Parliamentarians gather for virtual dialogue on COVID-19 responses

Discussion centers on gender-responsive policy measures for resilient food systems

25/06/2020 - 

Parliamentarians from around the world met on June 18 for the first in a series of virtual dialogues on parliamentary action for gender equality and resilient food systems in response to Covid-19. These dialogues, hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Oxfam, will offer parliamentarians a platform to share their experiences on various topics across regions.


In the first webinar of the series, parliamentarians from Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean had an opportunity to exchange lessons learned and share good practices on gender-sensitive approaches to food security and nutrition during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.


Welcoming the participants to the discussion, Marcela Villareal, Director of Partnerships at FAO, emphasized the importance of parliamentarians as key development actors. Given their legislative, budgetary and policy oversight responsibilities, parliamentarians play a central role in establishing an enabling political and legislative environment which can lead to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 2, Zero Hunger and SDG 5, Gender Equality.  The COVID19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated how important it is to strengthen multilateral and multi-stakeholder cooperation and action to fully address the challenges we face. 


Jocelyn Brown Hall, FAO’s Deputy Regional Representative for Africa, echoed these sentiments, agreeing that regulations, laws and policies are the key to creating an enabling environment to empower women, end poverty and hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. She referenced the meeting of African Ministers of Agriculture, jointly convened by the African Union Commission and FAO in April, where the ministers, mindful of Africa’s commitment to end hunger by 2025, pledged to redouble their efforts and concentrate on actions which would ensure food security and nutrition for all citizens, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Tacko Ndiaye, Senior Gender Officer with FAO, laid the groundwork for the discussion with a sobering presentation on the current state of food security and nutrition in the world and its implications for gender equality. She highlighted broad policy recommendations that could mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural women and girls, stressing the need to ensure women’s participation in social protection interventions, agri-food value chains and formal and informal networks which contribute to the COVID-19 response.

Her Excellency Dr. Siga Fatima Jagne, ECOWAS Commissioner for Social Affairs and Gender, spoke of the challenges that the pandemic has created in the 15 states of the ECOWAS region, while recognizing women farmers and producers as guardians of food security. The ECOWAS experience has shown that an interdisciplinary approach is needed to solve problems, as questions of food security and nutrition rarely exist in isolation: interventions must also take into account issues such as displacement, disaster risk reduction and humanitarian needs.


Following the opening remarks, parliamentarians took the floor to share how COVID-19 had affected food security, nutrition and gender issues in their respective regions, and the measures which had been taken to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, particularly on women. 


The Honorable Jairo Flores, General Coordinator of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean, stressed that laws with technical and scientific backing are important for real change. In the Americas, laws on school feeding have helped to ensure that school children receive food during the pandemic even in the face of school closures. In April, more than 500 parliamentarians in the region published an open letter as COVID-19 spread, calling on countries not to neglect the fight against hunger and malnutrition during the pandemic. Since then, members of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger in Latin America have taken actions to protect against food insecurity in their countries, including promoting laws to support family farming and food donations and working to ensure that school food deliveries were carried out following the proper health protocols.


MEP Soraya Rodriguez closed the first panel discussion with a reminder that gender-sensitive responses have the potential to help entire communities. Empowering rural women and women farmers, by guaranteeing access to land, agricultural inputs and credit, she said, will benefit not only the women themselves, but the whole planet. 


The second session of the webinar was preceded by a brief presentation by Ana Regina Segura Martínez of the Spanish Agency for International development and Cooperation (AECID) on the agency’s work in support of parliamentary action and gender equality. Within the framework of the initiative Latin America and the Caribbean without hunger, AECID has actively supported the development of parliamentary fronts against hunger, and has worked in the ECOWAS region on a gender initiative to support women entrepreneurs. 


The discussion then explored key actions that parliamentarians can take to encourage women’s participation in safeguarding food security and nutrition, both during the current pandemic and beyond. The Honorable Teresa Cálix Raudales, a deputy from Honduras and Coordinator of the Parliamentary Front against Hunger in Mesoamerica, stressed the importance of women’s participation in legislative processes. Many laws in support of food security and family farmers, both within Honduras and across the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, exist in part thanks to the efforts, coordination and political will of parliamentary women.


The Honorable Abdoulaye Vilane, Chairperson of the ECOWAS Network of Parliamentarians on Gender Equality, Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Security, called for concrete actions on the part of parliamentarians to ensure food security and nutrition, as well as support to vulnerable populations. He reiterated the commitment of the ECOWAS Parliamentary Network to advance gender-sensitive responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this regard, the ECOWAS Parliamentary Network offers a high-level permanent discussion forum between parliamentarians, policy makers, civil society, farmers and experts to promote gender-transformative policy change in various areas.


The Honorable Mathias Kasamba, Chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources, East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), gave examples from EALA partner states of the steps that are being taken to empower women as equal partners. These range from dedicating specific funding to the economic empowerment of women working in food and agricultural value chains, to ensuring that a certain percentage of political appointments are allocated to women. Parliamentarians must work with communities and civil society to bring about true change, and keep in mind that agriculture is one of the biggest resources. “If you empower people to have food,” he said in closing, “then you can begin to talk about education, and everything else.”


At the end of the virtual dialogue, a Call for Action addressed to all parliamentarians was read by the Honorable Francoise Uwumukiza of the East African Legislative Assembly. The declaration intends to increase parliamentary efforts to place gender equality and food and nutrition security at the center of the political agenda, both in responses to COVID-19 and beyond the pandemic.


A video of the full dialogue can be found here.


The text of the Call for Action is available in English and French.