Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Ms. Clare Bishop

FAO Gender Consultant with the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division
United Kingdom

Feedback from the facilitator of the online discussion

The recent contributions have highlighted various barriers which result in women missing out on opportunities, including:

  • Shortage of time: the huge burden of unpaid care work which takes up a big proportion of the time and energy of women and girls, leaving little for education, paid employment or their own businesses (Bedford from Italy); the seasonal workcare time trade-offs with negative implications not only for women’s opportunities for empowerment but also for the care of young children and their nutritional well-being (Rao from India); and the inability to share the care workload with men in settings where men have migrated to town (Rao from India);
  • Cultural norms held by parents and families: which prevent women and girls attending training and mentoring events to broaden their horizons and develop skills, or to participating in developmentoriented meetings (Chander from India);
  • Absence of legal recognition of women’s equal entitlements to resources as men (Rao from India), especially land tenure security (Holt from America);
  • Chronic poverty: which disproportionally affects households headed by women (Houngbo from Benin).

What I have found particularly exciting in the recent contributions is the recognition of the importance of the household, not only in terms of women’s empowerment but also for transformational change that benefit all household members. McCarthy (from USA) draws attention to the benefits derived from cooperation within the household – through joint decision-making and shared visions – as distinct from women’s empowerment and increased bargaining power in the household. Houngbo (from Benin) talks about the importance of making households more viable and the role of reducing gender inequalities in a fight against chronic poverty, especially those headed by women.

Ways of supporting change in cultural and social norms at the household level include: family counselling (Chander from India), participatory approaches through household methodologies (Bedford, Italy) and the Gender/Family Action Learning System (Mbuchi from Kenya); breaking away from traditional gender roles by encouraging sons – as well as daughters - to help their mothers at produce festivals (Sahakyan from Armenia); and overcoming mistrust by hiring women trainers and inviting husbands to accompany their wives to training (Sahakyan from Armenia).

It is also recognised that, in some contexts, specific affirmative action is necessary to push forward on the women’s empowerment agenda. Examples include: creating space for women through women-only initiatives in Sudan (Marouf); promoting women’s dairy cooperatives in India (Chander); women’s employment on the metro train in India and positive media coverage of successful women (Peter); visibility for rural women’s produce through festivals in Armenia (Sahakyan); peer-to-peer exchanges among rural women initiated by the Huairou Commission (Holt from USA); child care facilities, especially in communities where men have migrated (Rao from India). Explicit legal recognition of women as farmers with equal entitlements as men (Rao from India), with legal frameworks both granting and protecting these rights (Holt from USA) is also essential.

The use of the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) as a tool for identifying the principal sources of women’s disempowerment was noted (Huang from China).