There is a pressing need for general education for women in developing countries. Education for women has a lagged behind in many countries, and there is evidence that literacy rates for rural women are even lower than their urban counterparts. For instance, in Bangladesh, the adult literacy rate for rural women is only 36.2 percent, compared to 60.0 percent for urban women, and 56.1 percent for rural men compared to 75.4 percent for urban men (Pal, 2001).
As is well captured in the FAO study “Rural Women and Food Security in Asia”, the impacts of poor access to education for women are manifold and undoubtedly not restricted to Asia. Poorly educated rural women are more likely to encounter the adverse effects of structural changes in the economy, particularly in an agriculture sector. As the study notes: “Prevailing shortfalls in rural female literacy achievement, coupled with trends towards the feminization of farming, underline the urgency for taking action to improve the skills and knowledge of rural women as a means to advance their technological and economic empowerment. National actions to empower women with education will be investments in human capital for agriculture and rural development with consequent positive outcomes for household and national food security.” Multiple studies have also found women’s education plays a positive role in achieving goals for child schooling and nutrition.
Agriculture is fundamentally knowledge-based. Women need an education to participate fully and successfully in farming, for instance to achieve good production and acquire business skills are required to sell grain and manage household income. Women who lack access to basic education are likely to be excluded from new opportunities and their families will lag behind.
It is important to have gender sensitive approaches to increase access to literacy, basic math skills, and agricultural extension services. Specific training with mechanisms to manage gender-based biases on access to land, micro-credit, and marketing opportunities are needed to close gaps for women rural women and avoid perpetuating long term gender inequities.