Empowering women to leave no one behind | FAO News

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Empowering women to leave no one behind

FAO & African Union launch Regional Outlook on Gender & Agrifood Systems

28 October 2020, Rome/Harare – Agrifood systems cannot be transformed unless there is gender equality. That was the simple message underlying the launch today of a new report by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) & the African Union that puts the spotlight on women’s role in agrifood systems.

The report, Leaving no one behind: A Regional Outlook on Gender & Agrifood Systems, was launched by FAO Director-General QU Dongyu & African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy & Agriculture Josefa Sacko at the 31st Session of the FAO Regional Conference for Africa.

“Rural women are the pillars of our food systems & agents of change for food security & climate justice. But they’re also disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, exclusion & the effects of climate change,” UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said by video message at the launch.

“This excellent report will make an important contribution to the (2021 UN) Food Systems Summit & to policies & strategies that empower rural women & girls in Africa,” she said.

“According to the findings of the report we are launching today, we must step up our efforts to create an enabling environment for rural women’s empowerment & entrepreneurship in the agri-food sector,” Director-General QU said. “I am confident that our joint efforts will pave the way for a more empowered future for rural women & girls in Africa.”

Leaving no one behind

Commissioner Sacko commended the Director-General for the solid partnership & joint efforts to contribute to the evidence base for women’s empowerment.

“When we talk about empowerment, we have to have a scientific evidence base to advise policy makers, & this report contributes to that effort,” Commissioner Sacko said. “Women play a substantial role in African agriculture, but it is not sufficiently appreciated or documented.”

Based on a review of 40 country gender assessments of agriculture & rural livelihoods, the report provides an in-depth review of the challenges & best practices to empower women in priority areas of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) & the Malabo Declaration.

The ways forward

The report makes recommendations to promote gender equality & women’s empowerment to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals & the African Union’s Agenda 2063, including:

  • Developing gender-sensitive & gender-targeted activities in food security, nutrition, & resilience. For example, programs that deliver money to beneficiaries through mobile phones help close gender gaps by overcoming mobility constraints & decreasing reliance on official documentation that women may find difficult to obtain.
  • Scaling up female entrepreneurship & women’s empowerment in agribusiness. Several countries have set up specific funds for women-owned agribusinesses. For example, the Imbita Eswatini Women’s Finance Trust provides microloans for rural women with no collateral requirements & no requirement for a husband’s approval. To date, the fund has distributed EU 15 million.
  • Ensuring public-private partnership is inclusive to women to enhance their participation in value chains.

The challenges

In Africa, women are the backbone of their households, communities & rural economies, as food producers, processors, & marketers. They usually lead nutrition decisions for the family.

The dramatic effects of climate change coupled with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic mean women face multiple challenges. The number of people suffering from hunger is rising, & women are more likely than men to be food insecure.

Improving women’s status & harnessing their potential as “food heroes” will be critical to ending hunger in Africa, the report argues.

The President of the Panafrican Farmers Organization (PAFO) Elizabeth Nsimadala agrees. She urged greater partnerships to address inequality. “In Africa, inequalities between women & men are among the greatest in the world,” she said via video message at the launch. “Together, we can improve the status of rural women.”

Barriers we can remove together

Women often have only tenuous access to land – farming with short-term agreements from family or traditional authorities. These fragile rights can disappear overnight, preventing women from planning ahead or engaging in long term conservation farming.

Women benefit less from advanced agricultural processes & tools, agricultural services & training, & have less access to rural financing. They tend to use manual equipment, & purchase fertilizer less often.

Women face barriers to participate in larger-scale & more remunerative value chains. They often lack knowledge on trade standards needed to expand their business, especially phytosanitary standards which involve specialized knowledge. With lower education rates & discriminatory legal environments, women lack access to opportunity, affecting the food security of themselves & their children.

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