Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

This very interesting and important discussion makes us realize that although, gender has been on the agenda for decades, we are still in some areas not or only partly progressing. There are some islands of happiness but overall rural women and girls are still facing many challenges, which are not only impacting on the individual but on entire nations. There is no “one size fits all” but there are some fundamental human rights to be respected including the rights of a child hitting in particular the girl child.

Girl child education is essential for empowerment of women. There are still a number of countries in which early marriages are almost a norm and not an exception. Even if the legal framework is there, girls are becoming brides even before they reach the age of 18 years. They are too young to become mothers and too young be a wife. If we talk about the educational level of rural women we cannot avoid to look at this. Early pregnancies often resulting in low birth weight babies – a major risk factor for undernutrition - do not only perpetuate the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition, they also destroy the educational hope of a girl child. Later in their life, they might be included in a development programme focusing on women’s empowerment but the full potential is already gone. Being a nutritionist, of course I connect gender issues with their impact on nutrition and it is shame that this is not really captured in the SDGs – strictly speaking.

I see numerous agriculture programmes in which the major trunk e.g. large irrigation schemes are directed to men or male dominated Farmer Organisations and the small scale kitchen gardens left for individual women or women’s group (sometimes described as mother’s support group) almost as an alibi for women inclusion. Kitchen gardens targeting women for home consumption and irrigation projects targeting men as majority for commercialization. The “logic” behind this is still the perception that women deal with cooking and feeding and the men deal with the real business. This also means too often that kitchen gardens do not get sufficient attention by extension workers in terms of services like training, high quality agricultural inputs, innovative technologies etc. And, by the way, a kitchen garden by definition looking more or less at vegetable and fruit production only is even from the nutritional point of view not sufficient and an Integrated Homestead Food Production approach integrating livestock and fish is of higher value.

The request for more female extension workers needs to be taken serious, however, let’s not forget that the women are already educationally deprived and might not have the right qualification for becoming an extension worker. I personally don’t mind having the majority male extension officers provided they have received a proper gender (and nutrition) training and this goes beyond being aware that setting up meetings have to take the busy schedule of women into consideration. A crash course in gender does not help much as extension officers are coming from the same community/society in which cultural norms are not necessarily in favour of adolescent girls and women. These cultural norms not allowing women to participate in meetings and trainings without the consensus of their husbands are norms hindering the progress of women in agriculture. Of course, men and boys have to be included in discussions and they need to have the understanding that these training programmes targeting women or also for their benefit but I don’t think this enough. What is needed is also an enabling political environment promoted by policy dialogue on the importance of women being fully accepted by Ministry of Agriculture. Often I find the women in MoA mainly in the Home Economics department dealing with cooking demonstrations and kitchen gardens. This is not the idea of empowering women in agriculture. Food security and nutrition at household level is determined by women and they need to heard and need to be seen. And, I totally agree, that we have to listen more and discuss with them and not about them. This also counts for the Youth. I am actually very frustrated when I read “Youth”. There is the female and the male youth with different opportunities and different challenges. My favourite example is a dairy project, in which the successful job creation for youth turned out to be the establishment of milk transportation with motorcycles operated by young men. This is gender-blind – full stop!

The feminisation of agriculture is very much a result of the rural exodus of working male. This is a challenge we need to address. Agriculture needs to become more attractive and profitable for women and men. Otherwise, everybody who can run will end up in the city and the ones remaining – often the women with their children or other family members in need of care – have to carry all alone the burden.

We need role models of young women being successful in agriculture and this requires engaging more women into value chains. We might need affirmative actions for this but it is worth it.

Right now, gender is not the only cross cutting theme but we have nutrition, climate change and youth as well. The problem with cross cutting themes is always that they are everybody’s business but nobody’s responsibility. Sometimes, I sense the perception that cross cutting means it is automatically everywhere and does not need special attention. This is killing the theme.

IFAD has taken up the challenge of a horizontal integration of the cross cutting themes of gender, nutrition, climate change, and youth. It is still work in progress but at the end of the day, it will hopefully break-down the silo thinking.

Although, I am in favour of checklists but many checklists became tick boxes only – meaningless and useless. This also applies to some targets e.g. 30% of beneficiaries are women – this does not tell the story ... what are these women do, what role do they play and what authority do they have and not to be forgotten: what change did they experience in their lives.

We need to apply a detailed accountability framework on gender transformation with SMART indicators. It is not new but still not universally applied.

In the discussion, we learnt of many positive examples but these examples need to be replicated and scaled up. The islands of happiness will not bring the change unless we take them as guiding format.

There is so much more to say and to do (in particular on gender and nutrition)… maybe there will be another opportunity.

Juliane Friedrich


Senior Technical Specialist Nutrition