Afghanistan’s Women in Agriculture: Facing Limitations and Challenges

Written By: F.S; Translated by: Jandad Jahani

When one thinks of the words “farmer,” “agriculture,” and “animal husbandry,” the image of a man typically comes to mind. However, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, women constitute nearly 50% of the world’s agricultural workforce. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the primary occupations in Afghanistan, with about 80% of the population engaged in these professions. As a result, people’s livelihoods largely depend, directly or indirectly, on agriculture and animal husbandry. Afghan women make up a significant portion of the country’s informal agricultural and animal husbandry workforce; these invisible workers are not paid for their labor in agriculture and animal husbandry and do not have property rights to land and tools.

Rural Afghan women play a crucial role in the economy and in providing for their families. They are involved in agriculture, animal husbandry, home gardening, chicken or fish farming, handicrafts, and other tasks. They have a substantial share in the production of agricultural products, food security, nutrition, land management, and natural resource management.

Moreover, nearly all dairy product production is carried out by rural women. However, this level of activity and work does not mean that women own land or become wealthy from selling their products. On the contrary, women in rural areas are considered a substitute for male labor and unpaid workers, whose work neither leads to financial independence nor improves their living conditions.

What exists behind the curtain of the hard work of women in agriculture, apart from the oppression of a patriarchal society that affects all women, is the lack of control and ownership over the joint products of their work (in the case of collaboration with men), from cultivated land to livestock, farms, gardens, and children. Women do not benefit much from their work, and whatever income is generated belongs to the male head of the family.

The only benefit that women’s work brings is providing for the family and children; however, any surplus family expenses go into the pocket and ownership of the head of the family, who is always a man. Women, however, lack the necessary awareness and tools to protest against this injustice, and most of them consider their labor and work to be self-evident.

In addition to working alongside men in the fields, female farmers also take care of their children at home. However, as mentioned earlier, the work of these women, both at home and in the fields, is not considered labor. Generally, work is referred to as an activity for which a worker receives wages; however, rural women do not receive any wages for their work.

Last 20 years of women in this profession:

Over the past 20 years, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan had prioritized the empowerment of women in its work. In this regard, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have helped Afghan rural women to some extent to participate regularly in agriculture and livestock sectors. The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development of Afghanistan had planned an economic development program for rural areas, focusing on women in all 34 provinces of the country.

The aim of the Rural Economic Development Program was stated as “elevating the social and economic capabilities of poor rural women in selected villages.” Additionally, one of the goals of the National Solidarity Program (NSP) in 2003, and later the Citizen’s Charter, was to provide agricultural resources to women.

Lastly, in September 2018, the Women’s Economic Empowerment project was launched to reduce poverty among rural and agricultural women, expecting that the project would help women create income-generating opportunities in their villages, increase women’s employment, and as a result, improve the situation of rural female farmers.

However, war and insecurity, discriminatory social norms, government inefficiency in raising awareness, and the

lack of sincere efforts to improve women’s conditions has prevented significant changes in the situation of female farmers. As a result, what we witness today, after twenty years, is the unchanged situation of female farmers and livestock breeders in Afghan villages.

The projects that were designed for women did not turn Afghan female farmers into entrepreneurs or make them the owners of their assets and labor force. During this time, female farmers did not gain access to suitable and regular jobs, and their quality of life did not improve. To this day, they continue to face hunger, malnutrition, lack of access to healthcare, and limited productive activities. Even more importantly, they have very low levels of literacy and awareness.

Women farmers under the Taliban authority:

The Taliban’s rule over Afghanistan has left rural women farmers and livestock breeders in a deplorable situation. Although their situation was not much better before, and the government had failed over the past 20 years to enhance the capabilities of female farmers and improve their living conditions, at least women had played an essential role in organizing small unions and benefited from limited assistance.

With the arrival of the Taliban, all women (rural and urban) have been deprived of their previous rights and privileges. Urban women have lost all their freedoms, and the right to work and education, while rural female farmers have been pushed further to the margins. They are now grappling with numerous challenges and restrictions.

The imposed restrictions on women, coupled with unfavorable agricultural and livestock conditions, have created numerous challenges for female farmers. Since the Taliban’s objectives and actions have not been aimed at addressing society’s economic problems, their rise to power has generally worsened the agricultural situation in Afghanistan. This is concerning, given that at least 25% of Afghanistan’s gross production depends on agriculture, and women play a significant role in it.

In a November 19, 2021 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a few months after the Taliban took control, it was quoted from Qu Dongyu, the Director-General of the organization, that “millions of Afghans are on the brink of disaster. If their animals die or their fields are not planted, disaster will strike.” This disaster is what we are witnessing today, with the current economic crisis.

In the current economic crisis, rural female farmers are more vulnerable than any other group. They face a high likelihood of losing their meager assets or savings, which are usually set aside for healthcare and family hygiene expenses. Consequently, the arrival of the Taliban has made rural women even poorer.

The economic shock caused by the Taliban’s rise to power, along with the increased prices of essential goods, has plunged rural communities into deeper poverty. The rising cost of seeds, the collection of tithes by the Taliban, and the restrictions imposed on women have all worsened the overall agricultural situation and the circumstances of rural female farmers.

Additionally, the inability to sell products in the market or sell them at low prices has forced men to migrate and, in some cases, abandon farming and livestock breeding altogether. This development has shifted the burden of cultivation and livestock breeding onto women. Moreover, in the absence of men due to societal barriers, women lack economic security and are sometimes unable to utilize available resources for land and its management.

Furthermore, the lack of a suitable market for dairy products, which are primarily produced by women, has placed rural female livestock breeders in an even more impoverished situation. Some female farmers working in vegetable agriculture have reported that their products sell at very low prices, and the money they earn is insufficient to cover the cost of their food supplies.

Female farmers, due to their role in economic development and their family responsibilities, require serious attention and support. Their contributions to economic growth are evident. These women undertake the responsibilities of family care, education, and healthcare, while simultaneously working in agriculture and livestock breeding. Therefore, they are critical actors in the development of rural communities and the country as a whole.

To address the challenges faced by female farmers, specific programs and policies should be designed to enhance their capacities and provide them with the necessary resources to achieve their goals. It is crucial to empower these women through education, vocational training, and access to the market. Furthermore, the rights of female farmers should be safeguarded, and they should be granted the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

The international community, alongside local organizations and community leaders, should play a more active role in supporting rural women. This support should include the provision of agricultural inputs, technical assistance, and access to credit and financial services. Additionally, awareness-raising campaigns should be conducted to challenge discriminatory social norms and practices that hinder the progress of women in agriculture and livestock breeding.

The situation of female farmers in Afghanistan under Taliban rule remains challenging and uncertain. However, by working together, the international community, local organizations, and Afghan society can help bring about a positive change in the lives of these women. Empowering female farmers is not just a moral imperative; it is also essential for the economic development and food security of Afghanistan.

It is essential to recognize the tremendous potential of Afghan women and invest in their capacities to improve their lives and the well-being of their families and communities. By addressing the numerous challenges faced by female farmers and providing them with the necessary tools and resources, Afghanistan can build a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society for all.

Despite the numerous challenges faced by female farmers, they remain a cornerstone of Afghan society. In addition to their vital contributions to economic growth, these women bear the responsibility of family care, education, and domestic labor. However, female farmers currently live in extremely unfavorable conditions. Rural infrastructure is crumbling, and services have dwindled to almost nothing.

The lack of support for female farmers has made their lives more difficult. The problems they face extend beyond the economic sector, impacting education, awareness, family life, and access to healthcare services.

Nowadays, rural women are not only deprived of education and skill acquisition opportunities but also face increased exposure to violence. They not only provide for their families but also lack the “right to anger” as obedient women in their households. As a result, they must endure the irritability of male family members, which stems from the poor socio-economic conditions.