Transformative approaches to advance gender equality for food security and nutrition

In marking International Day of Rural Women, FAO, IFAD and WFP organized a virtual event attended by nearly 300 participants who tuned in from the four corners of the globe.


On 15 October 2020, in marking International Day of Rural Women, FAO, IFAD and WFP organized a virtual event in the framework of the Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security, Improved Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture in collaboration with the European Union (EU), the Government of Spain and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) during the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) High-Level Special Event on Strengthening Global Governance of Food Security and Nutrition (13-15 October 2020). The webinar was attended by nearly 300 participants who tuned in from the four corners of the globe.

What made GTAs successful and what valuable lessons did these approaches hold for everyone working to achieve gender equality and food security? Speakers threw light on these pressing questions, sharing examples of good practices that seemed to stand the test of time.

Conventional methods fall short

Conventional gender-sensitive methodologies often have failed to create lasting change for rural women.

“And the main reason is that they focus a lot on closing the visible gender gaps in access to resources, information, technology and credit, and the results of these kind of approaches can be very short term and not always sustainable” said Jemimah Njuki, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC.

What is needed is the use of new approaches that unearth the root causes of persisting gender inequalities that perpetuate unequal power dynamics and relations, discriminatory social structures, and change the gender-blind legislative and policy frameworks hindering rural women’s empowerment and food security.

Marjeta Jager, Deputy Director-General for the Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission explained that the EU will be working hard to integrate gender in all of the EU’s external actions, “We aim to reach a proposed 85% target of gender-responsive new programmes and scale up actions targeting gender equality and women’s empowerment as their main objectives.”   

“There is no doubt that the transformation of food systems requires the true empowerment of women”, underlined Gabriel Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, Director General of Sustainable Development Policies at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain, and added, “It is essential to recognize the direct relationship between SDG2 and SDG5, and this must be central to the upcoming Food Systems Summit in 2021.”

Changing the rules of engagement

“Gender transformative approaches are not just a tool. They are not just one methodology,” said Jemimah Njuki. “They are a suite of approaches and processes that seek to identify and address the underlying causes of gender inequalities, specifically, by paying attention to issues about power, but also the way gender inequality is institutionalised in norms.”

“We must do more to address those social norms, attitudes, beliefs and value systems that lie at the heart of gender inequalities, impede women’s empowerment and have detrimental consequences not only for women, but also for households, communities, institutions, and food systems at large”, urged Benjamin Davis, Director, Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equity Division, FAO.

Steven Cole, Senior Scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture explained how GTAs in a fishing project in Zambia yielded significant results to advance gender equality. The use of GTAs resulted in a significant change in gender attitudes and more women enjoying joint fishing gear ownership and participating in income generating activities from processing to trading of fish two years into the project.

Shraddha Joshi Sharma, Managing Director of Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal, the Women Development Corporation of the Maharashtra Women’s Development Agency, India, shared her experience from the IFAD-funded Tejaswini Rural Women Empowerment Programme “During our Programme, we have promoted practices such as welcoming girls from the day they were born to challenge the perception of girls as second-class citizens, and eating together to improve the nutritional status of all household members.”

Engaging men as allies

During the COVID-19 pandemic, economic stress and social isolation in some settings have fed into an increase of violence against women and increased their care burden.

“One percent increase in unemployment in many parts of the world, translates into 0.5-1 percent increase in violence against women”, explained Gary Barker, CEO  and Founder of Promundo. “More work is needed to understand these triggers and find ways to prevent gender-based violence.”

Gary Barker reflected that the most successful way to engage men and boys was at the collective level. Enlisting leaders, systematically approaching men in groups – since men see, measure and judge themselves in relation to other men – and the use of humour were proven successful approaches to shift men’s antiquated ideas and attitudes on emasculation, and have them take up activities that they previously thought of as primarily female, such as child care, all of which has also resulted in the reduction of gender-based violence.

Walk the talk

Going forward, the development community, as gatekeepers of championing gender equality, must take care to also ‘walk the talk’.

“Carrying out gender transformative development requires reflection and transformation within the development agencies themselves,” said Benjamin Davis. “This requires going beyond capacity strengthening and internal organizational learning, to changing mind-sets, shifting mental models, values and beliefs. It also requires political commitment starting at the highest level—the top.”

“Spain has always been strongly committed to gender equality,” said Mr Gabriel Ferrero y de Loma-Osorio, and anticipated Spain’s forthcoming financial contribution to the preparation of the CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition.  

Kawinzi Muiu, Director for the Gender Office, WFP, stressed the importance of collaboration. “We cannot do anything without partnerships. The funding of the JP GTA was made possible by our partner, the European Union, meanwhile countries such as Spain have partnered with the RBAs in supporting the CFS workstream on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.”

About JP GTA

The JP GTA, implemented by FAO, IFAD and WFP and funded by the European Union, was launched in 2019.


For more information, contact:
Hajnalka Petrics, Global Coordinator of the Joint Programme for Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition
[email protected]