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A Call for Equal Rights for Women Farmers

A new report says if women farmers had the same rights as men, more could be done to reduce world hunger. The report, "Empowering Women in Agriculture," is from the anti-hunger group Bread for the World. Bread for the World says equal access to agricultural resources would help increase food security and economic growth. Faustine Wabwire is the group's foreign assistance specialist. She says women constitute half of the agricultural labor force in not just Africa, but the developing countries as a whole. "And when you think of Africa alone," she says, "it's more than sixty percent of the total agricultural labor force being provided by women." The report says in most countries, women working in rural areas are more likely than men to hold seasonal, part-time and low-wage jobs. They also receive less pay for the same work.

Ms. Wabwire says women farmers often cannot get seeds, fertilizer, proper tools, credit and, especially, land. She says in most of Africa, about eighty percent of the population is living in rural areas and they subsist on agriculture. Women make up sixty percent of the agricultural labor force and yet they lack access to resources, she says. She says land is one good example: less than twenty percent of all landholders are women. This is often because of legal as well as cultural reasons. She says women who have lost their husbands may have no legal rights over their land. The only way to keep the land, she says, is to marry, say, the brother of the dead husband. Restrictions like these, she says, "continue to impede women's ability to fully enjoy their human rights." However, Ms. Wabwire says women in agriculture are getting more attention these days. For example, Kenya's new constitution gives women the right to own land. But she says there is still a long way to go.

Bread for the World is urging the United States government to increase development assistance, or at least not to decrease it. She says Feed the Future, the U.S. government's agriculture aid program, is helping to elevate the status of women. But Ms. Wabwire says more African governments must recognize the major role that women play in agriculture and elsewhere. Just how much could hunger be reduced if women had equal access to agricultural resources? The report estimates that hunger could be reduced for an extra one hundred to one hundred fifty million people.

For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 10Apr2012)