Women in the developing world: facts and stats

Women and climate change

Women in Dola, Nepal, construct a pond to irrigate their vegetable gardens. Photo: Tom Pietrasik.
Women in Dola, Nepal, construct a pond to irrigate their vegetable gardens. With this pond and drought-resistant seeds, they now have a sustainable food supply.

Women make up 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change.

Women are often hit much harder during disasters. In the Bangladesh cyclone of 1991, the number of women who died was five times greater than the number of men. They had not been taught how to swim and received no prior warning of the event. In the tsunami that hit Sri Lanka in December 2004, many more women perished than men because they did not know how to swim or climb trees.

In southwest Bangladesh, the salinisation of drinking water has meant that many women are forced to walk long distances – up to 10km every day – just to fetch water.

Droughts in the Philippines are making it increasingly difficult for women to search for food, fuel and water, all of which were previously accessible in towns. In rural areas, women and girls are being forced to walk for hours to fetch water. This makes them more prone to accidents and acts of violence.

After a food crisis, women and children often give up their meals for the men, increasing their susceptibility to malnutrition.

Increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather is affecting harvests and making it harder for the poorest people, especially women, to provide food for their families. In many developing countries, rural women produce up to 60% of household food, and are major producers of the world’s staple crops (such as rice, wheat, maize), which provide up to 90% of the rural poors' food intake.

Women and food

Oxfam is helping communities establish vegetable gardens in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Photo: Jerry Galea
Oxfam is helping communities establish vegetable gardens in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Women produce the majority of the world’s food but do so under difficult conditions.

On Sub Saharan African farms, 75% of the workforce are women, they produce 80% of the household food but they only own 1% of the land and are rarely included in the decision making (either on agricultural production or at a household level).

Research has shown that farms run by educated women show increases in yields of up to 22%. Yet two-thirds of the children denied school are girls and 64% of the world’s illiterate adults are women.

Women worldwide rarely own land: in Sub-Saharan Africa women own 1% of the land, in Brazil they own 11% and in Peru 13%. Lack of land rights means women are frequently the ones left dispossessed and uncompensated. When women do own land, their holdings are smaller than their male counterparts – between 20% and 35% on average worldwide. Such land is often marginal and thus of low productivity.

Women face discrimination in terms of access to credit, tools, training and a variety of other agricultural services. Available figures show that only 5% of extension services have been addressed to rural women, while no more than 15% of the world's extension agents are women. In Africa women receive 7% of extension services and 10% of the credit to small-scale farmers. When women do obtain credit the average value is 42% of what is granted to male farmers, and often a much higher percentage of collateral is required (collateral that women rarely have, see earlier point).

Women and increasing food prices

Women and children living in poverty will be hardest hit if global food prices continue to rise. In many countries it is women who are responsible for feeding their families and, when times are hard, it is women who go without to allow their husbands and children to eat.

Governments must act now and act together to help those already facing the crisis, to avert another global crisis and to help end hunger for the almost one billion people who go to bed hungry every day.