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Moving from gender equality to gender transformation in agriculture and rural development: FAO and IFAD get together in joint learning


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Agenda 2030 requires us to do more, do things differently and to move fast to find, test and upscale relevant solutions on gender equality and women's empowerment. Within this framework, FAO and IFAD organized a learning event to enhance gender transformation in development projects. For more information, please read this article.

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Moving from gender equality to gender transformation in agriculture and rural development: FAO and IFAD get together in joint learning

  1. 1. Moving from gender equality to gender transformation in agriculture and rural development: FAO and IFAD get together in joint learning By Ida Christensen, Technical Adviser and Gender Focal Point at the Investment Centre of the UN- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is now two years ago that UN Member States renewed their commitment to combating hunger and poverty under a new ambitious sustainable development agenda that calls for inclusive transformational change. Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), guided by the principle of “leaving no one behind”, place pressure on all countries to meet accelerated targets for gender equality and women’s empowerment, as critical steps in the process of achieving sustainable development. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda1 also reiterates the crucial importance of investing in rural women and girls as agents of lasting economic and social change, while all International Financial Institutions (IFIs) have put ambitious gender policies in place, to help face up to the challenges ahead. FAO, the leading UN agency for agriculture, food and nutrition security and rural development; and IFAD, the only international financing institution that focuses exclusively on rural poverty reduction, have worked together for decades to help their member countries reduce their gender gap in agriculture and to improve the plight of rural women. Together with WFP2 , FAO and IFAD played a key role in shaping the SDGs and in putting General Recommendation 343 into the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)4 , emphasizing rural women’s rights to land and natural resources, social protection, food, health, education, employment, housing, water, sanitation, energy and participation, as well as sexual and reproductive health. While FAO’s and other partners’ efforts have brought tangible progress in building the evidence- base and supporting national policy formulation for gender equality, we have yet to see those policies widely enforced and effectively linked to agriculture investment strategies or projects. And while IFAD – as part of the IFI community - has worked tirelessly in piloting innovative gender equality approaches in its rural investment projects, we have yet to see good practices translated into lasting impact of an adequate scale. Virtually all gender and development data available globally today show that rural women continue to be highly disadvantaged compared to rural men and urban women, and that they are more likely to experience poverty, exclusion and the negative effects of climate change.5 Rural women continue 1 The AAAA was the outcome of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, July 2015 (A/RES/69/313). 2 World Food Program, the third Rome-Based food agency. 3 CEDAW/C/GC/34, March 2016. 4 The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – adopted over 30 years ago - remains the only international human rights treaty with a specific article, Article 14, dedicated to the situation of rural women. 5 FAO, State of Food and Agriculture: Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (Rome, 2016), p. 49.
  2. 2. to have less access than men to productive resources such as land, labour, water, credit and extension. They also have lower levels of education, information, training and self-confidence compared to their male counterparts, making them less able to benefit from the new economic opportunities that are emerging, for example through agribusiness and value chains. Meanwhile, women and girls in most parts of the world’s rural areas continue to bear a disproportionate share of unpaid labour – including domestic work and care to support their families and communities - leaving them little time and energy to engage in gainful and rewarding activities. So, why did decades of good efforts to address gender inequalities on the ground, only lead to insufficient or unsustainable results? The answer to this question lies partly in the fact that, too often, we have failed to view gender inequalities in the context of a bigger picture, where people are humans before they are economic actors. To close the gender gap, many initiatives have primarily focused on the economic empowerment of women, increasing their access to inputs, technical advice and markets, as well as their participation in rural institutions. While such initiatives have shown significant results, they have only produced short-term economic gains, because they have contributed little to improving rural women’s overall wellbeing, reducing their heavy workloads, or enhancing their voice and ability to make decisions over their own and their families’ lives (see graph below). In other words, to date, our interventions have failed to fully understand - and effectively address - the social complexity of many rural areas, where women are not only resource-poor and time-poor, but also burdened by a series of other life-challenges that render them economically inactive; for example restricted mobility, poor reproductive health, domestic violence, or low self- esteem. Gender equality and women’s empowerment in the SDGs: The bigger picture How it all fits with FAO’s and IFAD’s core objectives 6 Achieving long-term sustainable benefits requires “moving beyond treating the symptoms of gender inequality, such as the unequal access to resources and benefits, to addressing the underlying causes deeply rooted in gender norms and behaviours, power relations and social 6 Adapted from training slides developed by Clare Bishop.
  3. 3. institutions”7 . This requires treading on uncomfortable territory that we steered clear of in the past, and being bold enough to ask sensitive questions we used to avoid. It also takes conviction that a change in gender norms and practices – like any other cultural change that comes with development – is a must. Without gender transformative change, we will not be able to meet our global goals at the scale and pace required in the next thirteen years remaining till 2030. For us in FAO and IFAD, working to improve the quality of investments in agriculture and rural development, the challenges are huge. It is easier to build rural roads and irrigation systems than it is to invest in human capital. How do we convince public and private investors of the importance of empowering women in the process of transforming rural areas? With progressively reduced funding, how do we practically go about designing and implementing rural investment projects that go beyond simply reaching women, to actually benefitting and empowering them in the long term? There is no doubt that we need to do more, we need to do it differently and we need to move fast. Importantly, we need to work closer together to find, test and upscale solutions. It was in this spirit that the FAO Investment Centre Division organized a workshop in December 2017, entitled “Empowering women for sustainable rural transformation”8 . FAO Investment Centre workshop: “Empowering women for sustainable rural transformation” The workshop was tailored to the needs of professional staff in FAO and IFAD working on investment design and implementation. It offered eight sessions of practical insights, supported by the opportunity for participants to share experiences and engage actively in group work. In addition to exploring the gender dimensions of rural livelihoods, preparing gender strategies, tracking performance and assessing gender impacts, the workshop focused on the intra-household dynamics that often act as socio-cultural barriers to women’s full participation in development. It is within the household that key decisions are made regarding division of domestic labour, expenditure priorities, food consumption among members, coping strategies in times of stress. It is also here that harmful practices, such as gender-based violence, occur. It is therefore at this level, that gender inequalities are best addressed. IFAD has been a leading agency working on household methodologies, as one of the key innovative gender transformative approaches to address the underlying causes of gender inequality at the household level. The workshop presented two methodologies: (i) the Gender Action Learning System which develops the skills of poor household members (men and women) or community groups to draw a shared vision and map the steps towards achieving it; and (ii) individual household mentoring, used as a mechanism for social inclusion9 . Participants discussed the central role played by the household in influencing livelihood outcomes and the importance of engaging men and women together in reducing gender inequalities and achieving transformative impacts. The workshop also addressed a number of key cross-cutting issues, from a gender perspective related to value chains, nutrition, youth and climate change. Participants discussed issues around 7 Global Donor Platform for Rural Development Women’s Economic Empowerment and Agribusiness: Opportunities for the Gender Transformative Agenda (2017), p.6, Author: Clare Bishop. 8 More information on the workshop are found here: Workshop Report 9 More information on these methodologies are found in the IFAD (2014) Household methodologies toolkit
  4. 4. women’s economic empowerment in agribusiness and their effective participation in value chains; the role of gender norms in accessing and utilizing food at the household level; the differentiated needs and priorities of young rural women and men and ways to address them; and the gender- differentiated impacts of climate change and how to respond. On the latter, FAO has embraced the climate-smart agriculture approach to support actions aimed at achieving sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition. FAO is well-placed to make a significant difference in gender equality, as an Implementing Agency for the two largest climate finance mechanisms, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The workshop was attended by 18 professionals from FAO and IFAD (8 male, 10 female) and facilitated by: the FAO Investment Centre Division: Clare Bishop - Senior Gender Specialist/Consultant, and Ida Christensen - Technical Adviser and Gender Focal Point; the FAO Social Policies and Rural Institutions Division: Ilaria Sisto - Gender and Development Officer, Szilvia Lehel - Gender and Environment Consultant, and Tomislav Ivancic - Decent Rural Employment Consultant; and the IFAD Policy and Technical Advisory Division: Beatrice Gerli, Gender Specialist.