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Empowering Women in Agriculture: Rethinking Agricultural Needs and Actions through the Eyes of Women

The First Global Conference on Women in Agriculture (GCWA) held in New Delhi (13-15 March 2012) was organized by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), and was supported by the multistakeholder Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) through a new mechanism “Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP)”.

This landmark event was built on two years of intensive partnerships among many organizations within GFAR including the CGIAR, several UN agencies, and the Regional Fora. The Conference was attended by 760 participants from 50 countries, including Government Ministers, World Food Prize laureates, representatives of institutions in agricultural research, extension and education, gender experts, non-governmental organizations and farmers’ groups.

These groups responded to the call for collective action and investment to put the needs of women producers and consumers, and as householders, at the centre of agricultural thinking and practice.

Despite women making up nearly half of the world’s agricultural workforce, they continue to be unrecognized as farmers, fishers or livestock producers and face widespread constraints to decision making on basic resources for production, notably regarding land, and access to productivity-enhancing inputs including credit, fertilizer, seeds, veterinary drugs and extension.

Furthermore, women often lack control over their produce. Their ability to produce enough food is further hampered by the physically exhausting labour and drudgery associated with agricultural practices and the additional weight of their domestic and reproductive work that are basic to the viability of household consumption and health. Moreover, women’s contribution to child health and nutrition is vitally important and yet often not included in agricultural considerations.

By failing to close the gender gap, the world is paying dearly. According to a recent FAO report1, if women had the same access to productive resources as men they could increase their yields by 20-30 per cent. This would raise total agricultural yields in developing countries between 2.5- 4 per cent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million.

Participants at the GCWA recognized that, 17 years after the adoption of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action identifying key obstacles to the advancement of women in the world, gross inequalities still persist2, with the declaration’s targets still unmet even today.

National mechanisms for gender equality continue to face major challenges in implementing their mandates, particularly due to the lack of political will, political marginalization of their activities, inadequate resources, and a weak evidence base and limited capacities for coordination, monitoring, accountability and insensitivity of agricultural service systems to gender issues. The time for radical action, through concerted efforts to meet the needs of women, is long overdue. This conference discussed some of these issues and suggested action points. The detailed Conference Proceedings are recorded in a complementary document to this overall synthesis.

1 http://www.fao.org/publications/sofa/en/

2 http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing15/regional_review.html

The Conference was organized into three main components; a policy forum to identify the gap between policy reforms aimed at empowering women in agriculture and institutional changes for capacity building and partnership; six parallel sessions focused on the topics related to women in agriculture; and three working groups on extension, education and research priorities to make recommendations for gender sensitive agenda. In addition, poster  resentations were made on diverse topics under thematic areas and the results and innovations were displayed by stakeholders particularly the women. The conference also organized an innovation market place event, showcasing agriculture and rural innovations and women entrepreneurship. The event also depicted technology-led innovations to reduce  rudgery.

The opening sessions of the Conference on high-level policy issues highlighted the need for policy reforms, institutional changes and capacity building to empower women in agriculture. Such changes are urgently needed to address gender inequalities in the household, in the ways in which markets (participation and service delivery) and institutions (formal and informal) work for men and women, in social and cultural norms, and the way these forces interact with each other and result in the underperformance of women in agriculture. There was a view that it is insufficient to perceive women’s roles in terms of agricultural production alone but considerations of agricultural systems and needs should also be extended and re-framed to include issues particularly relevant to rural women: household food and nutrition security (particularly child nutrition), education particularly at school level, health, value-addition through on–farm and offfarm activities, improved storage, and increasing efficiencies and product quality across the value chain (including reduced post-harvest losses). In addition, the time constraints faced by women across all these activities are common, as some of the difficulties are associated with land tenure and titling.

Deliberately linking women, agriculture and nutrition requires multi-sectoral thinking and action to address major nutritional deficiencies that continue to hamper children’s development around the world. Concurrently, it requires institutionalization of research and extension through joint decision making that involves women themselves in participatory approaches. This needs to be incorporated during the initial design which needs to be flexible so that it can be adapted to build on or address unintended agricultural consequences (positive or negative). It is complex to intervene in a number of policy areas simultaneously and actions need to be coherent at local, national, regional and global levels. Understanding how policies contribute (how are they working and why) requires evidence to share lessons and to learn about their effectiveness in different contexts. The efforts to monitor and track these impacts must be accompanied by appropriate indicators.

The six thematic sessions focused on: assessing women’s empowerment; agricultural innovations for reducing drudgery; linking women to markets; women’s roles in household food security and nutrition; access to productive and household assets, resources and knowledge, policies and services; and climate change - related risks and uncertainties. The presentations and discussion in these sessions helped to identify and set practical contexts and priorities for action for the key areas in which change is required, collectively highlighting the need for a fundamental rethinking of agricultural systems, with the needs of rural women producers and householders at their centre.

Three Working Group sessions identified the new roles required of agricultural research, extension, and education to respond to women’s needs in agriculture, and to actively involve rural women’s representatives in such work. A number of cross-cutting priorities were identified by the participants across the themes as initial building blocks for developing a framework for action. Given that gender inequalities run right through agricultural systems, action is required at all levels from household and community up to national, regional and international scales.

Priorities identified through these discussions were:

Collective advocacy to raise awareness of women’s needs in agriculture and ensure their visibility in terms of their contributions

Generating the information and evidence base to show the economic and social impacts and value of addressing women’s needs in agriculture

Encouraging collective action and leadership among women to develop programmes that directly meet women’s needs and to make the agricultural support systems