Bridging the gender pay gap, on the red carpet and in the fields

The fight against the gender pay gap should start with rural women in developing countries, not in Hollywood.

iDF photo for gender pay gap op-ed
In Bangladesh, Jahanara Begum managed to bridge the gender pay gap by developing her own seed-selling business [iDE/PROOFS]

When discussing the Hollywood pay gap, we are talking more about differing scales of luxury rather than livelihoods.

It is, of course, unacceptable for any woman to receive less than a man for the same job, in any walk of life or career path. But where equal pay and rights would make the greatest material difference – to education, to health and to economic progress – is at the sharp end of inequality: not in Hollywood, but with rural women in developing countries.

These are the women who make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural workforce, performing labour-intensive tasks like raising livestock and hand-weeding, working much longer hours than men when domestic duties are taken into account. Yet these are also the same women often blocked from land ownership, who get just five percent of agricultural support services, 10 percent of agricultural aid, and can access a fraction of the credit available to invest in their farms and families. 

The difference that just a little extra income or support can make goes beyond the noble goal of equality. Increasing a woman’s income by just $10 has the same positive effect on her children’s nutrition and health as increasing a man’s income by $110.

Equal pay is a right that all women deserve, including those on the red carpet. But let's not forget about those women working in the green fields.


And with equal access to the same resources as men, the benefits stretch even further to transforming millions of lives and prospects. Women farmers typically produce 20-30 percent less than men per hectare, not because they are less efficient but because they have less access to training, credit and inputs like improved seeds and fertilizer.

By giving women the same opportunities as men, total agricultural output could be boosted by an additional four percent. This is equivalent of ending malnutrition for up to 150 million people in the world.

The value of closing the gender gap in agriculture has been demonstrated in places like Bangladesh, where a Dutch-funded project helps train female farmers to become local leaders, or Farm Business Advisors (FBA).

Led by iDE and partners, these FBAs develop networks across the agricultural supply chain to help farmers better access key materials and markets, and generate more income. It has helped women like Jahanara Begum, 45, bridge the gender gap not only by developing her own seed-selling business and unlocking new credit lines, but by equipping her to support other farmers across more than 250 producer groups. 

The project organises activities like post-harvest training between buyers and other market players to raise the value of crops, and in turn raise profit margins. In total, the project has seen more than 63,000 households move out of poverty with an increase in income per capita of around $420.

Meanwhile, women account for just a quarter of landowners with official rights in Mozambique. But when major agricultural trading company EMCL began to recruit and train young women like Josefina dos Santos Lourenco to manage their input supply shops, they were able to simultaneously expand their businesses and begin to address the agricultural gender gap.

Thanks to training in bookkeeping and marketing carried out in partnership with Fintrac and USAID, Josefina’s inputs shop is now serving almost 1,000 farmers with essential products from appropriate fertilizers to improved seed. “Today, I’m not only financially independent, but also my family is receiving lots of respect in my area,” she told staff at Fintrac.

And in Colombia, where women make up 40 percent of the cocoa growers’ association COMCACAOT, USAID’s Rural Finance Initiative (RFI) has helped re-balance the gender pay gap by helping individual farmers access loans. RFI supported COMCACAOT, an organisation that is only five years old, through targeted technical assistance and organizational development training prior submitting a loan request to Banco Agrario de Colombia.

COMCACAOT was able to vouch for 374 of its members, most of whom were women. For female members like Lidia Grueso, who herself had already overcome gender barriers to become a manager of COMCACAOT, such support to access credit allows women to afford critical farm inputs and to pay the staff harvesting the cocoa.

Meanwhile, to reduce the burden of unpaid domestic work for rural women, policy network FANRPAN is working in Ethiopia and Tanzania to make men aware of the need to participate more in household budgeting and chores. Following behaviour change workshops in several villages, men have begun to play a more active role in tending home gardens, collecting water and even attending the village cooking classes. By bringing men into this domain, the often overlooked hours that women work at home can be reduced, bridging yet another aspect of the gender gap facing female farmers.

Equal pay is a right that all women deserve, including those on the red carpet. But let’s not forget about those women working in the green fields. A level playing field for rural women can help plant the seeds for a better life for not only for female farmers and their families, but the entire developing world.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.