When women flourish, families and communities do too

Opinion

 
by Steven Jonckheere

The 2010-11 FAO report on the State of Food and Agriculture – Women in Agriculture: Closing the Gender Gap for Development – pointed out that women lack access to land, livestock, education, financial services, technology and rural employment opportunities, when compared with men and said that closing the gender gap in agriculture could lift up to 150 million people out of hunger.

While some forms of discrimination against women and girls are diminishing, today, almost 10 years later, gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprives them of basic rights and opportunities, as stated in the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report. With regards to agriculture, women make up to half of the labour force in many developing countries, but barriers to credit, inputs and extension services, as well as land ownership and rights, still limit their production. Women’s activities in agriculture are still characterised by a global gender gap in vulnerabilities, access to resources, and productivity. As a result of these differences, women and men farmers in developing countries have different abilities to adapt to climate change.

FAO’s 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report pointed out that for the third year in a row, there has been a rise in world hunger. The absolute number of undernourished people, i.e. those facing chronic food deprivation, increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, from around 804 million in 2016. It is known that if women had equal access to productive resources, they could increase their yields and feed more hungry people in the world. And women are more likely to reinvest their income back into their families to improve education, nutrition and health. When women flourish, families and communities do too.

However, the pervasive impact of environmental degradation and climate change on agricultural ecosystems and biodiversity poses an additional threat to women. Climate change impacts poor and vulnerable people the most, and women chief among them, as structural inequalities increase people’s vulnerabilities to climate impacts. So if we’re going to end hunger in our lifetimes and build resilience against climate change, we need to empower women.

The question now is how the development community can effectively help women overcome the constraints and barriers they face in agriculture so they can fully benefit from agricultural growth. If we are to end hunger we need to know what the best way would be to empower women.

Addressing structural barriers to empower women

There is growing recognition that the standard approaches to addressing gender inequalities have often not been enough to achieve long-standing and transformative impacts. This is a result of the failure to address the root causes of gender inequalities, insufficient political will and resource allocation. As stated in the 2018 Sustainable Development Goals Report, empowering women requires addressing structural issues, such as unfair social norms and attitudes, as well as developing progressive legal frameworks that promote equality between women and men.

At IFAD, we are well aware that we will not fulfil our mandate to eliminate poverty and hunger in rural areas unless we reach and empower women. This is why gender equality is one of our four key mainstreaming areas. And it is why women make up a full 50% of people reached by the projects we support. IFAD works with governments to strengthen their capacity to address gender issues in agriculture and rural development. Our strategy is threefold: (i) promoting economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to participate in and benefit from profitable economic activities; (ii) enabling women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organisations; (iii) achieving a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men.

We furthermore recognise the critical role of women as agents of change and leaders in addressing climate change. In doing so, we promote a gender-responsive approach, the integration of a gender perspective, and the empowerment of women and girls in environmental, climate change and disaster risk reduction strategies, as well as in financing. By placing gender at the forefront of IFAD’s work we aim to achieve the meaningful and equal participation of women in decision-making on environmental issues at all levels and build the resilience of women and girls to the adverse effects of climate change.

There are a variety of gender transformative approaches introduced by IFAD which address the root causes of gender inequalities and trigger change processes that empower women and men, girls and boys, in their households, communities and society. One of our most important tools for this is what we call household methodologies to improve gender relations in the home. In Uganda, household methodologies have been used particularly to reach out to the poorest families and ensure that they are included in development activities. Over 20,000 households saw a range of benefits. Women and men began taking literacy classes, using health services and joining savings groups. Joint land titling between women and men became common. Women spoke up at home and in the community, and rates of domestic violence fell dramatically.