphasize sectoral issues like maternal or reproductive health. It was just incidental that the women included in the studies came from rural areas or worked in farms.

To date, therefore, there remains some void in our knowledge about the health situation linked to rural women actively engaged in agriculture or food production activities. What kinds of information and how much of it are available to enable us to understand the connection between the productive work of agricultural or farm women and their health status? What does the information imply about the research directions in this field of interest? A literature review covering research and related publications on women in agriculture was conducted to provide some answers to these queries and to draw out pertinent issues for further study. Owing to a dearth of relevant literature in the last decade, earlier materials were likewise included.

Additional Bibliographic Information

Presented at De La Salle University, Manila, the Philippines, 9 March 2006

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