A Gender-Aware Trade Relationship?

Towards a More Gender-Aware Trade Relationship between the EU and Africa 

By Ella Huhta

Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT) under Creative Commons Licence 2.0

Several Civil society actors have called for more gender awareness in shaping agricultural trade relationship and considering its policy implications affecting many different sectors. Research shows that the relationship between gender, agriculture and trade is highly context-specific but according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) women make up 43% of the world’s agricultural work force and close to 50% in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest percentage of women in agricultural production.


The African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) make up 13% of agricultural trade to the EU and in turn receive about 8% of EU’s agricultural exports. Contrasting these figures, it is clear that the trade relationship is an important one and women’s role in shaping it is vast and the specific obstacles faced by women has to be taken into account.

Despite making up a large part of the agricultural work force, women face considerable barriers with regard to access to production resources when compared to their male peers. Most importantly this includes access to land, inputs, farm machinery but also hired labor and financial services/credit and education. They are also often paid less and more over-represented in unpaid, part-time and seasonal work and often have a higher amount of unpaid household chores, and care to children and other dependents like the elderly, in addition to their paid activities. Alongside the barriers that women face on an individual level, sectors are influenced by gender impacts, since women and men tend to work in different sectors.

Female-headed households in which a husband has migrated for work might be in a less vulnerable position as they might be receiving remittances, as opposed to households which are female-headed because a women is unmarried, divorced/separated or widowed.  The impact remittances may have on agriculture is highly context-specific; in some situations remittances can help mitigate the effect of outmigration if it allows for hiring labor to replace the lost labor and in other cases it may reduce interest in continuing low paid agricultural activities and/or increase non-agricultural activities. It is important to look at the overall conditions of agriculture in any given country, its climatic conditions, the level of infrastructure and return on investment to gauge whether households receiving remittances are likely to spend them on agriculture.

Taking into account demographic issues, most notably that global population is projected to grow to 9.6 billion people, more than half of this growth happening in sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to shape sustainable agricultural policies that are mindful of this and this means to take into account the reality of the specific vulnerabilities faced by women farmers in this region currently. These are important to take into account for regional food security and to curb price fluctuations in addition to stabilizing the availability of different regional staple foods.

So what does a sustainable gender-aware EU-Africa agricultural trade policy look like?  To start with, it should be one that makes a multi-sector impact assessment in key areas affecting agriculture, for instance availability of fresh water and biofuel production, taking into consideration the specific constraints faced by women in agriculture, particularly their access to resources, and fostering a trade relationship which enables women to benefit from agricultural trade on the same level as their male peers.

In addition special attention must be paid on the different social infrastructure that enables women to participate fully despite their disproportionate roles in care and other unpaid activities.