International Women’s Day: Closing the gender gap in agriculture
Empowering women is essential to achieving a world without hunger. This is the message highlighted by the Rome-based UN agencies and partners during this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) teamed up with the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) in a joint event to commemorate International Women’s Day 2014, titled “Closing the gender gap in agriculture’’.
Hosted at FAO, the event was opened by FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, who stressed the importance of rural women for the future of global food security, particularly in the context of family farming.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva shared an example of women's empowerment from the Zero Hunger Program in Brazil.
“Family farmers are the dominant force in global food production,” said Graziano da Silva. “Rural women are an important part of this, not just as farmers but also in processing and preparing food, and in local markets. There is no doubt in our mind that increasing support of family farming in general, and to women in particular, can improve food security and nutrition.”
He welcomed the event as “an opportunity to share experiences of effective ways to reduce gender gaps for our common cause, which is to end hunger and make food systems sustainable,’’ adding that, “as this year´s [UN] celebration points out: equality for women is progress for all.’’
IFAD Vice-President Michel Mordasini also highlighted how empowering women means empowering families.
“Closing the gender gap in agriculture is not just a women’s issue, it is a whole family issue,” said Mordasini. “Numerous studies show that when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family. It is not surprising therefore that there is a strong correlation between women’s empowerment and reduced rates of malnutrition.”
A better future for all
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin reiterated the Rome-based UN agencies’ full commitment to closing the gender gap in agriculture.
WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin noted that the gender gap is still “wide and deep”, citing examples of how female farmers have less access to land, fertilizers and machinery as well as financial and extension services.
“Closing the gender gap is everyone’s business,” Cousin continued. “Empowering women means that the entire family benefits, it means that the entire community benefits, it means the entire country benefits and ultimately the entire global world benefits.”
“We ask that member states fully consider and promote the resilience of women and ensure that gender equality lies at the heart of the post-2015 global framework,’’ she said.
Keynote speaker Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and current head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, discusses the importance of climate change, gender equality and food security for sustainable global development.
Keynote speaker H.E. Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and current head of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice emphasized that for global development to be sustainable the issues of climate change, gender equality and food security must all go hand in hand.
“The right to food is not an abstract commitment, it is a fact of life and something we are committed to providing for every man, woman and child on the planet,” H.E. Robinson stated. “We can no longer treat it as an aspiration.”
“If we want to support the empowerment of women we have to start with girls,” she continued. “Girls growing up have to understand, right from the very beginning, that they are equal to their brothers, that they are important members of their families. The role of fathers is incredibly important in relation to girls – if they are valued by their fathers, that’s empowering for girls.”
IFPRI Director-General Shenggen Fan cited the importance of integrating gender into research and the need for “systematic evidence” to better understand gender gaps in agriculture and to move from “knowledge to action”. “We found that addressing gender gaps is critical for the success of agricultural development programs,” he added.
Talip Kilic, a research economist from the World Bank’s Poverty and Inequality Group, shared data from surveys undertaken in six different African countries – Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda – but stressed that the gender gap changes dramatically across different settings and that more country-specific data needs to be gathered to formulate effective national policies.
Experts from many different countries shared their perspectives on how best to close the gender gap.
Men and women working together
In the panel debate that followed, experts from UN and partner organizations shared their perspectives on the gender gap.
Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, Natural Resources, stressed that closing the gap depends on equal and shared involvement from both sides: “Men and women should be fully part of the decision-making process at all levels,” she summed up.
The panelists discussed progress to date in terms of increased awareness of gender issues, further recognition of rural women’s invaluable contributions to agriculture and greater availability of gender-disaggregated data. In addition, they noted an increase in development research and new studies that examine the role of women in agricultural productivity, as well as the causes and consequences of the gender gap and how best to address it.
They also showcased significant work in gender equality and rural women’s empowerment, including improvements to outdated legislation in countries such as Mali, Uganda and Viet Nam.
In addition to Semedo, the panelists included H.E. Tehmina Janjua, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Irene Khan, Director-General, IDLO; Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General NR, FAO; Elisabeth Rasmusson, Assistant Executive Director, Partnership and Governance Services, WFP; Hoonae Kim, Director, Asia and Pacific Region, IFAD and Rose Akaki, member of WFO – Uganda (Kampala). The event was moderated by British journalist and broadcaster Juliette Foster.