Parliamentary alliances

Advancing gender equality in family farming

©FAO/ C. Marinheiro

Parliamentarians gather to examine their role in mitigating the gender-differentiated impacts of COVID-19 on food systems

14/08/2020 - 

On July 22, parliamentarians met with members of farmers’ organizations and rural women’s networks for a virtual dialogue on advancing gender equality in the context of family farming. The discussion centred on the potential of rural women to contribute to sustainable agriculture and food systems, and addressed both the challenges they currently face and the actions that parliamentarians can take to support rural women entrepreneurs and women family farmers, during the current COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

The virtual meeting was the second in a series of dialogues organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), and Oxfam as part of their policy support to the ECOWAS Network of Parliamentarians on Gender Equality and Investments in Agriculture and Food Security. The series of dialogues intends to support parliamentarians around the world in mitigating the gender-differentiated impacts of COVID-19 on food systems.

Parliamentarians can ensure greater gender equality through the implementation of gender-transformative legislation, policies and investments. The current pandemic has had a disproportionate effect - economically and socially - on rural women, so investing in women’s leadership and including them in the design of strategies in the COVID-19 response is critical.

Marcela Villarreal, Director of Partnerships and UN Collaboration at FAO, opened the dialogue, reminding participants that supporting family farmers was of central importance to advance progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Family farmers contribute to several areas which support sustainable development, including ensuring food security and nutrition, improving livelihoods, sustainably managing natural resources, and protecting the environment. Gender inequality limits this progress - in the case of family farmers, there would be a dramatic increase in food security and productivity if rural women were able to access the same amount of productive resources that rural men have.

Her Excellency Amie Fabureh, the first-ever female Minister of Agriculture of The Gambia, speaking of the experience of women farmers in Africa, reminded participants that “achieving gender equality requires paying great attention to women in agriculture.” Family farming is a system which can sustainably eradicate hunger, she said, and in her current role, she has ensured that the Ministry assists women in farming communities by providing inputs such as fertilizer and seeds. More recently, the Ministry has also made available facemasks, hygiene supplies and instructions for farmers on how to protect themselves against COVID-19.

The Honorable Angelique Ngoma, President of the Cooperation and International Development Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie, highlighted the great diversity of family farmers around the world and of the shared challenge that they face: many of them still live in poverty. Of these, women farmers, who play a central role in ensuring food security, nutrition and well-being of their families and communities, are among the poorest, and in addition to their jobs, they are often burdened with additional unpaid work.

Women must be at the heart of actions taken to assist family farmers, the Hon. Ngoma stressed. She called on parliamentarians to apply the Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa - which commits to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation - and to promote regional economic integration and empower local producers. “With the pandemic,” she said, “It is more necessary than ever to reinforce the role of representative producer organizations that demand the recognition of their rights.”

The United Nations Decade of Family Farming (UNDFF), launched in 2019, offers a chance to recognize the important role that family farmers - including women family farmers - play in alleviating hunger and poverty. The UNDFF’s Global Action Plan, adopted by international agencies and governments, is structured into seven pillars which outline areas of action for developing policies, programmes and regulations in support of family farming.

Pillar 3 of the Global Action Plan, Promote gender equity in family farming and the leadership role of rural women, highlights the contribution that rural women make to achieving all SDGs and stresses the importance of reviewing agricultural policies and strategies to ensure that the central role of women in food security, nutrition and sustainable development is recognized and addressed as an integral part of both short- and long-term responses.

Through a collaboration between FAO and the World Rural Forum, a consultative process is currently underway on a roadmap for public policies to advance Pillar 3 of the UNDFF. The process will attempt to address structural inequalities that rural women faced prior to COVID-19 as well as new challenges which have arisen during the pandemic.

Participants heard from women farmers on the challenges they have faced since the onset of the pandemic and the solutions and innovations that they have devised in response. Since the beginning of the crisis, family farmers have been on the front lines, strengthening their production and coming up with alternative solutions to ensure that they can still feed their families and communities.

Ika Krishnayanti, member of the Aliansi Petani Indonesia (Indonesian Peasants Alliance, API) and the Asian Farmers Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), spoke of her experiences with API and AFA members. Farmers who cannot go to the markets turned to digital solutions, she said, sending organic rice to the city after receiving orders online. In other parts of Java, farmers practiced intercropping and integrated crop and livestock rearing, helping them to diversify the plants on their farm and protect against loss. Different types of producers, for example fishers and farmers, began to trade produce. Other farmers also began to make face masks, which they distributed to indigenous communities for free, and to train local women to maintain equipment which ensures a local supply of clean water. Policies were needed to complement local capacity assistance, she recommended.

Julie Cissé, a woman farmer from Senegal and coordinator of Groupe d’initiatives pour le Progrès Social, stressed that women farmers need access to land, credit and productive resources, but would also benefit from capacity assistance especially in the area of new technologies. To achieve real progress, it is essential to understand the multisectoral dimension of family farming, strengthen the role of the state and address women family farmers’ needs targeted support, e.g. irrigation infrastructure for small farmers.

Tiousso Halima, member of the Réseau des organisations paysannes et de producteurs de l'Afrique de l'Ouest (ROPPA), named lack of representation in decision-making processes, land tenure and literacy as the major challenges for rural women and women family farmers, but noted that the pandemic had introduced additional problems, such as loss of revenue, difficulty accessing social services and an increase in gender-based violence during the confinement. Positive changes could be made by empowering women in value chains, creating information campaigns and facilitating online networking with women’s organizations in other countries, she added.

After the participants had listened to the experiences of rural women, parliamentarians took the floor to respond with policy solutions. Hon. Omar Darboe, Member of the National Parliament of Gambia, provided an overview of the legal instruments available at a national level and described some of the current legislation that had been tabled to improve gender equality in the country. The laws addressed issues such as women’s property ownership and economic empowerment, and revoked clauses that were impediments to progress on gender equality, such as allowing parental permission for child marriage.

The Honorable Veneranda Uwamariya, Member of the National Parliament of Rwanda and former mayor of the Huye District, highlighted key political initiatives and national strategies to support sustainable agriculture and family farming. In a country where more than 70% of women are involved in farming activities, the constitution provides that all Rwandans are equal before the law, without distinction of gender, and stipulates that at least 30% of the seats in the chamber of deputies must be occupied by women. Rwanda currently has one of the highest rates of participation of women in government, with women represented in the legislature, judiciary and local governments.

Hon. Uwamariya mentioned that Rwanda has facilitated the creation of a large number of agricultural cooperatives, which engage women almost equally in the leadership of the organizations. These cooperatives have helped to facilitate women’s access to credit and ensure women’s active participation in the country’s main agricultural value chains and agricultural exports.

Hon. Simona Bucura-Oprescu, Member of the Chamber of Deputies of Romania and leader of the Romanian section of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Francophonie, spoke about supporting and empowering women as a strategic objective, encouraging microenterprises and public-private partnerships, and the importance of enhancing local knowledge. Women’s empowerment is closely linked to economic empowerment, she reminded the participants, and so taking a gender-sensitive approach, such as applying gender criteria in the selection of projects for financing, would be crucial to achieving progress in gender equality.

Hon. Yves Fernand Manfoumbi, Secretary General of the Parliamentary Alliance Network for Food and Nutrition Security of the ECCAS region, closed the discussion with a summary of the key role women play in agriculture. “Today, we have heard different experiences from Africa, from Asia, from Europe,” he said. “As we know, women are at the heart of rural transformation. They contribute through their work to sustainable food systems, as well as to safeguarding biodiversity and knowledge of agricultural practices. They build resilience.” He called on all parliamentarians to act as partners in this transformation and to support rural and women family farmers to be able to reach their full potential.

While the current pandemic has highlighted structural inequalities that women, and more specifically women family farmers face, the UNDFF offers a valid framework to respond to the impacts of the pandemic and highlights the key role and potential of women family farmers have in revamping the economy an achieve structural change. The UNDFF’s Global Action Plan provides an opportunity to advance gender equality and advance progress towards achieving the SDGs, and parliamentarians have a particularly important role to play in constructing the legal and policy environment which is necessary to empower rural women and women family farmers and to remove impediments to their progress. Having the chance to connect in dialogue with rural women and farmers’ organizations will ensure that the actions parliamentarians take to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 keep the most vulnerable at the center.