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The Impact of Climate Change on Female Agricultural Workers

Risks Endangering Agriculture in the Nile Delta

Amidst the global talks on Climate Change, and in light of Egypt hosting the Conference of Parties (COP27) in November 2022, there is an increasing interest in the consequences of Climate Change on Egypt. Agriculture is considered one of the most important economic sectors in Egypt in terms of production and job opportunities, and represents 15% of the gross domestic product (GDP)[1].

In this article, we focus on female agricultural workers, and the effect of Climate Change on them. The Nile Delta’s agricultural lands are expected to deteriorate owing to two main factors: firstly, the temperature rise, and accordingly, sea level rise. This increase threatens some agricultural lands in the Delta with sinking, especially agricultural lands on the Mediterranean coast such as Kafr El-Sheikh and Damietta. Secondly, the irrigation of the Delta agricultural lands by flooding as well as the rising temperature both lead to water evaporation, which increases the salinization of the soil in the long run.

Thus, Climate Change threatens female agricultural workers, as they constitute 58% of total agricultural employment in 2020[2]. Moreover, the agriculture sector employs 45% of total women’s employment in Egypt[3]. As a result, any damage to the agriculture affects its female labor because it is fragile, given that they are seasonal, cheap, or unpaid. In addition, rural women face significant challenges in accessing financial resources, especially agricultural property.

Female Agricultural Workers’ Status in Egypt

In terms of work stability, women’s paid agricultural labor is majorly informal, since 99% of this labor is informal[4], i.e., they do not have formal labor contracts nor social or health insurance. In addition, a large segment of this employment is seasonal; whereby they work throughout specific times during the year, often within harvest periods, and are underpaid[5], seasonal employment represents 38% of the total agricultural female employment[6].

Climate change threatens the working conditions of agricultural workers, as rising temperatures and increased rainfall reduce women’s working hours, and/or lead to health risks, such as sunstrokes or severe fatigue caused by difficult weather. This compromises their economic conditions, given the nature of their seasonal and low-paid work. In Egypt, for example, female workers receive their salaries on a daily basis, and the average daily wage is estimated at only 6 USD.[7]

Besides, a large segment of female labor is invisible because they perform unpaid work. In other words, women work within the family for her father, brother or husband, without monetary compensation. In the Egyptian rural areas, 79.5% of working women in the countryside work in a family project without pay, compared to 14.6% of working men in the countryside[8]. These activities range from direct agricultural work, such as plowing lands or harvesting the crops, in addition to activities related to agriculture, such as animal husbandry, sorting crops, and preparing dairy for sale[9].

Women Agricultural Property

Despite the prominent participation of women in agricultural work in its various segments, women’s agricultural ownership is still modest. Women’s ownership represents 5.2% of the total agricultural land ownership in 2015[10], while women’s possession of land represents only 3%[11]. This inferior percentage can be attributed to social norms in the Egyptian countryside that give priority to ownership of men. Moreover, the social norms consider that women’s inheritance of land takes it out from the family, since its ownership -in their point of view- is transferred to women’s husbands.

Accordingly, female agricultural labor spend long working hours and do not receive fair pay in return, or even their right to inherit agricultural land. Furthermore, agricultural property in general is fragmented; 81% of agricultural land does not exceed 3 acres[12]. Accordingly, women working in agriculture do not benefit equitably from their work, whether in terms of income or ownership[13].

Legal Background of Social Protection

In light of former data, it is observed that 99% of women’s employment in agriculture is informal; which is the employment that does not have any labor contracts or social insurance from disability, old age and unemployment. Egyptian labor law excluded female agricultural workers from having women rights’ in workplaces; which are obligating the employer to provide nurseries for the children of female workers, and the right to paid maternity leave and childcare leave[14]. On the other hand, the Social Insurance and Pension Law encompasses seasonal agricultural workers, giving them the right to establish their own social insurance fund.

Recommendations

Based on these factors, female agricultural labor direly suffer from the consequences of climate change on agriculture in Egypt. Besides, they find that their jobs in agriculture, or the income of their entire family, are threatened. Those women do not have any economic alternative if they lose these opportunities, due to the lack of social protection, and limited access to resources. Therefore, female agricultural labor will face severe consequences of climate change in agriculture, which increases the necessity of providing them with social protection, and enhancing their access to resources through a fair payment for their work in agriculture.

Footnotes:

[1] “Climate Change Fact Sheets (in Arabic)”, The Human and the City for Social Research. Available at https://bit.ly/3eECVmR. Last visited: 18 October 2022.

[2] ILO STAT Explorer, Egypt, Employment by Sex and Economic Activity.

[3] Profile of Women in Rural Egypt, UN Women 2018. Available at: https://bit.ly/3VBYzc3 Last visited: 18 October 2022.

[4] ILO STAT Explorer, Egypt, Informal Employment by Sex and Economic Activity.

[5] Kandeel, Amal, Millions of Rural Working Women in Egypt at Risk from Climate Change. Middle East Institute – October 2017.  Available at: https://bit.ly/3CL6eMN Last visited: 18 October 2022.

[6] El Khorazaty, Noha. Egyptian Women’s Agriculture Contribution; Assessment of the Gender Gap for Sustainable Development. 2021. American University in Cairo, Master’s Thesis. AUC Knowledge Fountain. Available at: https://fount.aucegypt.edu/etds/1533

[7] Mona Ezzat, Al’Amelat ElZara’iat: Hokouq Daa’a ma bayn AlIsteghlal wal Tahmish, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Egypt: 2021. Available at: https://bit.ly/3D9BPsE. Last visited: 18 October 2022.

[8] Calculation from “Annual Report of Workforce Research 2020 (in Arabic)” pg. 55, Central Agency for Public

[9] Profile of Women in Rural Egypt, UN Women 2018. Available at: https://bit.ly/3VBYzc3 Last visited: 18 October 2022.

[10] Gender and Land Rights Database: Egypt, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Available at: https://bit.ly/3s4blTb Last visited: 18 October 2022

[11] Mona Ezzat, “Al’Amelat ElZara’iat”.

[12] El Khorazaty, Noha. Egyptian Women’s Agriculture Contribution.

[13] Social Insurance and Pension law Number 148/ 2019.

[14] Egyptian Labor Law Number 12/ 2003.

*Source of the cover image: Agence France-Presse (AFP)

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