Inequalities between men and women in their access to productive resources, services and opportunities are one of the causes of underperformance in the agriculture sector, and contribute to deficiencies in food and nutrition security, economic growth and overall development. These inequalities are costly and undermine the effectiveness of international development efforts and the impact of development cooperation.
In addition to bringing potential productivity improvements, increasing women’s access to and control over assets has been shown to have positive effects on important human development outcomes including household food security, child nutrition and education, and women’s own well-being and status within the home and community (e.g. Quisumbing, 2003; Agarwal, 1994; Smith et al. 2003; Thomas, 1997). If women and girls are to contribute effectively to agricultural production and the improvement of rural livelihoods, it is essential that their needs are met and their rights secured.
Agricultural policies should therefore aim to redress gender inequalities, to ensure that development interventions in the agriculture sector are effective and can achieve enduring positive impacts on the lives and economic potential of rural women, men, girls and boys.
One powerful instrument for promoting realization of the rights and potential of rural women and girls is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
CEDAW is the foremost international instrument protecting the rights of women and the only legally binding international human rights treaty that gives specific attention to rural women. By defining what constitutes discrimination against women and setting an agenda for national action to end such discrimination, CEDAW outlines a route towards eliminating inequalities between men and women.
Renewed recognition of agriculture as a pathway out of poverty (e.g. World Bank, 2008; L’Aquila Food Security Initiative 2009), and increased investment in smallholder farmers – many of whom are women – open up opportunities for increasing support to women in rural areas. CEDAW can be used as a normative framework to guide such support.