Bridging the Gender Gap in Extension Services in Pakistan
The role millions of women around the world play in helping to ensure global food security – not to mention the production of other goods such as cotton – should not be underestimated.
In fact, the figures speak for themselves. For example, on average, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and in respect of rearing poultry and small livestock; they are responsible for some 60-80 percent of food production.
Yet there is a worrying imbalance between the sexes when it comes to access to vital agricultural extension services as shown by the aforementioned statistics highlighted by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
In the 97 countries assessed by the FAO, for instance, female famers only received five percent of all agricultural extension services, and worldwide, only 15 percent of these services are being provided by women themselves. But if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by some 20-30 percent. See Global Agriculture's Agriculture at a Crossroads: Findings and Recommendations for Future Farming for more insight.
So with all this in mind, it makes sense to redress the gender imbalance of access to extension services; where the ability to grow healthy and productive crops must be a priority not only for the enhancement of rural economies but also for global food security.
Julien Lamontagne-Godwin, a scientific officer at CABI and program manager for its Action on Invasives program, is currently finalizing his PhD on rural advisory services and gender in Pakistan. As part of an international team of scientists – which included CABI colleagues in Kenya and Pakistan and researchers from the University of Reading, UK – he sought to investigate the gender imbalance of access to extension services in Pakistan.
In the paper Gender differences in use and preference of agricultural information sources in Pakistan, published in the Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, Lamontagne-Godwin, et al, provide a fascinating snapshot of the situation involving males and females in farm households in the Jhang and Bahawalpur districts of Punjab, Pakistan as it was in 2016.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, as part of a survey of 401 individuals, the researchers found that men and women farmers’ use and preferences in accessing information sources are extremely different. For example, women were found to hardly use sources for agricultural information – valuing interpersonal communication from informal sources such as female friends and neighbors (30 percent) – whereas men made more use and put more value on official agencies.
Spiritual places were by far the most favored location for women to access information, with 98 percent seeing this location as "good" or "very good." The village office was also rated "OK" by 68 percent of women as a means to access information. However, more men stated that spiritual places were "bad" or at best "OK" as a means to access information. In contrast, 68 percent of men made use of the Provincial Department of Extension and Adaptive research (PDEAR), while this a service completely ignored by the women.
Only one of the 17 information sources (which included NGO workshops, TV programs and village leaders) was accessed by more than 20 percent of women – be it female friends or neighbors – with four sources, including private extension services, university extension and radio programes, not being accessed at all. Similarly for men, 79 percent had never accessed information through the sources listed.
Lamontagne-Godwin said, “Women working in agriculture in rural settings tend to have less access to and make less use of land, quality seed, fertilizers, pesticides, credit, insurance, education and rural advisory services. Women face not only a shortage of information sources to consult but the sources they do consult are generally perceived as poor quality. Clearly there is a need to increase the presence of women agricultural extension workers or field assistants in the field or in offices. Encouraging information dissemination through informal means could be an interesting route for improving women’s access to information.”
The team also suggest in the paper that institutional interactions with and between women are made harder to implement due to patriarchal norms. In fact, they highlight that traditional belief systems in favor of male dominance are major constraints for women farmers in the field.
The study also found significant differences relating to age, but not necessarily literacy, for women with only a small discrepancy. For example, women over the age of 30 felt they had more access to information than women under 30 with no woman under 20 having access to information at all. Women over 30 were statistically more likely to utilize a female friend or neighbor to access information, the research found.
With regards to literacy, this did not appear to affect the views of information access in official locations for women – such as district and village offices, spiritual locations, the market place, the homestead and the field – but there was a slight difference in the tehsil (an administrative sub-division of the district) which illiterate women were more negative about. Overall, literacy did not affect male participants' access to all information sources in male-headed households – specifically in their access to PDEAR, agrodealers and male neighbors in the survey.
Lamontagne-Godwin added, “The results show a low level of information access and significant differences between male and female access consistent with past findings. While men value the use of official services, women feel more at ease with informal means of communication. More could be done to facilitate official sources in the context of the country’s patriarchal socio-cultural norms. One solution, voiced by many past studies, would be to recruit a high proportion of women professionals in the public sector as field workers. The issue with promoting women as professionals is not the perceived lack of trust in their abilities, simply the physical barriers imposed by socio-economic norms that make it harder for women to work in the field.”
Full paper reference:
J. Lamontagne-Godwin, F. E. Williams, N. Aslam, S. Cardey, P. Dorward & M. Almas (2018): Gender differences in use and preferences of agricultural information sources in Pakistan, The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, DOI: 10.1080/1389224X.2018.1491870
The paper is available to access freely here: https://doi.org/10.1080/1389224X.2018.1491870
Innovations in Rural Extension: Case Studies from Bangladesh, edited by P Van Mele, AfricaRice, Benin and AgroInsight, Belgium, A Salahuddin, International Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh, N Magor, International Rice Research Institute, Bangladesh, 2005, CABI https://www.cabi.org/bookshop/book/9780851990286