Food, Agriculture & Decent Work
ILO & FAO working together

Gender-equitable rural employment

Gender is a key determinant of access to productive resources and provides basis for the division of labour within the household, the social values attributed to different types of work, and bargaining power, making it a key determinant of decent work outcomes.

Although gender inequality varies considerably between different regions and sectors, there is evidence that globally women benefit less from rural employment, whether self- or wage employment, than men do. Women face gender-based inequalities in all the pillars of decent work. They often work in the lowest paid and most precarious forms of employment, and experience the effects of the so-called “sticky floor”, on the bottom rungs of their occupations.
In a large body of literature the so called “feminization” of rural labour markets has been discussed, since war, sickness, HIV and AIDS epidemics, as well as male out-migration have lead to greater share of women working in agriculture. As men’s participation in agriculture declines, the role of women in agricultural production becomes ever more dominant, especially so in subsistence farming.

However, they still lag behind men in access to land, credit, a broad range of technologies, information, advisory services and training (FAO, 2011). Vulnerable employment - defined as persons who are less likely to have formal work arrangements or access to benefits or social protection, and are therefore more exposed to volatilities of economic cycles (ILO, 2008) - is widespread among women working in agriculture: it is often associated with gender pay gaps, low representation, limited security, occupational hazards and overall poverty.

Furthermore, rural women continue to be affected by the invisibility of their work related to the care economy. They are heavily engaged in domestic and reproductive tasks, which are crucial for the maintenance of households, families, kin groups and communities, but which nevertheless are regarded as an extension of household duties and hence are for the most part not economically rewarded. The transfer of many of these care burdens onto girls/daughters tends to perpetuate cycles of impoverishment and gendered disadvantage for girls in employment later on.

Rural children, particularly girls, tend to begin work at a very young age, sometimes between 5-7 years of age. Gender differences in child labour increase with age and contribute to the determination of the type of work performed by girls and boys, the number of hours worked as well as their education opportunities. As such, the gender division of child labour perpetuates a cycle of poverty and gender inequality for the children involved, their families and communities.

Gender-equitable employment is a key dimension of FAO and ILO joint effort to promote decent work in rural areas, specifically in agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The two organizations organized, in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),  an international technical expert meeting on gaps, trends and current research in “Gender Dimensions of Agricultural and Rural Employment: Differentiated Pathways out of Poverty”, which was held in Rome from 31 March to 2 April 2009. The workshop set out to analyse trends and issues, identify knowledge gaps, and compile innovative gender-sensitive policy measures and good practices to strengthen rural labour markets for women and men. The outcomes of this workshop include a comprehensive state-of-the-art research publication and a set of seven policy briefs.

Gender inequalities are substantially reflected in workers’ and producers’ representation, especially in organized labour institutions, such as trade unions and traditional forms of collective action, where women and their interests are largely underrepresented. The ILO is working to strengthen its constituents’ knowledge on freedom of association in the rural economy. Within the Sweden/ILO Partnership Programme, and under its project Gender mainstreaming, two global tools will be developed to identify and assess gaps and opportunities for action. As part of the package, a gender specific training manual is being developed for trade unions to specifically build the capacity of women rural workers. The manual will inform rural women about their rights to freedom of association, thus empowering them to organise and participating in processes of collective bargaining alongside men. It will offer practical tips and advice for the trainers, background information on the topic, a practical list of challenges for women rural workers participation in freedom of association and ways to overcome these. This includes how to challenge stereotypes about women, develop leadership skills, combat restrictive legislation and illegal practices, and liaise with trade unions and other social partners. The manual will complement the already existing manual Gender equality: A guide to collective bargaining previously published by ILO.

An ILO Meeting of Experts to adopt a Code of Practice on Safety and Health in Agriculture was held in Geneva, 25-29 October 2010. FAO took part to the event and a first draft of the Code was adopted before final approval by the ILO Governing Body. The overall objective of this code of practice is to help promote more of a preventive OSH culture in agriculture globally. Importantly, OSH standards affecting women workers have been traditionally underestimated because these standards and exposure limits to hazardous substances are based on male populations and laboratory tests. By taking into consideration the gender dimensions of OSH in agriculture this code reflects more closely the reality of the sector (See also: Safety and Health).


FAO Focal Point: Peter Wobst, ESW (

ILO Focal Point: Susan Maybud, GENDER (