Empowering rural women: a solution to end hunger

FAO’s Deputy Director of Social Protection, Brave Ndisale, spoke on behalf of the Organization at this year’s Conference on Tropical and Subtropical Agricultural and Natural Resource Management (Tropentag 2015) in Berlin, Germany.

Photo by Flickr user "Tropentag" / CC BY

Tropentag is an annual international conference on research in food security, natural resource management and rural development.This year's conference was held from 16-18 September at the Humboldt University of Berlin in Germany.

Ms Ndisale delivered a keynote address to the plenary session on the first day of the high-level conference, emphasizing the crucial role that rural women can play in the fight to end hunger, particularly if engaged and empowered.

In the context of this year’s conference theme, “Management of land use systems for enhanced food security”, she also underscored the importance of ensuring that women farmers have secure and equitable access to land, and discussed FAO’s work at the global, national and community level in this regard.

Partners on board

At the global level, Ms Ndisale highlighted the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, endorsed by the Committee on Food Security in 2012. Gender equality is one of the ten core principles of the Guidelines, which make a specific call to governments to remove any and all legal inequalities that limit women’s access to land.

“Why is this important for fostering women’s empowerment?  Because not only do the Guidelines emphasize the significance of tenure rights and security for the vulnerable and marginalized, they also have a specific principle on gender.”

Ms Ndisale reported that many partners are on board to implement the Voluntary Guidelines. “For example, Brazil has been one of the first to use Voluntary Guidelines as reference document on land,” she said, adding that “Sierra Leone is conducting a detailed review of legislation on the context of the Guidelines, and focusing also on gender-equitable laws and regulations.” “With the funding of the European Union and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, FAO will support the implementation of the Land Governance Programme in Africa in line with the African Union agenda on land and in partnership with the UN ECA Land Policy Initiative.”

Informed decisions

At the national level Ms Ndisale noted that data, information and statistics are crucial for policy-makers, legislators, and human rights advocates to make informed decisions regarding secure and equitable access to land for both men and women. In this respect, she cited FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database as a key resource for up-to-date country-level information on “the major factors, whether political, legal and cultural, that influence the realisation of women’s land rights throughout the world.”

“At present, the database contains over 80 regularly updated country profiles. You can get information on gender-specific land-related statistics that has been analysed from national agricultural censuses and surveys, and you can get information on national policy and legal frameworks related to men and women’s land rights.”

Concrete actions

To illustrate FAO’s work at the community level, she shared two success stories from the Dimitra project, which sets up listener’s clubs in rural communities across Sub-Saharan Africa. Dimitra clubs are equipped with solar-powered radios and cellphones, so that when club members (men, women and youth) discuss shared development challenges and work together to find solutions, their conversations are aired on partnering radio stations. This stimulates discussions in other Dimitra clubs, which are broadcast in turn and keep the conversation going among all the area clubs, while also fostering concrete actions within and across communities.

Ms Ndisale said that “thanks to such platforms, 600 women in the Banizoumbou province of Niger (where governance of tenure is largely customary), now have secure access to land. They have acquired a 99-year lease contract for a plot of 2.75 hectares.” “This gives an assurance of long term agricultural investment on the land for food security and nutrition both for family consumption and for sale in the markets of Niamey,” she added.

“In the Democratic Republic of Congo, women of the Dimitra listener’s club joined forces to create a savings and loan cooperative, which enabled even the poorest households to buy agricultural inputs and thus improve their food security and nutrition.”

Gender and social protection

Finally, Ms Ndisale discussed the importance of integrating social protection and gender to reduce hunger, address inequalities between rural men and women and empower rural women. “FAO’s work on gender and social protection shows that social protection programmes, if well designed and implemented, offer greater potential for the economic and social empowerment of rural women and provide a viable solution to end hunger, especially if they are complemented with other livelihood interventions.”



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