Elevating women’s role to improve food systems

Women play a vital role in growing, processing and marketing food in developing countries, yet they have less access to assets, training and opportunities than men, and thus earn considerably less. While unfair to women, this is also a tragedy for their communities and countries, since enabling girls and women to achieve their full potential is essential for building the productive, resilient and sustainable food systems that developing nations need.

As part of a global effort to identify and advance ways to empower women and unleash the benefits of their full productive power and participation, a group of international experts recently launched a new CGIAR platform known as GENDER, for ‘Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results’.

“We are trying to work across the entire CGIAR system to innovate and incorporate gender into everything we do,” said Nicoline de Haan, Director of GENDER hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). “We want to put gender equality at the heart of research.”

De Haan explained that the platform connects researchers across the globe who are studying the gender implications of cultural norms, systems, value chains and policies for everything from farming and livestock production to water management, in an effort to identify aspects that create barriers for women.

She added that because such details are invisible to most people, and are often linked to cultural norms or traditions, changing them is challenging. Generating evidence is an essential first step to convincing people when change is necessary, and to develop methods for achieving it. By doing this, and building alliances, the GENDER Platform aims to contribute to a process that will result in greater gender equality and better lives for smallholder farmers.

According to Stephen Potter, Director of Food Security at Canada’s Department of Global Affairs, the platform will result in new partnerships and contribute to gender-responsive policies that enable women to overcome obstacles and make greater contributions to their countries’ development.

“We must move beyond simply thinking of women as contributors to agricultural value chains to considering them as leaders and developers of sustainable food systems,” Potter said. “It is only when women’s knowledge and men’s knowledge are applied on equal footing that the CGIAR will be able to achieve it’s desired impact.”

Potter joined de Haan and other experts in gender and agriculture for the virtual launch of the GENDER Platform on September 7, in the framework of the AGRF Summit 2020. That event, called “Rising up together: Women’s role in transforming Africa’s food systems,” was moderated by Vivian Atakos, the International Potato Center’s regional communication specialist for Africa, and included participants on several continents.

Overcoming challenges

Participants in the launch event spoke of the challenges faced by women in agriculture and the challenges researchers face in understanding them and using that knowledge to achieve improvements.

Kagwiria Koome, Manager of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Food Initiative, cited examples from her research in Kenya’s urban markets. She noted that while about 80 percent of the retailers in those markets are women, most of the profits are made in the wholesale sector, which is dominated by male traders.

“We need to have an understanding of the power structure in urban markets so we can break those barriers and enable women to participate on all levels,” Koome said. “At the Rockefeller Foundation, we want women to prosper in the marketplace.”

Mariame Maiga, Gender and Social Development Advisor at the West Africa Council for Research and Development (CORAF), explained that understanding gender issues is essential for achieving the organization’s mandate. She added that the GENDER Platform can facilitate this by helping different organizations engaged in gender research exchange information. “Partnerships and synergies are very important, so that everyone knows who is doing what, what is needed and what is missing,” she said.

De Haan noted that GENDER prioritizes creating alliances and building a strong agenda, to ensure that the knowledge and tools researchers generate lead to positive change.

 “We are happy to launch this platform at AGRF because we want to build stronger alliances,” she said. “To have a broad impact, we need to talk to policy makers, and to do that, we need evidence.”

Schenggen Fan,  CGIAR Board Member and Professor – China Agricultural University, agreed that evidence is essential for convincing politicians and stakeholders to take action, but he stressed the it needs to be based on reliable data.

“The CGIAR must collect gender-disaggregated data. Any data we collect must be disaggregated between men and women. Without good data we will not be able to generate solid evidence,” Schenggen said.

De Haan said that developing robust research to close knowledge gaps is a priority, but she stressed that the ultimate goal of GENDER’s research is to contribute to transformative impacts.

“The GENDER Platform comes at a very opportune time,” said Potter. “It is a much needed initiative that will reinvigorate the global food systems agenda with timely, high quality and meaningful gender research by the CGIAR and its partners.”

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