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The gender gap in access to development resources in rural areas of developing countries

(LLCT) - This article analyzes the gender gap in access to development resources in rural areas, including the access to land, education, labor markets, finance, and technology. By the overview method, the article clearly shows that women are disadvantaged in accessing resources. Gender stereotype is one of the reasons for the gender gap. Hence, empowering women is necessary in order to prevent this practice.

Key words: Gender gap, development resources, rural areas.

The implementation of gender equality in agricultural development has important meanings for sustainable development in rural areas. FAO’s study in 2002 showed that women could increase their agricultural output by 20-30% if they are able to access the same production resources as men. This means that eliminating the gender gap could increase the output of agriculture in developing countries by 4%, potentially reducing the poverty of 100 million to 1.5 billion people worldwide. Another study also confirmed that gender equality could reduce the number of people living in poverty by half in 2015(1).

Despite this, gender inequality is always present in various ways in rural areas of developing countries. Gender inequality exists throughout the production process, starting from women’s disproportionate access to, and control of livelihood assets such as land, education, employment, credit, and science and technology.

1. The reality of the gender gap in access to rural development resources

- The gender gap in access to, and use of land

Land is one of the most important factors in production and it directly affects the livelihood of farmers. In fact, the access to, and control of this resource has a direct effect on the position and role of individuals in each family. In developing countries, gender inequality in access to land is very serious. For example, women make up less than 5% of the total landowners in North Africa and West Asia; similarly, this number is slightly more than 10% in South Asia and Southeast Asia, under 5% in Oceania, and under 10% in the Middle East. Furthermore, in several developing countries, such as Bangladesh, Ecuador, and Pakistan, the average area owned by men is twice that belonging to women(2). Even in the wealthiest countries in Latin America, like Chile and Ecuador, this situation is similar: the percentage of female-owned agricultural land is only about 25%.

In Vietnam, studies show that men dominate the control of land and other valuable assets. Men with access to, and control of productive land make up 24.8% of the population, compared to just 4.8% of women. Approximately, there are 80% of male-led households, compared to 20% of female; many more men have their names on household and land documents. In rural areas, where most cases are of residential land given as inheritance by parents to their sons when they got married and moved out, the proportion of men holding land documents is even higher. According to the survey data on Vietnamese households (conducted from 1998-2000), the numbers of male owners of residential land documents in delta areas, highland areas, and cities were 79.7%, 82.1% and 49.8% respectively. Similarly, 78.9% of those who own the title of agricultural land or hold the land ownership certificates in rural areas are the husbands; there is no significant difference in this phenomenon among ethnic minorities(3). This is likely because the owner of the house and the land is commonly registered under the name of the householder.

- The gender gap in the rural labor market

According to RIGA’s report, there is a big gender gap between officially and unofficially paid employment in rural areas. In Ghana, for instance, about 15% of men get paid jobs, while this number is only 4% for women. This difference exists in other countries as well: in Bangladesh’s rural areas, 24% of men and only 3% of women work in the paid sector; in Ecuador’s rural areas, about 30% of men and only 9% of women receive wages. In addition, rural women often prefer to work part-time or do seasonal work more often than men. In Malawi, 90% of women and 66% of men work part-time, 95% of women and about 85% of men work on a seasonal basis; In Nepal, 70% of women and 45% of men work part-time, with nearly 90% of women and 74% of men doing seasonal work. There is also a smaller gap in Vietnam, with nearly 40% of women and 31% of men working part-time and 82% of women and 78% of men doing seasonal jobs(4).

Moreover, rural women often have low-income jobs. In Malawi, more than 60% of women have low-wage jobs, compared to less than 40% of men there. In Vietnam, nearly 70% of women and only 48% of men do low-paid jobs. In fact, women are even paid less than men for the same job, even if they have the same level of expertise(5).

- The gender gap in rural education

Education is one of the key factors in improving human capital and creating development opportunities for individuals. At the same time, education plays a key role in connecting household production and helps the economic and social life of households improve(6). However, reality shows that the gender gap in education in rural areas has tended to be serious and even widening in some developing countries, such as Pakistan, Ghana, Malawi, Bolivia, and Vietnam. A study done by Anriquez (2010) in the 2011 FAO report showed that female householders often have fewer years of schooling than male householders (Figure 1).

In Vietnam, the gender gap in education follows the global trend. Figure 1 shows that the number of schooling years of female householders is, on average, 2.5 years less than men. According to the household living standard survey (2012), the proportion of the literate population (10 years old and older) in urban households is 96.1%, compared to 92.0% in rural areas; the difference between men and women in urban areas is only 3.2% (97.8% for men and 94.6% for women), while it is 6.2% in rural areas (95.2% of men and 89.0% of women)(7).

- The gender gap in financial services and science and technology

Financial services include savings, credit, and insurance opportunities for improving agricultural output, food security, and the economic power of households, communities, and nations. Many studies have shown that improving women’s direct access to financial resources leads to higher investment in human capital, such as children’s health, nutrition, and education.

However, gender differences in access to financial services still exists in rural areas of developing countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Madagascar, etc. Survey results from 79 countries in RIGA database show that female householders in rural areas are less likely to use credit than male householders. For example, in Madagascar, only 9% of female respondents said they have access to credit, a rate much lower than that of male householders. In Indonesia, female householders use credit less than 10% of the time, compared to use by nearly 20% of male householders. In Uganda, nearly all female householders in the study said that they lacked money to buy land and invest in agricultural activities. In Bangladesh, even though there is a special credit program for women in the country, women only received about 5% of the spending of financial institutions in rural areas in 1980, which had only increased slightly to over 5% by 1990(8). In Vietnam, there is a similar trend: only about 20% of female householders use credit, compared to nearly 40% of male householders in rural areas(9).

Besides, access to new technology is one of the essential factors in improving labor productivity in agriculture. However, studies show a huge gender gap in access to new technologies in agricultural production. Evidence in Gambian research shows that women do not own excavators and that less than 1% own lawn mowers, seeders, or other equipment, while the proportion of men who own those tools is 8%, 12%, 27% and 18% respectively. According to statistics from surveys in 3 districts of Kenya, the value of agricultural tools owned by women is only 18% of the total value that men have(10). For ownership of equipment for agricultural production, the FAO (2011) also pointed out that the percentage of female householders using mechanization is lower than that of male householders in some developing countries. For example: in Bangladesh, the number of female householders that use mechanized tools is less than 1%; female householders in Nepal use about 3% of mechanization compared to nearly 10% by male householders; in Vietnam, the percentage of female householders using mechanized tools accounts for about 36% of female farmers, compared to 46% of male household heads.

2. Suggested policies for Vietnam

Despite differences in culture, production capability, and production mode among analyzed countries, there are still similarities among them which include: (1) They are all developing countries and (2) Gender discrimination in access to rural development resources is stark. Therefore, some suggested policies to narrow the gender gap for Vietnam are as follows:

First, to narrow the gender gap in terms of access to land, it is necessary to incorporate the gender factor into the drafting and application of policies and regulations related to land. In addition, strengthening the education of women about land laws and policy mechanisms to ensure that the voice and role of female householders is improved is crucial.

Second, we need to narrow the gender gap in the rural labor market in order to create opportunities for more rural women to participate in the labor market and be paid sufficiently. In order to do this, it is necessary to strengthen human capital for women through vocational training, improve education for women in rural areas, and promote women’s rights and voices in families and communities. In addition, it is necessary to regulate household activities and family care to make sure everyone knows that this is valued work. Thus, it is necessary to properly value the work of rural women when participating in the formal and informal labor market.

Third, we need to narrow the gender gap in education, strengthening the incorporation of gender in educational policies, as well as consider gender equality in education a part of development goals. In addition, using technology and multiple information channels is the best way to help women receive information.

Fourth, to narrow the gender gap in access to finance, it is necessary to promote credit policies for farmers and design credit programs for women in rural areas. Furthermore, to narrow the gap in access to agricultural production techniques, agricultural services need to be improved and expanded, creating vocational training for rural women and creating conditions for them to have more strength and knowledge to conduct production.

In conclusion, research shows that women and men always have a gap in access to rural development resources. The main cause of this problem is that the concept of gender prejudice is still quite strict in rural areas, and the process of empowering women has so far been incomplete. Therefore, to move towards gender equality in rural areas, the legislative process and policy implementation should pay attention to the ability to empower women in rural areas. Once women are given economic and social empowerment, they will become leaders and cause positive changes in economic development, social programs, and sustainable development in rural areas. Therefore, women’s power in rural areas is a prerequisite for food security and sustainable development(11).



(1) UN (2002): Millennium Development Goals; Millennium Declaration; Millennium Summit General Assembly 55th session; United Nations Development Program, www.un.org

(2), (4), (6), (10) FAO: The state of Food and Agriculture, Food and Agriculture organization of the UN, Rome, 2011, p.23-24, 19-20, 28, 35-36.

(3) Le Ngoc Van: Vietnamese family transformation, Social Sciences Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.430.

(5) Ahmed, S and Maitra, P (2010): Gender wage discrimination in rural and urban labour market of Bangladesh, Oxford Development studies, 38 (1): p.83-112.

(7) Vietnam General Statistics Office: Results of the household survey in 2012, Hanoi, 2013, p.67.

(8) Goetz, AM and Gupta, RS (1996): Who takes the credit? Gender, power and control over loan use in rural credit program in Bangladesh, World development, 24 (1): paper 45-63.

(9) Anriquez, G: Demystifying the agriculture feminization myth and the gender burden, Background paper prepared for the State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11, Rome, 2010, FAO.


(11) Ellis. A et al (2006): Gender and economic growth in Uganda: Unleashing the power of women, Washington, DC, World Bank.


MA. Phan Thuan

Academy of Politics Region IV

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