Women, Decent Work and Empowerment in Rural Egypt
Rural Egyptian women play a key role in food security, income generation and agricultural production but their contributions remain invisible and they face difficulties in accumulating assets, accessing work opportunities under decent work conditions and respective training, and have limited bargaining power at the household and community levels. Therefore, it is important that we document rural women’s experiences in agricultural work and their contributions and suggest efficient ways that enable them to overcome these barriers. Very few studies have examined the challenges and opportunities faced by women working in the agricultural sector in rural Egypt. The few studies that exist were conducted in the 1990s. This report analyzes the extent of social, economic and political empowerment for women workers in various types of employment in rural Egypt. It identified the challenges they face and made recommendations for overcoming them. We included as many different types of workers as possible in our study - own account workers (small-scale producers and subsistence farmers), wage workers, contributing family workers, entrepreneurs and employers, and members of producer organizations in both the Old and New Lands in order to ensure that our findings were as representative as possible of women’s and men’s experiences of agricultural work and working conditions in rural Egypt. We employed an extended case study approach to conduct this research. We collected data through interviews and focus groups in two areas in rural Egypt, which have common socio-cultural, historical and economic ties but differ significantly in socio-cultural norms, economic and political context for women’s roles, responsibilities, social status and land ownership rates. The Old Lands were originally mainly irrigated by the inundation of the Nile River while the New Lands became cultivable only after the construction of the High Aswan Dam in the 1950s. These areas also differ in the type of agricultural production (e.g., crops grown and their profitability), gender and social norms (e.g., relative degree of social control), and availability of services (e.g., healthcare and agricultural extension services). This geographically comparative approach highlighted the complexity both of rural women’s experiences of employment as well as their ability to empower themselves economically, socially and politically through the employment available to them in the two regions. In order to draw conclusions about women’s experiences, our study also considered men’s experiences in the same types of work. The comparison between men’s and women’s experiences helped us generate a broader understanding of gender gaps in wages, asset accumulation, employment opportunities and bargaining power for different types of work and workers. By understanding the constraints rural women face in accessing decent work, we identify specific needs for achieving women’s empowerment through their social and economic advancement, enhanced power and agency, as well as dignity and value. Our study generated findings about labour seasonality, remuneration, gender norms, formal regulations, informal processes, agricultural extension services, healthcare, pensions and other social protection available to women in agricultural work in rural Egypt. These, in turn, provide us with key insights about the contributions rural Egyptian women make to the agricultural sector, and to food security for their households and communities.
- ICARDA