Director-General  QU Dongyu

FAO’s Women’s Committee celebrates its second birthday


18 October 2021, Rome – The FAO Women’s Committee today held a special celebratory VirtualiTea to mark the Committee’s second anniversary in the presence of FAO’s Director-General QU Dongyu and Her Excellency Epsy Alejandra Campbell Barr, First Vice-President of the Republic of Costa Rica.

Expressing his pleasure in participating in the event, the Director-General said that the Women’s Committee played a part in keeping the FAO family together during successive lockdowns related to COVID-19 and now, as much of the world returns to a more normal working situation, he urged the Committee to maintain these events which, he said, has consistently showcased ideas and actions that can empower women - and through them FAO.

Under the leadership of FAO’s Deputy Director-General Marie Helena Semedo, he said, the Women’s Committee “has helped the Organization to build a space where women can express themselves openly and share their experiences on issues of concern, both professional and personal, with women colleagues, and men, across all the FAO Offices worldwide.”

“The Women’s Committee is drawing attention to and supporting the work carried out by FAO’s Gender Team, particularly mainstreaming gender equality and women’s empowerment across all the activities of the Organization, to meet the UN System-Wide Strategy on Gender Parity” he said.

The Director-General reminded participants that this year’s World Food Day was marked on Friday, October 15th (a day ahead of its official date) which was also International Day of Rural Women. “Women are the backbone of the rural world – and by extension – of agriculture” he said. “We must advocate for their better and increased representation in leadership, governance, and decision-making roles, as well as for equal access to resources, services, and socio-economic opportunities.

Women are also primary family care givers – from preparing meals to taking care of children and the elderly to running households and providing financially for their families. All these activities – carried out by women – are crucial to ensure better production, better nutrition, better environment and a better life for everyone - which is at the core of FAO’s new Strategic Framework 2022-2031.”  

Concluding his intervention, the Director-General said that the FAO Women’s Committee’s work “inspires us all to think differently and innovatively, in empowering the next generation of women to be guardians of our natural resources, for our shared future and that of our planet.”

The anniversary VirtualiTea was moderated by Mina Dowlatchahi, Vice Chair of the FAO Women’s Committee (and Director of FAO’s Project Support Division), who reminded participants that the Committee was established by the Director-General – and that this latest intervention was his fifth time participating in a VirtualiTea. 

The celebratory event welcomed special guest - Her Excellency Epsy Alejandra Campbell Barr, First Vice-President of the Republic of Costa Rica whom Dowlatchahi described as “a true trailblazer, an activist fully engaged in pushing for social, gender and racial equity in her country and elsewhere.”

Campbell Barr, Costa Rica’s first black First Vice–President, served as head of the Center for Women of African Descent, the Alliance of Leaders of African descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Black Parliament of the Americas  Dowlatchahi congratulated Costa Rica for today receiving the newly-established Earthshot Prize (presided over by the UK’s Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge) to continue its sustainability and conservation efforts in curbing deforestation, planting trees and restoring ecosystems.

First Vice-President Campbell Barr spoke about her career path, about the importance of knowledge and education, having a sense of mission and discipline “to contribute the best of yourself for a better society.”

In her never-less than rousing intervention she underlined the importance of solidarity, passion, and compassion. “Every day we must work at being a better person to build a better community, society, and a better world” she said.  

She spoke of mentors and influences - including her mother and father (who gave her a sense of mission, she said) and Nelson Mandela whose entire life was influential. She spoke of the challenges inherent in her ethnicity (a black woman in a white society) and the problems facing indigenous people who have not traditionally been part of traditional power structures. COVID-19 revealed the inequality of society, she added – particularly the iniquitous situation of rural people across the globe.

A lively question-and-answer session followed where the First Vice-President continued to inspire and motivate her interrogators.

The Women’s Committee Chair and FAO’s Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo concluded the virtual event reminding all those present of the Committee’s raison d’être.

She thanked First Vice President Campbell Barr, FAO’s Director-General, and FAO’s Assistant Director General Rene Castro. “Working together, across the house and beyond, I believe we [the FAO Women’s Committee] are making incredible stride towards empowering women and achieving gender parity” she said.

She also mentioned past VirtualiTeas - with fashion designer Stella Jean, for example, who spoke of ethical fashion which, in turn, gave birth to an exciting collaboration with FAO’s Mountain Partnership programme and the Topchu Artisans Group in Kyrgyzstan, which was recently featured in Vogue magazine and spotlighted on the Sustainable and Climate Resilient Mountain Development panel of the Dubai Expo 2021.

Lastly, she spoke of the upcoming launch of FAO’s first-ever Mentorship Programme, co-sponsored by the FAO Women’s and Youth Committees, and underlined how togetherness - women together with women and men – will bring all of us everywhere to a better place.

The celebration ended with everyone in attendance raising a teacup to solidarity and gender parity and the continued good health of the FAO Women’s Committee.