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Food security and gender, cornerstones to the Post-2015 agenda

Government leaders and world food experts called for a ‘global goal on food and nutrition security’ in the Post-2015 development agenda during a high-level consultation on Hunger, Food Security and Nutrition in Madrid, Spain, on 4 April 2013. Handing their newly defined vision to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the group urged ‘universal rights for a food and nutrition secure future for all,’ specifying that gender equality should be promoted.

©FAO/Olivier Asselin

FAO Deputy Director for Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Eve Crowley, who represents the organization in the Post-2015 Development Framework discussions, explains why food security and gender should be top priorities in the global plan that succeeds the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The deadline for theMDGs is soon here, what needs to be done?

We have 1,000 days from the Post-2015 Development Framework meeting in Madrid to achieve the MDGs, which is the same amount of time at the beginning of a human’s life to ensure adequate nutrition and food security, without which we have stunted children, humans who have greater difficulties to live, learn or prosper. At the same time almost 870 million people remain undernourished in 2010-12; a number of hungry people which remains still unacceptably and embarrassingly high.

How can we build on the MDG experience in the UN’s vision for a post-2015 strategy?

The MDGs were very valuable and important as a catalyst to encourage governments and the development community to focus their support on key areas of human development and poverty reduction. They brought a broad set of people around a focused agenda. The Post-2015 development framework, like the MDGs, should be simple, transparent, measurable and easy to communicate.

How should gender feature?

There is really a need to address the underlying social issues more fully. Before gender equality was a separate goal and only had a one target (on education) and three indicators within it. This time around there’s debate about whether gender equality needs to be a strong cross-cutting theme central in all goals with specific targets and indicators for each and every one or whether a separate goal either to reduce inequalities generally or related to gender equality specifically is still needed. Many feel that the best option would be a combination of both, given that some issues, like violence against women or representation in political decision-making, would only be resolved through a focused gender equality goal and are unlikely to be adequately addressed under any of the other themes. In addition, we should think more about marginalized population groups – not only women but indigenous peoples and others. Bringing the perspectives of indigenous peoples into the picture, for example, can help us think about other dimensions of poverty beyond income, and other meanings of food security beyond caloric intake.

What should the Post-2015 development framework include that the Millennium Development Goals did not to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of women?

There are substantive areas that the MDGs did not touch on at all - energy, water and land rights, to give some examples. In the area of gender, one of the issues that has grown a lot in the last few years is that of violence against women as a dimension that underpins other gender-related opportunities and freedoms and which, some estimate, affects 75 percent of women. Violence undermines women’s economic and political empowerment. Without gender-related physical security, you can’t realize any of the other objectives. That has to be addressed when promoting gender equality. A target to increase women’s access to and control over property, including land rights, will also be fundamental for improving gender equality and human well-being across the board, as these assets support poverty reduction, food security, decent employment, resilience to disasters and environmental improvement.

Why should strategies for a durable end to hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition include gender equality and women’s empowerment?

Gender equality is a cornerstone to development, like food security is. Gender equality is fundamental for tapping into the full potential that humanity has to offer. There is a mountain of evidence that shows that greater gender equality can increase the nutritional, educational and health status of households, and can increase labour productivity and food production. Given this evidence, it would be simply foolish to ignore it. And from a rights perspective, whether we’re talking about food security, health, education, labour force, environment, inequalities between men and women are simply unacceptable and a major impediment to any framework for development that aims to be sustainable, irreversible, transformative and universal. A transformational agenda means that the system is set up in a way that both women and men can realize their full potential.

What are some key dimensions of a gender-equitable vision of food security?

There are three building blocks to achieve this vision: sustainable and resilient food production and consumption, good nutrition for all and focusing on agents of transformation. Who are they? These are the women and men small producers and their organizations, family farmers, fishers, livestock keepers, forest users, small entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, indigenous peoples and youth. We must invest in them and help ensure that they have equal access to assets, resources and opportunities, equal access to nutritious food - especially for pregnant women and children in poor countries, equal knowledge and skills including to reduce waste of water, soil, energy and food, and equal voice in the decision-making that influences social, economic and environmental well-being.

Who should take action?

Everyone, especially through enlightened partnerships. Governments play a particularly important role in guaranteeing rights and fair rules of the game and they need to move beyond political commitment to real leadership and accountability on these issues. In the realm of food security, we’re seeing a move away from the public-private dichotomy toward multi-stakeholder platforms, where many different people have a voice. We encourage everyone to get involved so that the Post-2015 agenda will move the world to a new basis for well-being within countries, between countries and across generations.