ROME: Three United Nations agencies recently launched a new European Union-supported global initiative to address the root causes of rural gender inequalities and thus strengthen efforts to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
The EU will allocate 5 million euros to finance a four-year program of the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Program (WFP) that seeks to trigger transformative changes to empower women and men, boys and girls in households, communities, and institutions in rural areas and beyond.
The joint program is designed to move beyond treating the symptoms of gender inequalities and discrimination, such as the unequal access to resources and benefits, to addressing the underlying causes rooted in discriminatory gender norms and behaviors and unequal power relations.
The EU and the three UN agencies share the view that achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential for food security and nutrition. “While many conventional approaches for closing the gender gaps in agriculture continue to be perfectly relevant, we have to think more creatively and be more daring in our actions,” said FAO Deputy Director-General for Program Daniel Gustafson. “By promoting gender-transformative change, we can pave the way for gender equality within rural households and communities, in rural organizations, among service-providers and other value chain actors, and ultimately in policy processes.”
“The IFAD has a long track record of community-driven development and mainstreaming gender, youth, and indigenous peoples across its investments, targeting the poorest and most marginalized people in the world,” said Sara Mbago-Bhunu, Director East and Southern Africa Division, IFAD. “This call for joint action will improve synergies and effectiveness, allowing all agencies to share innovative gender- transformative approaches, which will be key to boosting economies, and eradicating poverty and hunger.”
“It is possible, necessary and effective to pursue gender transformative approaches across all contexts – humanitarian, development, urban, rural, conflict or peace – to achieve food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture,” said WFP’s Assistant Executive Director, Manoj Juneja. “Where we provide opportunities for women and men to receive assistance equitably, access knowledge and resources, and share in decision-making, we will eliminate hunger in our lifetimes.”
“The EU started its journey to promote gender transformation in the rural sector during a joint EU-UN high-level event in Rome in 2016,” said the EU Ambassador Jan Tombinski. “Since then the EU has worked hard to promote gender transformation by overturning discriminatory structural norms that discriminate against women and girls. The EU has always considered the Rome-based Agencies as ideal partners with whom to push this agenda forward.”
Gender gap imposes high costs on society. In a ground-breaking report published in 2011, the FAO estimated that closing the gender gap in agriculture could increase yields on women-run farms by 20-30%, thereby generating significant gains in terms of food security, economic growth and social welfare. Numerous studies have also shown that when women can earn their own income, they invest the majority of their earnings back into their families – on nutrition, food, healthcare, schooling, and farming activities – which is crucial for agricultural development.
Gender considerations are critical to humanitarian action as crises impact the lives of women and men, girls and boys in different ways. The impacts of conflicts, natural disasters and crop failures are not ‘gender neutral’. A recent analysis of data by WFP from 188 countries revealed that such shocks significantly reduce the life expectancy of women more than that of men.
Alongside reducing the most extreme consequences of a humanitarian crisis, working to transform the lives of women and girls can effectively tackle inequalities that exclude and discriminate against them. For instance, providing food assistance as cash-based transfers with opportunities for women to access resources can mean higher decision-making power and financial inclusion.
Gender inequality in rural areas is a multifaceted and complex issue that no single organization can tackle alone. The three UN Rome-based agencies are well placed on developing innovative agricultural methodologies, humanitarian and development programs and foster capacity development to promote gender-transformative approaches.
Such an approach requires working with decision-makers across sectors and at the same time empowering women, individually and collectively. It means engaging with men as allies for change; removing the structural, political, economic, cultural, and social barriers that increase inequalities and limit women’s access and rights to resources and assets, and promoting women’s participation in decision-making at all levels of society.