Women's empowerment for food security and nutrition for all: evidence from joint UN work

Measuring the impact and results of a multiagency programme on rural women’s economic empowerment.

©FAO/Isaac Kasamani

Since its launch in October 2012, the UN joint programme on “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” (JP RWEE) has empowered thousands of rural women, men and families in communities around the world. Working together through the programme’s integrated, layered approach, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women have reached 51 180 participants (40 227 women and 10 953 men), as well as over 465 000 household members (directly and indirectly) in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.

By encouraging policy environments that are conducive to women’s economic empowerment, and by helping to increase women’s incomes and enhance their decision-making power, the JP RWEE has succeeded in improving food and nutrition security not only for women, but also for their families and communities.

In recognizing these and other achievements of the JP RWEE, a special side event was held during the Forty-fifth Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The event, entitled “Women's empowerment for food security and nutrition for all: evidence from joint UN work,” was co-organized by IFAD, FAO, WFP and UN Women, along with the governments of Sweden and Norway. It presented emerging lessons on the impact and results of the JP RWEE, including innovative methodologies to measure women’s empowerment in food security and nutrition.

To open the session, Carin Jämtin, Director-General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, noted the importance of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment in ensuring the right to adequate food, achieving food security, and improving nutrition for all. “This is even more important today, when evidence continues to signal a rise in world hunger, returning to levels from almost a decade ago,” she said.

Ms Jämtin’s message was followed by a short video illustrating JP RWEE achievements in Nepal. Gerald Gunther, UN Women Representative in Kyrgyzstan, then delivered a keynote presentation on JP RWEE implementation in Kyrgyzstan, in which he discussed impact, outcomes and results from the programme’s first evaluation.

In highlighting specific benefits of the JP RWEE, Mr Gunther noted the value of a collaborative, multiagency approach for achieving better results. He also cited the importance of the Gender Action Learning System (GALS) in facilitating real change in household gender relations and in enabling women to become economic actors and decision-makers.

Plenary discussion

The GALS approach was further discussed during the panelist presentations that followed, as Ndaya Beltchika, Lead Technical Specialist for Gender and Social Inclusion at IFAD, commented on key results and findings from the evaluation of household methodologies in JP RWEE countries.

Ms Beltchika touched on the various advantages and benefits of GALS, not only in the context of project- and programme-level application, but also in terms of the transformative changes that are required to achieve the 2030 Agenda. She cited a growing body of evidence confirming that the GALS approach ensures both better and more sustainable results in gender equality and women’s empowerment, and noted that this was supported by the evaluation of the JP RWEE in Kyrgyzstan: the project cohort that used GALS had significantly greater and more sustainable results than the cohort that did not, particularly with respect to household well-being and livelihoods, joint financial planning and the distribution of assets.

Susan Kaaria, Senior Gender Officer at FAO, presented an overview of results from a qualitative and quantitative assessment of JP RWEE beneficiaries in Ethiopia, using the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI).

As Ms Kaaria explained, the WEAI is an innovative, survey-based tool that measures women's empowerment in agricultural development, in particular across the domains of production, resources, income, leadership and time. By applying the WEAI to the needs of the JP RWEE in Ethiopia, the team developed a project-specific variation, known as the Project-Level WEAI or Pro-WEAI, which features additional indicators for individual empowerment, intrahousehold relationships, physical mobility, nutrition and health.

A key strength of the Pro-WEAI is that it is both qualitative and quantitative: each aspect of the assessment informs, supports and supplements the other. Using the baseline findings of the Pro-WEAI survey in Ethiopia, Ms Kaaria highlighted many of the significant differences between men and women with respect to productive activities, control over income, time use and mobility.

In follow-up to the presentations from UN Women, FAO and IFAD, attendees then heard from Ibrahim Bangana, Technical Advisor at the Ministry of Agriculture in the Niger, who offered a country-based perspective on the value of holistic, multisectoral approaches such as that of the JP RWEE.

Mr Bangana confirmed that the JP RWEE had extremely positive results in the Niger, especially with regard to improved nutrition and food security. In particular, he noted the benefit of ensuring synergy among the agencies’ best practices and approaches, including those related to project coordination, implementation, and community engagement and knowledge-sharing (for example, through the use of Dimitra Clubs for men, women and youth). This maximizes the impact of the programme, as each component contributes to broader results.

Closing remarks and way forward

Per Mogstad, Senior Advisor for UN Policy at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then spoke on the importance of investing in joint initiatives for women’s empowerment. He discussed the ways in which the JP RWEE reflects Norway’s key priorities for international development, not only in terms of women's empowerment as part of a human rights-based approach, but also in terms of integrated approaches that build synergies between different UN agencies.

To conclude the event, Amir Abdulla, Deputy Executive Director of WFP, offered closing remarks and reflections on the way forward. He cited the commitment of all present — UN agencies, government partners, donors, and the overall development community — to the JP RWEE, and underscored the importance of continued commitment from all sides. “The women that we serve though this programme — they clearly believe in it,” he said. “Let’s help more women reach their destiny.”


Click here to watch a recording of the event.