chapter  7
6 Pages

Conclusions: The Politics of Producing Knowledge in Development – Gender in Rural Production

ByPnina Motzafi-Haller

Pnina Motzafi-Haller This book is a product of its time. It is based on the growing realization among international development practitioners, academics and policy makers that women’s contribution to agricultural production in developing countries has been understudied and underestimated. A recent FAO document encapsulates the logic of such general awareness that links gender and agriculture in the following way (emphasis in the original text):

Both women and men play critical roles in agriculture throughout the world, producing, processing and providing the food we eat. Rural women in particular are responsible for half of the world’s food production and produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food in most developing countries. Yet, despite their contribution to global food security, women farmers are frequently underestimated and overlooked in development strategies. Despite the fact that women are the world’s principal food producers and providers, they remain ‘invisible’ partners in development. A lack of available gender disaggregated data means that women’s contribution to agriculture in particular is poorly understood and their specific needs ignored in development planning. The rationale that stood at the center of the four focal case studies documented

in this book has been part of this general conviction that seems to have sent international development research cadres around the world to make visible the hitherto “invisible” role played by women in agricultural production. Read at this level, this book serves its original purpose. It provides a thorough review of the topic, placing the position of women in agricultural production in each of the four settings within a larger frame of gender relations in the respective social, educational and political national arenas. Indeed, the need to provide such a synthetic overview of gender relations in rural production is particularly urgent in the Middle-East. “Nowhere in the world has the use of over-generalizing

conceptual categories gained popularity to describe the status of women as in the Middle East,” notes Forouz Jowkar (1998), a Senior Researcher in the prestigious New York based Institute for Development Anthropology. Jowkar writes:

While early writings reduced women [in the Middle East] to sexual objects at the services of men, more recent writings, drawing on the conceptual dualism of traditional/modern, created such theoretical paradigms as public and private domains and honor and shame to deal with gender hierarchy. Although some writers mentioned the power women may draw from their physical isolation, almost all of them subsumed a wide range of women’s productive activities under reproductive and domestic practices. They failed to account for the labor contribution of women in such undocumented areas as petty commodity production and commerce, domestic services, seasonal agricultural labor on family farms, or herding enterprises. This particular, “biased understanding of women’s contribution to rural

production systems,” Jowkar suggests, is a result of orientalist Western models of explanation of gender relations in the Middle East as well as Middle Eastern officials’ own misguided and uninformed interpretation of what women do and own. The conclusion is therefore that: “governments and planners can no longer afford to plan and implement agricultural policies based on stereotypes … women’s labor in the agrarian sector must be acknowledged.”