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Giving women in Guatemala a voice in food security and nutrition

© FAO/Mariela Molina

FAO helps Guatemala implement a gender equality policy

Key Facts

In August 2016, the government of Guatemala took a stand for rural women and indigenous peoples when its Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA) ratified its first policy for gender equality in the areas of national food security, nutrition and rural development.

The new policy aims to abolish the discrimination that rural women and indigenous peoples in Guatemala face on a daily basis. Women can use the policy to hold the Ministry accountable to reduce inequalities in rural areas and to promote the empowerment of rural women in the political arena. In this way, the policy not only guarantees that women’s voices are heard in rural development processes, but also grants them access to agricultural resources and technical assistance.

The policy was developed in consultation with women’s groups and a range of diverse stakeholders. It is a milestone in implementing the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), of which Guatemala is one of the 189 state parties. 

While gender equality in Guatemala has improved in recent years, male hegemony still strongly characterizes the culture, particularly in rural areas.

Men typically manage the material, social and political resources and make the decisions. In rural Guatemala, domestic tasks are considered to be women’s primary responsibilities and take precedence over income-generating activities. Women often have low levels of education and rural areas offer them very few formal employment opportunities. If rural women do work on their family farms, they do not get paid nor do they get any recognition for the work they do as farmers.

As men are increasingly migrating elsewhere, women are now beginning to gain more recognition as farmers; although they still face discrimination, such as lower pay. Cultural perceptions also discourage women’s participation in farmer groups and cooperatives. Moreover, women farmers have very low rates of land ownership in Guatemala (only 7.8% of land owners are women), which makes it difficult for them to obtain credit and undermines their decision-making power.

“It is no secret that rural women in Guatemala face multiple challenges in many aspects of their life, not least of which are limited access to land, training and credit. They also have difficulty finding decent employment opportunities due to the multiple forms of discrimination they encounter based on their gender, socio-economic status and the geographic area where they live,” said Milvian Aspuac, Coordinator of the Women’s Association for Development.

Turning policies into practice

To address this inequality, FAO is helping the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food (MAGA) to improve its capacity for developing not only the gender equality policy but also those organizational processes and mechanisms that help promote gender equality. FAO is also assisting the Ministry in turning those policies into practice.

“As a party to CEDAW, Guatemala recognizes the critical role that women play in rural economic development and food security, but we needed help to comply with its legal obligations to implement the Convention’s provisions,” explained Floridalma Lopez Sincal, Head of the Gender Unit of MAGA.

This is why Guatemala first turned to FAO in 2013, requesting FAO’s technical advice to support the activities of the Special Cabinet for Women formed the year before.  FAO first convened 20 ministerial directors to build awareness on the inclusion of rural women in food security and rural development projects. The outcome was a better understanding of rural women’s rights and of how gender equality and women’s empowerment improves food security and reduces poverty.

In order to influence policy making and leverage the unique strengths and growing collaboration among different institutions, FAO helped to establish a Technical Working Group on Rural Development that would work across institutions and sectors with a focus on gender and indigenous peoples. Finally, through a broad consultation process lasting between 2016 and 2017, FAO helped MAGA to map out the implementation, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms of the gender equality policy, accompanied by awareness raising events to sensitise the public and spark a cultural change.  

A milestone in gender equality

Guatemala’s cultural shift is thanks to FAO and other UN agencies, whose joint efforts eased government officials and civil society into working more closely together to promote rural development in the country. This ‘behind the scenes’ work played an important role in strengthening the political will in Guatemala to formulate and endorse a gender equality policy.

The policy on gender equality of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food was put into place in 2016. “There is no doubt that this is a milestone towards furthering gender equality in agriculture and rural development in the country” said Felipe Orellana, Vice Minister for Rural Development of MAGA. With this policy, Guatemala is ensuring that one of its objectives, that of achieving progressive and lasting improvement in the quality of life of rural and indigenous women, will become a reality.

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