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Status of Women in Agrifood Systems

Women in Agrifood Systems

Women empowerment is key to closing the gender gap.

“Closing the gender gap could see a one-off global GDP increase of nearly 1 trillion US dollars – which means 1% of global GDP – and the number of food insecure people could be reduced by 45 million.’’

FAO Director General QU Dongyu

If we are serious about food systems transformation and realizing food and nutrition security, then we really need to pay attention to what data is saying.  FAO Director General QU Dongyu launched the Status of Women in Agrifood Systems report. The findings continue to give the same message; food security, food systems transformation, social and economic progress will not be realized if women are left behind!

In numbers

Progress in closing the gender gap remains slow and, worse, the past few years have brought more significant blows to the women in the agrifood sector.  While agrifood systems are a more important source of livelihood for women than for men in many countries, the report indicates that:

  • The gender gap in land productivity between female- and male-managed farms of the same size is 24%.
  • Women engaged in wage employment in agriculture earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.
  • Between 2017 and 2021, the gender gap in women’s access to mobile internet in low- and middle-income countries narrowed from 25% to 16%.
  • While 75% of policy documents relating to agriculture and rural development from 68 countries recognize women’s roles and/or women’s challenges in agriculture and rural development, only 19% included policy goals related to gender.
  • The gap in food insecurity between men and women widened from 1.7 percentage points in 2019 to 4.3 percentage points in 2021.
  • Globally, 22% of women lost their jobs in the off-farm segment of agrifood systems in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with only 2% of men.

Women empowerment is key to food security

The report underscores the need to increase women’s empowerment which is essential for women’s well-being and has a positive impact on agricultural production, food security, diets and child nutrition. Moving forward, there are great examples of what is working to close the gender gap. But we need to accelerate action so that these are scaled. The report notes that more work needs to be done to:

  • Develop gender-transformative approaches which show promise in changing social norms, are cost-effective and have high returns.
  • Strengthen interventions that address care and unpaid domestic work burdens, education and training, access to technology, resources, and childcare.
  • Implement reforms to close gaps in landownership and secure tenure.
  • Design extension services and resources such as technologies with women’s needs in mind. Digital tools and ICT have potential to close multiple gaps.
  • Enhance group-based approaches to increase women’s empowerment and resilience to shocks and stressors such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
  • Invest in social protection programmes which increase women’s employment and enhance their resilience.

Private sector taking action forward

I am glad to report that these pathways echo what has been the private sector position on gender. Most of these are reflected in the draft CFS Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Empowerment. The private sector has been part of the process of developing these guidelines and we look forward to the successful conclusion of this process and adoption at CFS 51. There is no doubt the outcome of this process will be crucial to scaling up efforts by various actors, including the private sector. The private sector will continue to provide its support and work on the ground to advance gender equality.

Private sector is also keen on partnerships and is joining FAO in its commitment to further increase its work on gender equality and women’s empowerment. We are just concluding a FAO-IAFN jointly-led Accelerator Mentorship programme for women-led SMEs in Africa. The overwhelming response to the program shows how business mentorship can contribute to socio-economic empowerment of women. We received more than 500 applications for 50 slots! The need is immense, and we are seeking more partners to ensure as many women as they need this help can get it.

Robynne Anderson

Robynne has extensive experience in the agriculture and food sector, working throughout the value chain – from basic inputs to farmers in the field to the grocery store shelf. She works internationally in the sector, including speaking at the United Nations on agriculture and food issues, and representing the International Agri-Food Network at the UN.Throughout her career she has worked with farm organisations like the Prairie Oat Growers Association, the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi and the Himalayan Farmers Association, as well as global groups, to further the voice of agriculture in the food debate. She has also worked with Fortune 500 companies growing worldwide businesses to assist them with issues management and strategy decisions.

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