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Gender Equality for a Zero-Hunger Generation

An interview with Tacko Ndiaye, Senior Gender Officer in the Gender Equity and Rural Development Division at FAO, on the Zero Hunger Challenge Blog.

© FAO / Alessia Pierdomenico

To celebrate International Women’s Month as well as the 2016 African Union Year of Human Rights, staff at the Zero Hunger Challenge Blog sat down with Ms. Ndiaye to talk about the future of women’s rights and empowerment in the Zero Hunger movement, and how zero hunger can advance gender equality.

Tacko Ndiaye is a Senior Gender Officer in the Gender Equity and Rural Development Division at FAO, and previously served as Policy Advisor on Economic Empowerment in UN Women’s Africa Division. Today, her work focuses on advancing gender equality and inclusive growth in the agricultural sector.

Zero Hunger Challenge: Why did you get involved in this type of work?

Tacko Ndiaye: In 2000 I visited a town in Niger to evaluate several rural development programs and saw very young women who were already married and some pregnant at the age of 12 or 13; I saw health centres being built but women wouldn’t go there because their husbands wouldn’t want their wives to be examined by a male doctor; and I saw schools but girls’ enrolment rates were very low. As someone who ultimately wants to see more gender-equal, progressive societies I realized it was places like these where we need to start from.

ZHC: 2016 is the African Union Year of Human Rights, with a focus on women’s human rights. What does “women’s rights” and gender equality mean to you? What does full gender equality in the agricultural sector look like?

TN: In order to achieve gender parity we need to position gender equality in the agricultural sector in a rights based framework, and consider what inclusive agricultural growth means for both men and women. To me, it means understanding the gender entitlement systems in terms of access to land that is the same size and quality as men; access to productive resources including finance, credit, technology, innovations, improved seeds and fertilizers; access to a voice where agricultural policies are being formulated; and equal participation in rural institutions and local governments. It also means access to business development opportunities along agricultural chains and access to markets. Most importantly, however it means access to safe, nutritious, affordable and available food that meets the nutritional needs of women, including women of reproductive age—so women who are breastfeeding and women who are pregnant.

ZHC: How does empowering women and girls as agents of change make a difference for Zero Hunger? What has that looked like in your experience?

TN: Empowering women and girls is the best pathway for a Zero Hunger Generation. It is clear that women’s access to productive resources leads to productive gains, enhanced growth and improved outcomes for the next generation. One example of this is the correlation between both women’s education and nutritional status and the health, well-being and nutritional status of their children. Looking at data from Togo on chronic malnutrition among rural children less than 5-years-old, the rates of malnutrition are near 33% among children whose mothers have no education; 25% when mother has a primary education; and 18% when the mother has a secondary education. Thus, investing in the education of rural women has a long-lasting positive effect on the survival and healthy development of their children.

ZHC: What types of policies or initiatives already exist through ECOWAS to champion women as leaders, farmers and entrepreneurs – in agribusiness, rural communities and otherwise? How can these be scaled up?

TN: We are currently working with ECOWAS to do a policy diagnosis of the National Agricultural Investment Plans (NAIPs) in the ECOWAS region. Based on this analysis we have carried out a policy diagnosis to see how they have or have not addressed the existing gender inequalities in each country. This analysis is then used to influence the implementation of the NAIP in terms of the financing, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms towards polices that are gender responsive. All of this work then feeds into ECOWAS’s ability to develop a Gender in Agriculture Action Plan that can be discussed and developed by the inter-governmental bodies in order to influence the second generation of NAIPs so that they address women’s needs and priorities.

ZHC: What role does data, technology and innovation play in mainstreaming gender equality in the agricultural sector?

TN: First off, data is key for gender responsive policy making and budget allocation. Why? Because when you’re working on gender equality issues it is very important to know what the baseline is. If you don’t have a baseline you can’t project what is needed for improvement; which is why data is essential to gender mainstreaming and measurement of progress.

In addition to data, technology and innovation is essential to unleash the potential of women farmers and to allow them to prosper and benefit equally from inclusive agricultural growth. The best types of technology or innovation for gender mainstreaming are labour-saving technologies; affordable technologies; climate smart and energy efficient technologies. All of these types of technology are female-friendly in that they enhance women’s productivity and income as well as preserve women’s health and well-being! One good example is a machine used to smoke fish which reduces both the women’s workload but also her exposure to indoor smoke and pollution.

ZHC: How can we measure if steps towards gender equality in the agricultural sector are being taken?

TN: To inform programs and activities it’s a good idea to conduct Country Gender Assessments, which are very much about policy diagnosis. During these assessments, if your analysis articulates gender disparities in several areas you have far better chances to get those reflected and addressed in the results framework and budget allocation so that you can highlight the issues in terms of gender inequalities, opportunities, and incentives. Within these Country Gender Assessments we recommend evaluating the following factors: gender responsive service delivery; inclusive value chains; equal access to the productive resources and opportunities; issues around social protection; capacity building and strengthening of rural institutions; financial inclusion; and the technologies and innovations used to reduce a women’s workload, increase her productivity, and diversify her sources of income.

ZHC: Where will the investment come from to fund the types of programs and initiatives needed to push for gender equality in the agricultural sector?

TN: In terms of financing gender responsive measures in the agricultural sector we must distinguish between investment and financial inclusion. Financial inclusion means redefining risk and supporting financial institutions that have high performance and that reach large numbers of women, including those in poverty. It also means providing a range of financial services beyond credit or financing, it’s about insurance and other diverse services around the agricultural sector. This type of funding may come from bilateral and multilateral sources in addition to the host country, but is primarily the host country’s responsibility to decide from where and how investment will be sourced.

ZHC: What can governments and other stakeholders do to ensure gender equality is mainstreamed in policies and programmes for zero hunger?

TN: In short, they can engage with and consult different groups of constituencies around Zero Hunger; work to strengthen gender analytical expertise; improve training and capacity building; leverage women’s voices during the policy-making process; and support women’s advocacy platforms.

ZHC: What do you see as being the most important actions that can be taken through zero hunger for gender equality; and vice versa?

TN: One of the most obvious is education. Education of mothers has a tremendous impact on children’s nutritional status; so access to education is key. In addition, helping women boost their productive potential through equal access to productive resources and technology is very important when it comes to reducing women’s work burden, especially the unpaid women’s work burden. Finally, encouraging governments to start allocating a portion of their budgets towards gender equality and women’s empowerment will soon be necessary, otherwise all these examples will just remain wishful thinking.

ZHC: What would you say to women and girls looking to make a difference in your field?

TN: There is a lot to be done so the more the merrier! You don’t always have to enter the field through the hard sciences, I’m a demographer not an agricultural scientist but I have the passion for empowering women in agriculture because that’s where poverty begins. In Africa most women work in agriculture—so the same people who are feeding the world are also the poorest and the ones who have the least access to high quality or nutritious food. So I would say it is this passion to help empower these women that drives our work in this area and so that’s where you should start.