Global Soil Partnership

New report available on Soils and Gender

The online discussion ‘Mainstreaming gender for sustainable soil management’, held on the FAO Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum) from 23 September to 25 October 2019 aimed to collect views from a wide range of stakeholders about the relations between gender equality and sustainable soil management (SSM).

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Facilitated by Ilaria Sisto and Ronald Vargas (FAO), participants from 28 countries shared their views on the relation between SSM and gender equality, and discussed the distinct roles women, men, boys and girls play in it. Furthermore, the discussion identified some of the main gender-based constraints that hinder the uptake of SSM and contribute to soil degradation and shared ideas on approaches that could help overcome such barriers. Participants also discussed actions aimed at promoting gender equality that need to be prioritized in the context of fostering SSM.

Gender roles, gender equality and SSM. Generally, women play a substantial role in agriculture: there are strong linkages between sustainable soil use, management, conservation and gender equality. But these links are related to economic, social, cultural, educational and political aspects which greatly differ across contests. Often patterns in the roles that women and men play differs across the same country (i.e. Sudan, Nigeria etc). The European project RECARE suggested that women focused more on soil health, while men concentrated more on economic aspects. In Peru, women are the custodians of seeds, analyse soil conditions, and take care of fertilizing the land while men are in charge of ploughing and physically demanding activities. In Mauritania, women and youth carry out the hard farm work. Men, on the other hand, play a dominant role in decision-making on soil management issues.

Gender-based constraints hindering SSM. Many issues are of a broader nature, such as women’s restricted access to education, paid jobs, finance, and real estate. But also women’s limited land rights, lower size and quality of assigned land plots, and inadequate legal framework on the access and use of natural resources. At policy level, units dedicated to addressing women’s issues are lacking in relevant ministries, which has hampered efforts addressing gender inequality. In addition to a lack of representation and access to information, a general systemic issue concerns the preconception that women are not able to run a farm as they suffer limited practical experience in agriculture.

Approaches and solutions to overcome gender-based constraints. Practical initiatives that could help overcome gender-based constraints could be: the increase of gender-specific workshops and trainings (i.e. composting household waste to be used also in backyards); the promotion of leaders of women’s groups to ensure that women’s views are taken into account; the strengthening of gender-based agricultural associations (see the example of the Chilean Working Group on Rural Women); the support for small- and medium-sized enterprises that implement gender projects; the creation of accessible digital platforms for knowledge exchange and SSM.

Promoting women’s empowerment for SSM: actions to be prioritized. The discussion showed broad consensus on the fact that women’s empowerment needs to be promoted in order to achieve SSM. Promoting gender equality consists in bringing women and men to an equal level of knowledge, and in facilitating the sharing of knowledge and ideas between them, implementing “women-friendly” rules and regulations. This implies that men must be willing to work with women’s ideas and soils must be managed according to collective decisions. Actions to be prioritized concern: stepping up education and trainings, traditional knowledge, and technical support; providing agricultural inputs, financial resources and incentives such as subsidies; promoting advocacy, and inclusive and participatory multi-stakeholder platforms.

Some participants focused on how farmers who have always had an income by cultivating a single crop may not be attentive to soil health or aware of the consequences while women are sometimes more sensitive to issues that could affect their family than men. Another crucial aspect for designing appropriate interventions is to look at the intersectional identities of women and men, including class, ethnicity, age and status, and to understand how these play a role in people’s (dis)empowerment and how and at which level initiatives to promote gender equality should be implemented. Some positive examples are brought about as case studies (see CARE’s programmatic framework ‘She feeds the world’ and its gender-sensitive approach to Farmer’s Field Business Schools).

The contributions fed into the draft of the ‘Guide on gender and sustainable soil management’ prepared by the Regional Soil Partnerships, the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, and the Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division of FAO, with input from gender and soil management specialists.

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The topic introduction and the questions proposed, as well as all contributions received, are available on the discussion page:

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