Women are behind 60% of the agriculture labour in Ethiopia


By Wubua Mekonnen and Tesfaye Haile 

Women in Ethiopia play a major role as food producers and processors. When communities are faced with resource scarcity it is predominantly women smallholders that bear the brunt.

80 percent of Ethiopia’s population lives in rural areas and women provide the majority of the agricultural labor. However, their contributions are often unrecognized, and they often have restricted access to resources and community participation. Public institutions set up to promote gender are deemed overall to have remained generally less effective in ensuring gender equality and mainstreaming.

Like in most developing countries; social norms, traditions and practices pose negative influence on the rights and wellbeing of women; and form part of the major development challenge. Despite women being 50 percent of the population, the country suffers from some of the lowest gender equality performance indicators in Sub-Saharan Africa. The 2018 UNDP human development report shows that Ethiopia is among countries with low Gender Development Index with female HDI value of 0.424 in contrast to male HDI value of 0.501 resulting GDI value of 0.846 placing the country in low equality in HDI achievements between women and men deviation from gender parity of more than 10 percent. Ethiopia has also a gender inequality index (GII) of 0.502 ranking 121st out of 160 countries in the 2017 index There is a significant gender gap in most spheres of life. 


We are in the middle of the Integrated Approach Pilot (IAP) project (2017-2022) that is targeting women to help them towards more sustainable adaptive pathways that address stressors and help them achieve food security.

When we look at national trends we are presented with some positive developments, particularly in recent years, as Ethiopia has seen an improvement in women’s representation in politics and decision-making within the national and regional legislative bodies.  

Women’s representation in the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) grew from 27.9 % in 2010 to 38.9 % in 2015. Currently, 50% of government Ministerial position is assumed by women. However, the lowest levels of administrations are yet to see the same changes.

Putting on a gender focus on project implementation

Women not only contribute up to 60% of the labour in the agricultural sector in Ethiopia[1], they are also shouldering a large part of the rural labour burden, which includes ensuring the welfare of children and household activities, as well as trekking for hours to fetch firewood and fetch water.

As a pilot project focused on improving the food security of the country, this integrated approach project is providing much needed attention to the generally unrecognized role played by women and advocating for the empowerment of women to ensure equality in access to resources and decision-making in rural areas. This strategy is based on the understanding and evidence that gender inequality exacerbates food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. 

Using this strategic approach, right from the  time the project was launched, 12 gender teams were set up and gender inclusiveness training was organized for 1,181 community members (739 women and 442 men). The training focused on raising awareness on gender and environment issues. 

The project has also conducted a gender analysis study to ensure gender inclusiveness and generated information on monitoring indicators and capacity building areas. The study helped to identify gaps, existing practices and capacity of women in natural resource management to develop gender-based monitoring tool to analyze project interventions and outcomes. The study also helped to develop gender-responsive socio-economic indicators to mainstream gender-responsiveness and equity into sector planning in the 12 project sites. Gender team members also took trainings on gender concepts, gender mainstreaming strategy and application of gender sensitive indicators. 

The project has supported gender teams to facilitate community conversation sessions in 12 districts and in 58 villages for 1,230 households (544 women headed). Women who own irrigated agricultural land are receiving support to access relevant technology and markets.

Through the project’s intervention, women are also expanding their roles as providers of climate smart solutions while they also increased their capacity to generate income. In one of the project districts, 134 women were organized in five groups and they managed to produce 500 fuel saving stoves in the first quarter of the project implementation. Through this activity, women managed to earn ETB 28,600 in profits. This was considered as one of the best climate-smart practices and has now been scaled up to more project districts.

The integrated approach pilot project in Ethiopia is now in its second year of implementation and will continue to focus on interventions that prioritise a gender equality approach as a means to improve the food security and environmental degradation of the country. 











[1] World Bank, Employment in agriculture, female (% of female employment) (modeled ILO estimate) https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.FE.ZS

*** Wubua Mekonnen is GEF Programme Specialist, UNDP Ethiopia and Tesfaye Haile is the IAP project manager



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