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Women’s Time Has Come

Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to FAO H.E. Bérengére Quincy. Credit: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

ROME, Jun 17 2013 (IPS) - Closing the gender gap between women and men on agriculture and food security could free over one hundred million people from hunger. 

Women represent 43 percent of the global agricultural workforce yet they have access to disproportionately less land and productive resources, according to FAO’s report The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011.

Not only are they discriminated against in terms of access to credit and land, but they also are burdened with more house and family care chores and are more likely to be in precarious and low-paid employment.

During this week’s biannual conference in Rome, FAO announced the mainstreaming of gender across all its policies and put its gender policy for discussion in front of the national delegations.

“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens." - ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra

Observers of FAO’s work on gender argue that the organisation has made very good progress over the past years, and that the basic necessary documents and normative frameworks needed for closing the gender gap are now in place.

But care must now be paid to implementation.

“Gender mainstreaming is necessary but not a guarantee,” Berengere Quincy, France’s representative to FAO, tells TerraViva. “The mainstreaming needs to be backed up by better knowledge and expertise and followed up with clear objectives and indicators of progress.”

In many places around the world, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen pointed out in his speech given in Rome at the kickoff of the FAO biannual conference, women are also discriminated against when it comes to nutrition, with men systematically getting the best food. In turn, this weakens women’s chances of meeting their full potential.

FAO’s report quoted above further points out that granting women equal access to land and resources as men would increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, which in turn would lead to raising agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to four percent and saving 100 to 150 million people from malnourishment.

In response to these realities – and to pressures from civil society – FAO has over the past two years made significant progress on turning itself into an organisation focused on closing the gender gap when it comes to food security.

The 2010-2011 State of Food and Agriculture report was for the first time focused on women’s role in the global food system. Importantly, it brought quantitative data to support the idea that empowering women contributes significantly to FAO’s mission of defeating hunger, which in turn contributed to gender issues being embraced across FAO departments.

In 2012, the organisation published a Gender Policy which aims to both prioritise gender issues in the FAO’s own structure and programmes and to increase capacities for promoting gender equality in the countries where FAO operates.

Several countries (Switzerland, Norway and the United States) as well as the European Union warned that clear targets and implementation mechanisms, alongside a sufficient budget, are crucial to add to the current plans if FAO is serious about gender equality.

This year’s conference is expected to endorse a budget for 2014/2015 that would leave the amounts for gender issues unchanged from the previous budget period 2013/2014, that is, 21.8 million dollars.

This amount represented a doubling of the 9.8 million dollars corresponding to the 2010/2011 following pressures of gender rights supporters within and outside FAO, and represents a 2.1 percent of the overall net appropriation. Over the next years, FAO is expected to set a target for gender spending which could even exceed the 2.1 percent.

ActionAid International’s Alberta Guerra, whose group has been advocating for a gender policy and gender mainstreaming at FAO for years, says that it is important that the organisation keeps up the momentum of promoting gender equality.

That would mean paying attention to implementation of the current commitments and making sure that a solid budget comes together with the objectives stated out in the policy documents.

“In order to close the gender gap, it is not enough to adopt the gender lens. It is essential that, in addition to that, interventions that target, specifically, women’s needs are put into place,” Guerra says.

“The policy is very forward looking. It’s not just a policy for FAO, but a policy for its members, a policy which tries to set objectives and goals that everyone concerned about food and agriculture is trying to achieve,” says Eve Crowley, FAO deputy director for gender, equity and rural development.

“It’s important to build a momentum around these objectives and goals among all stakeholders.”

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