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Du grain à moudre

Christine Verschuur


Elisabeth Prügl

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1Agriculture is an important source of employment for women around the world. In most countries, women are as likely to work in agriculture as men; and in many countries, they exceed men in the agricultural labor force. According to the FAO (2011), women comprise 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, ranging from a low of 20% in Latin America to 50% in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

2While farming is thus a central source of livelihood for women, less than 6% of foreign aid for agriculture goes to them, as indicated by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women at the 2011 World Economic Forum (UN Women 2011). Gender also receives virtually no attention in the intense negotiations on agriculture of the Doha Round. This is particularly astonishing, given that an understanding of the unequal impact of development on women originated with an analysis of women in agriculture – and Ester Boserup’s seminal book in particular. As she demonstrated, applying gender-neutral policies to conditions saturated with gender yields highly unequal outcomes. Yet, when it comes to agriculture, international policies seem almost immune to feminist interventions.

3While the continuing neglect of women in international agricultural policies is disturbing, women farmers have made considerable gains on key issues. Perhaps most important is an issue now often taken for granted, i.e. the recognition of women farmers as farmers. Characterisations of women farmers as housewives or as non-working still circulate amply, but they no longer go unchallenged. Women farmers around the world are now struggling to change laws so they correspond to their status as economically active – from gaining equal access to land and credit, to equal treatment in cooperatives and farming associations.

4Feminist researchers have long played a role in making visible to policy-makers the work of women farmers, their unequal treatment, and their potential for helping alleviate world hunger. The conference at the Graduate Institute in October 2010 was part of this effort – documenting the impact of new developments in agriculture on women farmers and recording the realities of their lives. The conference included academics from different regions of the world, in addition to social movements representatives and practitioners (gender experts) in international organisations, generating a vibrant exchange and proliferating fresh insights.

5This collection of papers reflects the lively discussions at the conference. It builds on almost ten years of work by the Graduate Institute’s Pôle genre et développement to strengthen the links between social science research and the elaboration of development policies. The international conferences on gender and development issues, organised since 1995 at the Institute, with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, provide a space for reflection on the relationship between academic theories, development practices, and problems on the ground. The conference proceedings – like the ones published here – are an important summary of the ideas generated, advancing topical debates and functioning as a reservoir of knowledge not only for an audience outside of the Institute, but also for our own students and faculty. It contributes in this way to the transversal inclusion of a gender perspective in teaching and research activities at the Institute, which is part of the Pôle genre et développement’s mission.

6The authors of this collection are to be congratulated for their high quality contributions. The papers presented here provide new perspectives on the situation of women farmers around the world, and will hopefully become part of a wave of renewed awareness around the importance of agriculture for generating sustainable and equitable development, and of the central role of women farmers in achieving such an outcome.


FAO. 2011. The state of food and agriculture 2010-11. Women in agriculture: Closing the gender gap for development. Rome: FAO.

UN Women, 2011. Michelle Bachelet to make economic, political and social case for women at the World Economic Forum. Website of UN Women at


Elisabeth Prügl (PhD from The American University 1992) joined the faculty of the Graduate Institute in the fall of 2009 and became the Deputy Director of the Institute in September 2010; prior to that she was a tenured professor at Florida International University in Miami, where she also served as Co-Director of the Miami-Florida European Union Center of Excellence. Her research focuses on global governance, international relations, and international political economy from a feminist perspective. She is the author of The global construction of gender: Home-based work in the political economy of the 20th century (Columbia 1999), the co-editor of Homeworkers in global perspective (Routledge 1996), Gender politics in global governance (Rowman and Littlefield 1999) and Diversity and European integration (Palgrave 2009). Her research also has appeared in various journals, including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, International Feminist Journal of Politics, International Studies Quarterly, and World Development. Her current work investigates the gendered impacts of agricultural trade liberalisation in Germany, and the effects of the formation of gender expertise on feminist politics. She has received grants from the European Union, the International Studies Association, the Fulbright Commission, and the American Association of University Women.


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