For more women in agribusiness and foreign trade


The Brazilian agricultural and livestock sector was responsible for 25% of the country’s GDP in 2022, but how much of such a large sector is led by women’s hands? Understanding the reality of women’s work in agriculture and cattle raising is essential to increase women’s participation in the sector and promote gender equality. The issue is so relevant that it ranks fifth among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global pact signed during the United Nations Summit in 2015 by its 193 member states, including Brazil.

In the world context, women were significantly introduced into the labor market after World War II. In Brazil, the most remarkable increase in the female labor force happened in the 1970s. And it was only in 2006 that the participation of women in the sector began to be estimated by the Agricultural Census of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

According to the latest Agricultural Census of 2017, women are still the minority of all people working in rural areas. In 2006, women represented 30% of the labor force, while in 2017 this number had increased to 29%. Compared to the total number of people working in Brazil, the National Household Sample Survey (PNAD) of 2017 showed 42.5% of female predominance in the employed personnel in the country.

When we talk about gender equality, another very important factor to consider is the distribution of leadership posts. In the case of agribusiness, of the little more than 5 million farming premises in the country, 19% are managed by women. In 2006, this amount was 13%, in a total of 5.2 million rural properties. As a comparison, in 2012 the United States had 14% of agricultural properties under the management of women, a number that rose to 29% in 2017.

This reality is seen not only in the agricultural and livestock sector. The document “Women in Foreign Trade,” recently released by the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Services (MDIC), points out that in Brazil only 14% of exporting companies belong to women. In the statistics of female participation in the total amount of jobs in exporting companies, this number reached 29% in 2020, the same result obtained in the Agricultural Census. The MDIC study mentions data from the World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) showing that international trade has a positive effect on gender equality and helps women join the formal economy and get jobs with better advantages.

The WTO itself has a specific agenda focused on gender issues. The Organization argues that international trade can leverage female empowerment and that trade policies that consider this aspect foster gender equality. In the Brazilian case, the challenge is twofold: to increase the number of players in foreign trade and to achieve gender equity.

The issue is a complex one and demands efforts from all economic sectors. The way forward involves the development of adequate public policies and the implementation of business practices aimed at inclusion, non-discrimination, qualification, and ensuring opportunities for women. One must view the issue sensibly. Assertiveness in the development of these agendas requires knowledge of the reality and acknowledgment of the need for change. For this reason, the inclusion of gender indicators in the Agricultural Census and studies such as the one prepared by MDIC are so important.

An instance of such an initiative was the launching, at the end of 2022, of the National Commission of Women in Agribusiness by the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). Currently, a little less than 5% of the almost 2 thousand rural unions are headed by women. The Commission’s work is aimed at increasing the representation of women in the union system. With delegates from all the State Agriculture Federations, the Commission’s work is divided into three courses of action: strengthening of leadership positions, creation of state women’s groups, and institutional and political representation of the CNA/SENAR System.

Another good reference is Women Inside Trade (WIT), a group founded in 2017, which gathers women from academia, the public and private sectors, at different stages of their careers, working in Brazil and abroad, whose mission is to foster the introduction of more women into international trade and the professional development of those who already work in different activities in this sector, by strengthening networks, qualified debates, training, and strategic partnerships. Currently, there are roughly 470 female professionals formally enrolled in this group.

The advancements accomplished and still needed in SDG 5, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” are not only the merit and/or responsibility of women but of everyone. Just as the issues arising from inequity and the benefits of an inclusive society are shared by all who live in it.

‌*Sueme Mori is the Director of International Relations at the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA). With the collaboration of Elena Castellani, International Relations Advisor at CNA.

This article was originally published in Broadcast.