What does a day in your life look like? Getting up, brushing your teeth, breakfast, off to work, maybe go to the gym on your way home to justify the indulgences at the dinner party this weekend?
What do you worry about? I’m sure about important things, but let me hazard a guess that it doesn’t include the following: whether you will have food tomorrow, whether your kids will be able to read and write, or whether you will be able to save up enough money to support yourself at an existence level once your body becomes too tired for bone-breaking daily labor.
This BBC documentary podcast on a life in the day of Polly Apio, a women farmer in rural Uganda, gives us a very human and touching insight in the life of those whose daily existence depends on their toil, and in the process brings up multiple questions – on the difficulties of subsistence agriculture, on gender equality, legal or cultural, on the importance of education – and yet, inspires us to share. To hope. To be satisfied with the little (or plenty) we have. Since after a day of working from dawn till dusk, Polly Apio concludes with: “It’s been a good day.”
Find the episode from October 21st here in the BBC archive! It’s called ‘Women Farmers’.
P.S. Here are some more facts about the division of labor in farming in Uganda that Polly Apio allured to (taken from a 2000 IFAD study on gender strengthening programmes in Eastern and Southern Africa):
- Nationwide, 72% of all employed women and 90% of all rural women work in agriculture. Only 53% of rural men do so.
- It is estimated that women do 85% of the planting, 85% of the weeding, 55% of land preparation and 98% of all food processing. In rural areas, it is estimated that women’s workloads considerably exceed those of men. In general, women and children tend to be delegated the farm tasks that are tedious and time consuming.
- However, decisions to market are usually made by men (70%), or are made jointly (15%).
- Men tend to dominate the more remunerative activities in agriculture. When products such as vegetables are destined for the market, rather than for home consumption, men will be more likely to perform tasks that would otherwise be left to women.
- Traditionally, men are responsible for cash crops, but much of male labor is withdrawn if those crops decrease in profitability. This means that whenever a crop becomes profitable, men tend to take over its sale and control its earnings. If a cash crop, and particularly a food cash crop, becomes unprofitable, men tend to lose interest in it, and women may take over its control.
- Men perform the marketing of high-value cash crops and cattle, whereas women will normally sell surplus produce from their own plots, and their chickens and pigs.
This unequal division of labor and earnings is clearly a problem for women’s economic and social empowerment, especially given that they are often responsible to ensure the basic survival of the household and for the upbringing of their children, including to come up with the fees to send their children to school.
Empowering women farmers can be achieved through a number of steps (the link takes you to an IFAD site with a great array of case studies from a number of countries):
- Reinforcing and protecting land rights of women, including equal inheritance laws (another IFAD study found that only 10% of Ugandan husbands leave land to their wives, with the rest leaving their property to the children and stipulating that the wife be looked after. In practice, however, widows are often dispossessed of their farmland and other assets.)
- Giving women farmers better access to education and therefore better opportunities to market their own crops, making them less dependent on middlemen. This also includes better access to market information, such as pricing and demand information.
- Securing women’s access to other inputs such as seeds, water and agricultural tools, training and educational resources.
- Supporting equality in households’ decision-making processes, and encouraging the cultural recognition of women as equal, independent members of society and partnerships (just typing this out makes my heart break a little).
- Giving women access to the resources and tools to establish themselves as rural entrepreneurs.
It is difficult for me to imagine the scale at which women (as farmers, entrepreneurs or otherwise) are still discriminated against in many societies, and it makes me ever more conscious of how lucky I am to have grown up in a culture that respects my worth, my rights to make my own decisions, and my standing as a fully emancipated member of society. There is so much work to be done to give others those same basic rights that one can easily feel overwhelmed and powerless – but I guess, raising awareness is at least a tiny first step in the right direction.