It is over thirty years since the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights first recognised the right to fair wages, however, many working in agriculture –women in particular – still do not. Women make up almost half (43 percent) of the global agricultural workforce, and rural women work longer hours than men in farming considering the time they spend on both productive and domestic farm-related tasks. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in their income. This situation can be changed. Imagine what earning a fair wage can mean for women workers in agriculture. As Gerda Verburg recently tweeted: “Equal opportunities for women farmers is essential means to eliminate hunger & poverty”. This is smart economics: when we ensure fair wages for women, we are investing in enhancing productivity; we are securing better prospects for feeding more mouths and ultimately creating a better future for the next generation in agriculture. This year’s International Women’s Day is being commemorated during the International Year of Family Farming and is therefore a perfect opportunity to not only give recognition to women, but to ensure that women in agriculture earn a fair income.
Europe imports over 90 percent of Moroccan tomatoes which are mainly produced by women. In rural areas in Morocco, such as the Souss-Massa region, we see that 92 percent of working women are employed in the agricultural sector. This is Morocco’s largest tomato producing region employing 70,000 people and generating 80 percent of the nation’s fruit and vegetables. The region also has the third highest percentage of people living in poverty and the highest percentage of severe poverty in Morocco.
According to Fairfood’s field research, 85 percent of the interviewed tomato workers – most of whom are women – earn wages below the Moroccan national poverty threshold for rural households, receiving less than EUR 155 per month. Three quarters of tomato workers interviewed even stated that their salary is not enough to cover their basic needs even as they put the world’s most popular fruit on our tables in Europe. Many of the women tomato workers in Souss Massa are unmarried who have migrated to the area to seek employment making them especially vulnerable.
Brands and retailers in Europe sourcing tomato from Morocco and their suppliers can be catalysts for positive change to these women if they can ensure a fair income for all workers in the country’s tomato sector.
The story of women’s unfair income in the Moroccan tomato sector is not an isolated one. Farming women around the world are undoubtedly global economic powerhouses, but they struggle to make their own economics add up. There is absolutely no reason why women who work to produce most of the world’s food should not earn wages that can cover their basic needs and still make decent savings, have enough to support their families, send their children to school and improve their own literacy.
The benefits of investing in greater economic empowerment and equality for women are clear. The World Development Report 2012 indicates that if women are given the same opportunities as men, this would boost productivity, reduce hunger, and if more control of household resources were in the hands of women it would improve the chances of the next generation.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, we can make a contribution towards the struggles for empowerment and equality for women in agriculture by advocating that key food industry players ensure that women enjoy fair and secure incomes.
By Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director of Fairfood International