The main objective of the project is to analyze the characteristics of men and women employed in agriculture in Palestine and how this impacts various agricultural patterns, job opportunities, and gender relations. With financial backing, the project has now entered its next phase of developing a research methodology for collecting data, which will be used to provide policy recommendations. To aid in the project's progress, this literature review presents an overview of available resources on the topic. The approach taken has been both specific and comparative, identifying previous works on women in agriculture in Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Taking a broader perspective is beneficial for highlighting past research, including key aspects regarding women engaged in agriculture, methods employed to study this issue, and proposed policy recommendations thus far. An intriguing inconsistency discussed throughout the literature pertains to women's role in ag...
riculture being previously overlooked despite recent recognition.
Despite the growing focus on reducing the marginalization of women in agriculture, their marginalization has not significantly decreased even with increased attention and research. This raises questions about the effectiveness of policies like gender mainstreaming and female involvement in their development and implementation. The literature review is divided into sections to provide a comprehensive understanding of women's role in agriculture.
- General overview of women in agriculture
- Social dimension of women in agriculture
- Economic dimension of women in agriculture
- Technical dimension of women in agriculture
- Political (and policy) dimension of women in agriculture
- Suggestions and next steps
General overview of women in global and MENA agriculture
There is a persistent paradox regarding the recognition and analysis
of women's role in global agriculture. While there is increasing recognition, their marginalized status remains unchanged.
In the 1970s, feminist attention was primarily focused on urban women. However, in the mid-1980s, there was an increasing emphasis on rural women and their involvement in agriculture (Maman and Tate 1996). Policymakers also became more aware of the "feminisation of agriculture," which resulted from women being visibly present in agricultural labor while men declined due to migration and AIDS (Sweetman 1999). Simultaneously, efforts to promote women's role in agriculture have been overlooked, recognized, and developed. Around the world, women have faced challenges in achieving independence in the agricultural sector such as limitations on land ownership, access to resources like inputs and credit, as well as education and training opportunities (Sweetman 1999). Even in places where women seem to have more ownership and control over land, denying this right arguably contributes most significantly to the gender gap and disadvantages faced by women socially, economically, and politically (Arun 1999; Badr 2010).
The term 'gender' has caused the issue of adult females in agribusiness to be mostly included in a broader discussion about gender and gender relations. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles surrounding men and women. This means that their engagement in human activities, like agribusiness, is influenced not by biological differences, but by the way societies shape them. Gender is increasingly recognized as important in terms of development. The World Bank (2009) identifies four main reasons for this: economic (enhancing efficiency); equity and distributional; food security and household welfare; and as a basic human right. Globally, gender differences are apparent in various ways, including access to assets and services, such
as land, labor, finance, water, rural infrastructure, technology, and other resources.
There are two main texts that are particularly relevant to the focus of the project in the MENA region. These texts are Lamia El-Fattel's "Women in Agriculture in West Asia and North Africa" from 1996 and the regional survey "Women in Agriculture in the Middle East" edited by Pnina Mozafi-Haller and published about ten years later in 2005. The gender-related studies conducted by the PCBS during the same period can also be considered alongside these publications. El-Fattel conducted a comprehensive survey on the subject, covering several decades and highlighting several key points. Firstly, she observed that agriculture in different countries in West Asia and North Africa (WANA) had common themes. This included the fact that agriculture relied heavily on rain and was more technologically advanced compared to other developing countries. Despite the use of machinery and fertilizers being more common, manual weeding is still practiced.
Farms are typically managed in a patriarchal manner and have limited capacity to incorporate labor from outside the household. This makes it challenging to employ workers beyond the immediate family. Moreover, there has been limited systematic or comparative research conducted in this field to date. Existing literature tends to focus on individual cases at the village or regional level rather than studying the broader state or regional context. Additionally, much of the literature originates from anthropological or general social science studies, rather than specifically focusing on women in agriculture. Rather than being a central subject of investigation, women's role in agriculture is often examined as part of broader studies on social dynamics within a community.
Summarizing the literature, it can be concluded
- Women play significant roles in food production in WANA (West Asia and North Africa), and their involvement is increasing.
- The extent of their participation, over space and time, is influenced by numerous factors.
These factors are diverse yet interconnected, and include land ownership and size (as well as landlessness), type of farming, level of mechanization, availability of male labor, and a woman's social and economic status on farms and within the broader community.
One significant aspect of Mozafi-Haller's edited volume focused on state and region. The focus was a result of a decision made in the late 1990s by the Danish government's Regional Agricultural Program, which aimed at improving agricultural planning and technical assistance among Egypt, Jordan, the PA, and Israel. However, the project's progress was hindered by the Second Intifada, limiting collaboration opportunities. Additionally, while gender initially wasn't central to the project, its importance grew over time. Mozafi-Haller's chapter on Palestinian women in agriculture, written by Rema Hammami, is particularly relevant to the project and is considered the most comprehensive study on this topic to date.
Hammimi utilizes information from the 1990s and early 2000s, with reference to specific studies. One of these studies, conducted in 2000, examines clip usage and does not differentiate between agribusiness and primary production. Another study from 1999 focuses on female ownership and access to resources, specifically attitudes towards female ownership and inheritance. Additionally, there are recent publications that discuss men and women in agriculture, with the most recent study stating that 20.5% of women were employed in agriculture and fishing compared to 9.9% of
men (PCBS 1999, 2000, 2010). The PCBS also publishes annual agricultural statistics, but the questionnaire primarily focuses on agricultural products such as livestock, crops, and materials, rather than providing a breakdown of farm labor and women.
The 2004/05 Farm Structure Survey conducted by PCBS (2006) is the only agricultural study that has provided a breakdown by sex, specifically addressing the issue of land holders.
The social aspect of women in agriculture
Women are often considered insignificant participants in the field of agriculture. Discrimination against women stems from various sources, but much of it can be attributed to societal and cultural attitudes. This pattern becomes apparent among Palestinian and Arab women who have limited opportunities for public roles. Typically, their roles are confined to being mothers, sisters, wives, or primarily responsible for childbirth and child-rearing.
The region is marked by the emphasis on early and diverse marriage, along with high levels of fertility (Salman 1987: 8; Zurayk and Saadeh 1995: 37-38). These beliefs persist despite increased involvement of Arab women in public life (UNDP 2006: 91). Currently, Arab women have three identity options: as a stay-at-home mother, as a stay-at-home mother with home-based work, or as a stay-at-home mother with outside employment. Various explanations have been offered for why women may be susceptible to these attitudes in the MENA region.
Early factors contributing to gender inequality at home and in school include the use of textbooks, attitudes and teaching methods of instructors, early marriages, high birth rates, male dominance in public life, and the potential role of Islam (Rutenberg 2001, UNDP 2006, Posusney and Doumato 2003; El-Mikawy 1999). However, Islam itself is not the sole cause; according to Moghadam (1993:
8), it is not inherently patriarchal or oppressive. In fact, during times of conflict or national adversity, some followers of Islam have attempted to involve women in public life or the workforce, viewing their participation as an asset (e.g. Sudan and Saudi Arabia). El-Fattal (1996: 15) points out that Islam has been a perplexing framework to explain women's position, as contrasting views exist on whether it suppresses or liberates women.
Changes within Islam, such as the emergence of Islamic feminism, reject traditional gender roles and promote women's empowerment. This includes their right to religious education and the choice to wear conservative clothing as a way of entering the public sphere. However, Islamic feminists have faced challenges in reforming family law (Posusney and Doumato 2003: 9-11).
In Palestine, social attitudes are deeply ingrained, leading to specific political and economic limitations for women. They also face social pressures and familial expectations that hinder their rights in areas like education, employment, inheritance, freedom of movement, choice of spouse, and domestic violence (Rubenberg 2001: 122-3).
These attitudes further contribute to the generally patriarchal nature of families in Palestine. The three main family types include the nuclear family (father, mother, unmarried children), extended or hamula family (related males with their families under eldest male's authority), and a transitional type combining elements from both nuclear and extended families. These variations reflect differences between modern/traditional sectors as well as urban/rural/refugee camp settings (Manasra 1993: 7).
The economic aspect of women in agribusiness is the main focus of this section, specifically their participation in the formal labor market within the agricultural sector. The discussion begins by providing a broader perspective on regional development and distinguishing between traditional
and modern economic systems. The transition from traditional to modern economic systems has hindered the inclusion of women in the labor market. The next part highlights these barriers and offers an overview of the current status of female labor in Palestine's agricultural sector. However, it should be noted that there is uncertainty surrounding official statistics on female agricultural labor, both globally and within Palestine, leading to efforts being made to address this issue. According to Motzafi-Haller (2005), literature on development often presents a stark contrast between traditional and modern systems, with discrimination against women more prevalent in the former while inclusion can be seen in the latter.
In addition, this perception suggests a contrast between a 'non-efficient' traditional economic model and an efficient, sustainable, fair, and modern version (Motzafi-Haller 2005). Sweetman (1999) observes that most rural development interventions prioritize 'efficiency', which often ignores considerations of fairness and gender equality. The emphasis on efficiency (and modernization) has resulted in the devaluation of the predominant form of female labor (i.e. informal and domestic work), particularly in comparison to male work. Simultaneously, pressure on women to work both inside and outside the home has increased, especially in recent decades due to structural adjustments that have reduced income for the poor and weakened family structures.
The consequences of coping have resulted in a diversification of labor and activities, meaning that agricultural labor is just one way to generate income (Sweetman 1999). In the MENA region, the proportion and absolute numbers of women in formal employment have generally remained low. The literature offers various explanations for this, including historical, economic, and structural factors. During the colonial period, exploitative labor systems arose which
undermined the role and status of women. This was particularly evident as demands increased in the international economy and wage labor within the agricultural and industrial sectors. As a result, women were excluded from formal employment opportunities and instead turned to unpaid or poorly paid work in the informal sector (Shukri 1996: twelve).
The lower participation of women in the economy has been attributed to both globalization and growing rates. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which is considered a middle-income area, economic growth has slowed down, resulting in fewer job opportunities for women (UNDP 2006: 91). Various structural factors can also be held accountable for the limited engagement of women in the workforce. The political ideology and development strategies of countries in the region can impact employment opportunities for women, prioritizing male workers over females. However, subcontracting and home-based work have provided increased opportunities for some women (Moghadam 1995: 18-19, 28).
Secondly, women may face disadvantages in employment due to economic failures. This includes the U-shaped nature of economic development, where female labor engagement initially decreases as male labor increases, followed by a growing demand for jobs in sectors that are filled by women. Additionally, women face externalities and limited access issues, especially within the family, where their labor is unpaid, readily available, and often misallocated (Vecchio and Roy 1998: 10-13). Regarding the agricultural sector in the MENA region, Razavi (2007) highlights specific factors that have restricted female agricultural labor. Despite improvements in women's political and legal rights to land ownership, liberalization policies make it difficult for low-income women to access land through the market. The prevalent form of "small scale" agriculture and
its limitations on land access mean that agricultural labor can only play a complementary role alongside other income-generating measures.
She also acknowledges the use of 'customary' and decentralized systems of land tenure that can be exploited by powerful interest groups to undermine women's rights. In Palestine, women face numerous social pressures with economic consequences, both generally and in terms of their involvement in agriculture. Women face more social restrictions than men, including societal stigma after divorce and a weaker inheritance right (Manasra 1993) - although there are differences among women who assert their inheritance claims, with unmarried daughters, widowed mothers, and daughters of wealthy families being the most assertive (Moors 1996: 82). However, Palestinian women (and female heads of households) face many of the same challenges as others in the developing world, including limited property rights and family law restrictions that persist (Vardhan 1999; Vecchio; Roy 1998). In Palestine, access to land is primarily through inheritance and traditionally women tend to give up their rights in favor of their brothers who were expected to reciprocate by taking care of their sisters (Hammami 2005: 69). The scarcity of women's land ownership is evident in the Palestinian Farm Structure Survey 2004/05, which differentiates between male and female holders.
According to PCBS 2006, female landholders range from 3% in Gaza and the southern West Bank to 5.7% in the northern West Bank. However, the study does not indicate the extent to which female landholders have control over their land in terms of key decisions. The text also highlights three main categories of female agricultural workers. The first category consists of men in the family working off the farm while
women work on a portion of the family's land. The second category comprises women who are full-time farmers, often taking over the farm after their husbands pass away or abandon it.
The third category consists of agricultural laborers who work for others, which includes both Palestinians and Israelis (Hammami 2005: 61). In terms of available data on Palestinian female agricultural labor, in 1996, 29.1% of women in the labor force were employed in agriculture compared to 9.9% of men (despite the fact that men outnumbered women in absolute numbers). This highlights that agriculture is more important for women than men in terms of employment opportunities and less associated with poverty pressures than increasing productivity, although these women tended to be older, less educated, and lower paid than men in the same sector. Most women in agriculture were located in the West Bank, as there were fewer opportunities in Gaza due to intense and irrigated farming and the lack of arable land (Hammami 2005). However, by 2009, the same number of men worked in agriculture, but the percentage of women employed in the sector had dropped to 20.5% (PCBS 2010). Third, these official figures should be viewed with skepticism. At the global, regional, and national levels, statistics on women's participation in agriculture have often been underreported.
The text suggests that both men and women are engaged in working on their household farms. However, their involvement is often not recognized as work. This issue of underreporting is commonly discussed in relation to women in agriculture, and efforts are being made to address it. To tackle this problem, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) organized an international workshop in 2003.
The workshop recommended that the best way to collect data on this topic would be through national censuses in different countries. This highlights the importance of raising awareness about various concepts related to agriculture, such as land ownership, decision-making authority, legal status of land ownership (public or private), activities within a household, and whether engagement in agriculture is a primary or occasional source of income.
In Palestine, efforts have been made to address the issue of underreporting related to agricultural labor. These efforts include recognizing the informal nature of this type of labor and utilizing time usage studies as an alternative method of gathering data. These studies were last conducted in 1999 and 2000, with agricultural labor being included under the category of 'primary production'. However, according to Hammimi (2005), this data was not adequately disaggregated to provide sufficient information on the topic of agricultural work.
Technical aspects of women in agriculture
Advances in technology within the agricultural sector have brought forth their own set of challenges. The 'green revolutions' that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s involved modernizing land cultivation techniques and increased use of pesticides to enhance production. Since the 1990s, the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) has further impacted agricultural practices.
The relationship between this development and gender has been significant in two ways. Firstly, it has primarily benefited the wealthy rather than the general population (Sweetman 1999). This includes men who mostly control technical knowledge. However, this knowledge is flawed and can have negative consequences, leading to the misallocation of resources such as land, water, and female labor (Morvaridi 1992). Secondly, the various factors that have marginalized women
in agriculture, such as limited access to resources, lower education levels, and lower productivity rates, hinder their ability to utilize more efficient and technologically advanced agricultural methods.
This has resulted in the segregation of women into less capital-intensive and more labor-intensive activities (Hammami 2005: 70-71). However, this also puts women at a greater risk to their health. The International Labor Organization (ILO) acknowledges that agriculture is one of the most hazardous occupations in terms of health, and women's lack of technical knowledge can work against them, leading to potential misuse of pesticides and resulting in poisoning (Cole 2006). In the specific case of Palestine, the increased use of technology in agriculture has reduced the workload for women but has instead exacerbated inequalities in power and income. Men have largely adopted more mechanized and productive techniques, while female labor remains concentrated at the more time-consuming and labor-intensive end (e.g.
The text discusses various activities in agriculture including planting, transferring, weeding, reaping, and packaging (Hammimi 2005: 67). While women have been involved in environmental and consumer actions against 'green revolutions' worldwide, it is unclear whether this is a gender issue or politically-oriented (Sweetman 1999, Pedersen and Kj?rgard 2004).
Political (and policy) dimension of women in agriculture
The literature review initially highlights the concern that attention is being given to women in agriculture but measures to address gender inequality have not been effective thus far. However, this issue is not unique to the agricultural sector; the Middle East and North Africa region has witnessed progress in women's political and legal rights. Nonetheless, societal and economic pressures have hindered women's rights and have been institutionalized through personal status laws and sanctioned gender discrimination
Women in Palestine face various challenges in the agricultural sector. These challenges, which impact both men and women, are related to land disputes, movement restrictions, limited access to external markets, and government control over land. The situation for women worsened during the 2nd Intifada, with sieges, invasions, curfews, and internal closures further exacerbating their difficulties. In response, women have been searching for coping mechanisms to support their families. Despite these challenges, women in Palestine seem to be more advantaged compared to women in other Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Women are well represented in the education system and in public sphere, especially through women's organizations and lobby groups. However, female participation in formal institutions is low. This includes both the formal (as opposed to informal) labor force and representation in formal political institutions, such as the legislature and agricultural unions (Hammami 2005: 54-55). The challenges faced by Palestinian women (and women in general) are reflected in the largely unsuccessful policy interventions that have been implemented in the agricultural sector. These failures can be attributed to practitioners' limited perspective and ineffective implementation of gender-related solutions. Firstly, Motzafi-Haller (2005: 8-9) highlights the concept of 'paternal feminism' and the work of Boutheina Cheriet, an Algerian professor of comparative education.
Rather than addressing gender discrimination by including women and modernizing the economy, this more critical perspective maintains women in a submissive position. Instead of engaging in a comprehensive public debate about women's roles in development, women are often controlled by external forces rather than treated as equals and partners. Additionally, gender mainstreaming efforts have been inadequate due to a mechanistic approach that incorporates gender issues into planning and execution
without a commitment to challenging injustice. To truly address discrimination, it is not enough to simply be aware of gender issues, but also necessary to confront all forms of discrimination, both overt and indirect. The lack of accurate data can undermine development interventions based on them.
The usage of statistics, studies, cost-benefit analyses, research, and gender-impact analyses (i.e. analyzing specific activities and their impact on work forces and adult females) can provide valuable insights (UN 2001: 4). It is important to integrate work forces into gender analysis to recognize the different opportunities and limitations faced by men and women. El-Fattel (1996: 47) suggests asking specific questions regarding responsibilities, resources access or control, and who benefits from each endeavor. To truly understand the roles of men and women, Grace (2004) suggests considering other factors such as age, wealth, marital status, and life cycle phase.
The UN has observed various policy measures in MENA regionally (2001: 10, 36). In Syria, the focus has been on improving the status of rural women through rural development programs and reforms in education, law, society, health, and the economy. In Lebanon, emphasis has been placed on income generation and vocational training for rural women, as well as protection in the informal sector. Jordan's main objective has been to increase female participation in the labor market. However, without strong government commitment to implement these measures, the position of rural women will continue to be vulnerable.
The World Bank's Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook (2009: 3-4) is a comprehensive resource that acknowledges global awareness of failures in gender integration into planning processes. It provides tools, practical examples, and best practices to help practitioners at all levels, whether
they already understand gender issues or require further training and assistance. The sourcebook adopts the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach developed by the British Department for International Development as its conceptual framework for addressing gender-related development. This approach focuses on assets, markets (including products, labor, funds, land, and water), risk and vulnerability, as well as knowledge, information, and governance related to these issues.
Palestine faces a challenge in providing sufficient gender-specific information, according to Hammami (2005: 74). She asserts that development plans alone will not improve women's situation in agriculture and increase productivity. To address this issue, several measures need attention: improving opportunities in rural areas, providing more resources and infrastructure, strengthening rural people's involvement through development programs, increasing gender-specific data in agriculture, developing suitable research and technologies for women, employing qualified female extension agents, granting women access to land and agricultural inputs, enhancing education to understand technical information, and offering incentives to promote higher risk-taking and productivity. These recommendations by Hammami indicate that efforts to integrate gender awareness have been largely ineffective thus far. The establishment of a "Women's Division" within the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Agriculture in 2000 demonstrates the acknowledgement of this problem. However, prior to this initiative, agricultural support services disregarded women's role as agricultural workers.Recognition of the need to address this issue occurred when the Women's Extension Division was established within the Directorate of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development in 1998, followed by the creation of a general Women's Division in 2000. Concern remained about the establishment of a specific women's university.
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