Empowering women to leave no one behind

FAO and African Union launch Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems

28 October 2020, Rome/Harare - Agrifood systems cannot be transformed unless there is gender equality. That was the simple message underlying the launch today of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union that puts the spotlight on women's role in agrifood systems.

The report, Leaving no one behind: A Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems, was launched by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu and African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture Josefa Sacko at the 31st Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa.

"Rural women are the pillars of our food systems and agents of change for food security and climate justice. But they're also disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, exclusion and the effects of climate change," UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said by video message at the launch.

"This excellent report will make an important contribution to the (2021 UN) Food Systems Summit and to policies and strategies that empower rural women and girls in Africa," she said.

"According to the findings of the report we are launching today, we must step up our efforts to create an enabling environment for rural women's empowerment and entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector," Director-General QU said. "I am confident that our joint efforts will pave the way for a more empowered future for rural women and girls in Africa."

Leaving no one behind

Commissioner Sacko commended the Director-General for the solid partnership and joint efforts to contribute to the evidence base for women's empowerment.

"When we talk about empowerment, we have to have a scientific evidence base to advise policy makers, and this report contributes to that effort," Commissioner Sacko said. "Women play a substantial role in African agriculture, but it is not sufficiently appreciated or documented."

Based on a review of 40 country gender assessments of agriculture and rural livelihoods, the report provides an in-depth review of the challenges and best practices to empower women in priority areas of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and the Malabo Declaration.

The ways forward

The report makes recommendations to promote gender equality and women's empowerment to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the African Union's Agenda 2063, including:

  • Developing gender-sensitive and gender-targeted activities in food security, nutrition, and resilience. For example, programs that deliver money to beneficiaries through mobile phones help close gender gaps by overcoming mobility constraints and decreasing reliance on official documentation that women may find difficult to obtain.
  • Scaling up female entrepreneurship and women's empowerment in agribusiness. Several countries have set up specific funds for women-owned agribusinesses. For example, the Imbita Eswatini Women's Finance Trust provides microloans for rural women with no collateral requirements and no requirement for a husband's approval. To date, the fund has distributed EU 15 million.
  • Ensuring public-private partnership is inclusive to women to enhance their participation in value chains.

The challenges

In Africa, women are the backbone of their households, communities and rural economies, as food producers, processors, and marketers. They usually lead nutrition decisions for the family.

The dramatic effects of climate change coupled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic mean women face multiple challenges. The number of people suffering from hunger is rising, and women are more likely than men to be food insecure.

Improving women's status and harnessing their potential as "food heroes" will be critical to ending hunger in Africa, the report argues.

The President of the Panafrican Farmers Organization (PAFO) Elizabeth Nsimadala agrees. She urged greater partnerships to address inequality. "In Africa, inequalities between women and men are among the greatest in the world," she said via video message at the launch. "Together, we can improve the status of rural women."

Barriers we can remove together

Women often have only tenuous access to land - farming with short-term agreements from family or traditional authorities. These fragile rights can disappear overnight, preventing women from planning ahead or engaging in long term conservation farming.

Women benefit less from advanced agricultural processes and tools, agricultural services and training, and have less access to rural financing. They tend to use manual equipment, and purchase fertilizer less often.

Women face barriers to participate in larger-scale and more remunerative value chains. They often lack knowledge on trade standards needed to expand their business, especially phytosanitary standards which involve specialized knowledge. With lower education rates and discriminatory legal environments, women lack access to opportunity, affecting the food security of themselves and their children.

Photo: ©FAO/
Launch of the Report on Africa Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems. Pictured from Left: FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu; H.E. Ambassador Josefa Sacko; Elizabeth Nsimadala, PAFO; Clara Park, FAO Gender Officer.