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Gender dimensions in the agricultural sector

Gender equality is a key factor for sustainable and inclusive agricultural supply chains. Although women in the agricultural sector make an essential contribution to agricultural production, they are also affected by massive injustices and discrimination.  They often work in irregular, informal, and vulnerable employment relationships. In cocoa production in Côte d'Ivoire, for example, women make up 68% of the workforce on cocoa plantations but earn only 15% of the income from cocoa production. The situation is similar in the coffee industry, where women are often employed in less lucrative areas of the supply chain.

In addition, due to traditional role models and social norms, women usually bear responsibility for nutrition, care, and health in their households. This multiple burden of unpaid domestic and care work further restricts women's participation in markets.

Valentine Nizeyimana invests a lot of time and care to ensure that her coffee beans are evenly dried by the Rwandan sun. © GIZ/Denyse K. Uwera

Although women are often referred to as the "backbone of agriculture" and make a key contribution to global food production, they only have 13.8% of land rights worldwide. For cocoa and coffee, land access, ownership and use rights are key conditions for participation in production - however, women often face socio-cultural and legal challenges to acquire land, e.g. through customary law, and earn less income as a result.

Further gender inequalities are reflected in a lack of access to resources, technologies, and income, as well as limited participation in decision-making processes.  
Disadvantage and discrimination in the agricultural and food sector is not only based on gender, but also on many other mutually reinforcing factors, e.g., skin color, religion, age, disability, and sexual orientation.

Taking the Indonesian palm oil sector as an example, the importance of an intersectional approach that considers other discrimination factors in addition to gender becomes clear: There, indigenous women as well as casual, migrant, and migrant workers are particularly affected by injustices due to their gender and ethnicity. In addition, they usually do not have employment contracts and are therefore exposed to a high risk of falling into massive economic and legal dependency on their employers.

To achieve a sustainable improvement in the working and living conditions of women and girls in agricultural supply chains, cooperation at individual, institutional and political level is of crucial importance. Gender transformative approaches that question underlying social and cultural gender norms as well as power relations and work towards changing them, are necessary to create a gender-equitable agricultural economy.  

One example of this is addressing the gender-based division of labor in agricultural supply chains and the associated multiple burdens on women in the respective target group and rethinking them together. 

Opportunities for gender equality in agricultural supply chains

The empowerment of women and other marginalized groups holds enormous potential.

Gender equality and poverty reduction go hand in hand as complementary development goals. Better access to resources such as land and digital tools can strengthen the autonomy and status of women in their households and communities and promote their participation in more profitable activities in supply chains. For women and girls, this can lead to increased yields and incomes. This in turn can be a catalyst for further improvements, for example in food security and child nutrition, as women spend a greater proportion of their income on food.  In addition, women's income increases also contribute to closing the income gap of the entire household towards a living income. At the community level, women's participation in productive activities can contribute to improved social status, which to some extent can also challenge discriminatory gender norms and support their transformation.

Odette Murekatete from the Rwandan coffee cooperative Musasa sowing new coffee seedlings. Together with the women, INA is working on digitalizing the supply chain of their specialty coffee with the help of the INA Trace tool developed by INA. © GIZ/Denyse K. Uwera

Taking gender aspects into account not only contributes to achieving social justice but is also relevant for improving corporate and macroeconomic performance. The inclusion of women in agricultural supply chains can have a positive impact on productivity, quality, and production volumes, strengthens the reputation of companies and opens new market opportunities.

Overall, the dismantling of discriminatory structures for women and other marginalized groups offers great potential for all people, regardless of their gender, age, origin, or religious affiliation. The BMZ is pursuing a feminist development policy (FEP) and presented a strategy for this in March 2023.

Our fields of activity

The INA gender team focuses on two central fields of action. We want to introduce gender equality into global transformation processes such as the EU regulatory processes. In addition, we want to promote gender equality in agricultural supply chains in cooperation with the private sector and civil society. In doing so, we rely on multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSPs) and individual measures such as the Due Diligence Fund to ensure that gender aspects are adequately considered along the entire supply chain. However, we at INA also see gender equality as a central component of all activities and processes and want to focus on this in our work in the future.

How companies can get started

In our INA lunchbreak "On the way to gender equity and proper due diligence", we show the first practical steps towards implementing gender equality in global agricultural supply chains, e.g. by integrating gender-sensitive purchasing practices such as combating sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, against the background of the German Supply Chain Duties Act (LkSG). The Supply Chain Act prohibits discrimination and unequal treatment in any form. In addition, the establishment of transparent and accessible complaints mechanisms should ensure that employees are better able to defend themselves against exploitation and abuse of power. The planned European supply chain regulation (CSDDD) goes one step further: workers should then also be able to assert their rights before German and European courts.  
Watch the recording and presentation of the INA Lunchbreak event row on Gender Equity
INA-Lunchbreak on supply chain due diligence act part 17


Intersectionality describes how different reasons for discrimination come together in people (intersection = overlap) and reinforce each other.  This means that discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, age, origin, disability, socio-economic status, ethnic or religious affiliation or attribution, for example, cannot be viewed in isolation or simply added together.  New forms of discrimination arise at the interfaces. For example, a Black woman is not only discriminated against as a woman due to patriarchal structures, but also as a Black person due to racist structures. The interaction between the power systems of patriarchy and racism gives rise to a new form of discrimination as a Black woman. (Source: FEP, P. 16)

Multilevel conceptualization of intersectionalty, © FAO, 2023
Gender-transformative approaches

The feminist development policy of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development relies on gender-transformative approaches to dismantle gender-specific power hierarchies in the long term. To achieve this, it is not enough to tackle the symptoms of gender inequality. 
Gender-transformative approaches address the causes of gender-related inequalities. These include, for example, discriminatory laws, unequal social norms and practices, discriminatory attitudes and gender roles and stereotypes that arise from patriarchal power relations. 

Gender-transformative projects, for example, take a critical look at common images of masculinity and involve male actors. This distinguishes gender-transformative approaches from gender-sensitive approaches, which systematically integrate the specific needs of the genders into measures (for example by providing childcare facilities during training courses), but do not aim to actively change existing gender-specific inequalities.

The integration of gender-transformative approaches into the planning and implementation of development policy measures is central to the implementation of the Feminist Development Policy. Various national, international, and European reference documents on gender equality also emphasize the importance of gender-transformative approaches.