Health Consequences of Rural Women's Productive Role in Agriculture in the Philippines and Other Developing Countries

Article excerpt


Agriculture is central to developing countries like the Philippines and rural women contribute a substantial share of the labor that goes into this sector as food producers or agricultural workers. In the wake of numerous studies conducted worldwide about women since the United Nations' Decade for Women (1976-1984), data appear sparse on the relationship between women's work and women's health in the agricultural setting to enable policy makers and program implementors to adequately address their health needs. Thus this study aimed to determine the nature of available information in the gender literature to enable us to understand the link between women's productive farm work and their health status, and to elicit major implications for research to aid policy and program. The method used was a review and analysis of pertinent data in the research literature on agricultural women covering over two decades. Findings from the study reiterate the crucial role held by these women throughout the developing world in securing food for their families and communities, but then this role is not performed without adverse consequences to their health. The major consequences include female reproductive health risks owing particularly to women's use and exposure to hazardous agrochemicals, farm-related accidents or physical injuries, ergonomic problems resulting from women's use of tools or technology that are better suited to men, and nutritional deficiencies that are compounded by poverty and overwork. Other findings have surfaced two main research imperatives: the need for more updated and gender disaggregated national statistics on the status of agricultural women in developing societies, and the necessity for addressing various identified gaps in the women's work-and-health paradigm.

Keywords. Rural Women, Productive Role, Health Consequences, Philippines


Women have long occupied a central place in agricultural production in developing countries, ensuring food security for their households and their communities. However, an initial analysis of the literature revealed that the importance of their role as food producers had received attention and support from both their national governments and international bodies only within the last 35 years. Scholarly interest in women was ushered in by various international activities which, spearheaded by the United Nations (UN), directed attention to the subject of women and food. Starting with the 1974 World Food Conference, women's contributions to the battle against world hunger was globally acknowledged. Through its declaration of 1976-1984 as the Decade for Women, the UN then introduced the concept of integrating women in development which subsequently became gender in development. The 1977 UN report "Women in Food Production, Food Handling and Nutrition" advanced these themes in the agenda of international organizations and national agencies that were oriented or reoriented to women and gender issues. It was believed, however, that the 1979 World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development provided the turning point as it underscored greater support for women's economic roles, a methodical accounting of rural women's contribution to agriculture, and provision for women's equitable access to productive resources such as land, water, inputs, and services (FAO, 1981 cited in Holmboe-Ottesen, Mascarenhas and Wandel, 1989).

These early events had helped to systematically awaken worldwide concern for farm women's welfare and inclusion in rural or agricultural development policies and programs. In their wake came funding support for rural women's organized initiatives such as alliance-building and various projects to address their specific needs. Also generated were a tremendous research interest on farming women and more avenues (particularly international conferences) for regularly assembling, discussing, and sharing information and research findings on the current state, unmet and emergent needs, and accomplishments of rural women. …