When we think of farmers, the first image that usually comes to mind is a middle-aged man who is transplanting seedlings to the field. Very little attention is given to women farmers because of age-old traditions and stereotypes in farming. Around a quarter of the agricultural workforce in the Philippines are composed of women and they are often relegated to lighter tasks, or worse, unpaid jobs in agriculture.
In the last five years, there have been advances in terms of gender mainstreaming for National Adaptation Planning (NAP) in Agriculture. However, it is taking some time to get implemented on the ground. The worsening climate crisis is putting women in agriculture, often wearing multiple hats, at even greater risks.
I had the chance to speak to a small group of women farmers in a component city about their climate information needs before the pandemic and before the closure of one of the country’s biggest media outlets. The information and observations I gathered go beyond my four-page questionnaire. This is where I realized that, maybe, information may not be a primary problem. Maybe, changing their perception of their roles is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
“Umattend lang ako kapalit ng asawa ko (I attended [the training] on my husband’s behalf),” said one of my respondents when I asked about their participation in climate-smart agriculture trainings. This is where we have to ask the question: How can policies and supporting bodies help make them see that they are equally important players in their sector?
There are several factors at play here. In the Philippines, women and girls usually participate in low-paying, or worse, unpaid labor to fulfill “less profitable” harvesting jobs compared to “traditionally heavy” jobs performed by males in the field. In addition to this, there are very few enabling environments that put women at an advantage in agriculture in the Philippines. For example, there are only about 10 percent women land title owners in the country.
Women are mothers, teachers, caretakers, homemakers, among other things. They do a million things a day and probably know very well the ins and outs of their local agriculture context better than anyone else. When I traveled all around the Philippines visiting agriculture offices, I often saw women farmers transacting business with technicians, getting seeds, paying for insurance, and all the important steps needed to prepare for a successful harvest.
The worsening climate does not just increase the risk to farmers’ livelihoods, it also increases the pressure on women to prepare better against disaster events. During disaster recovery, women farmers often find their livelihoods taking a backseat as they have to take care of their families, manage health risks, and rebuild their lives.
Climate change is not the only thing that women in agriculture face. In the process of building climate resilience, women become stewards of environmental protection. Their work, experience, and culture help preserve ecosystem services, indigenous crops, and overall biodiversity.
We still have a long way to go in recognizing the much important role of women in agriculture and climate resilience. We need more impactful and holistic policies in the sector. Despite having the Magna Carta for women, there are very few gender perspectives in agricultural policies and they fail to bridge the gap in access to opportunities for women to develop appropriate skills to adapt to climate change.
Inviting women farmers and leaders in co-creating initiatives, not just in information sharing, can open new perspectives in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Investing in women in agriculture will not only improve smallholder livelihoods but also provide better spaces to instill risk-reduction and resilient practices in the home.
There is still a long road to shake off traditional practices and stereotypes in agriculture. Women have become managers and important links to networks that are key to the success of climate change initiatives. We need more supportive data-driven policies that elevate women farmers’ issues in agriculture and development platforms.
About the author
Ysabel Anne Lee is currently the Communications Officer in Asia for the Alliance of Bioversity International and International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). She is a graduate of a Master in Disaster Risk and Resilience program at the Ateneo de Manila University and has over five years of experience in development and science communication. She is also a Climate Reality Leader trained in 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia and served as a mentor in the Global Training 2020 of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.