In Uganda, more women (88 per cent) than men (78 per cent) are primarily engaged in agriculture [UBOS 2020]. Yet, women working in agriculture face more challenges than their male counterparts.
This is in part due to discriminatory gender norms which are limiting women’s access to productive resources such as land, labour, equipment and economic capital. Dismantling stereotypes about women’s work within the agricultural sector is, therefore, vital to improve agricultural productivity in Uganda and spur development.
The negative beliefs about women’s potential, based on harmful gender norms and discriminatory stereotypes, have continued to shape women’s experience and engagement in agriculture while also impacting Uganda’s agricultural potential.
A study published this week by ODI focuses on the experiences of young women in the agricultural sector in Uganda. Findings from the Youth Forward Initiative showed how societal norms hold women back in farming.
These include patrilineal practices of inheritance and land ownership, traditional ideas about marriage and childcare, as well as men’s perception of women’s suitability for certain agricultural work.
With women excluded from more profitable segments of the supply-chain, these harmful ideas continue to limit the sector’s growth and productivity, even though agriculture can be a rewarding and sustainable livelihood for many households and families.
To support young people’s wider participation in agriculture, gender norms need to change. The evidence shows this is possible through initiatives like Youth Forward, which support rural youth to set up sustainable agribusinesses. In the north-eastern and northern districts (where the programme was implemented), women who were involved in community farming groups that generated economic benefits did successfully begin to dismantle harmful beliefs around gender.
When women had access to earnings on a regular basis, they challenged prevailing norms about women’s financial autonomy and capacity by starting profitable agricultural enterprises. This also directly benefitted men, who appreciated the reduction of economic pressure on them as husbands.
Successfully harnessing farming for development will rely on what can be done to facilitate women’s access to resources, and opportunities to participate more meaningfully across the agricultural value-chain.
Belonging to a Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) can help young women to overcome the barriers they face in accessing loans or credit, buying or hiring land, and purchasing seeds or labour – productive inputs which are usually out of reach for women because of discriminatory attitudes and practices.
Lessons from the Youth Forward Initiative show that a proactive, gender-sensitive approach is critical to challenging the existing social norms holding Uganda’s farming sector back.
As more young women worked in agricultural businesses outside of their homes, raised their voices during VSLA meetings, and engaged with other women in sports activities, they were able to tackle harmful expectations around decorum and mobility.
This was essential to launching their successful farming enterprises, such as dealing with buyers or making decisions independently. To release this untapped potential of female farmers, policies directly supporting women to gain agricultural assets and entrepreneurial skills will make the most impact.
It is vital that young women (and youth generally) have role models and are mentored to help them engage in business farming as a viable livelihood.