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The Borlaug Blog

Challenging Gender Inequality – In Agricultural Development And Beyond

By Joanna Veltri
Chief of the Americas Liaison Office, International Fund for Agricultural Development

Many of us in the international development policy space spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about gender and how best to support and empower women and girls in the education, employment, financial, social and other spheres.  At IFAD, we concertedly support women – farmers, fishers, and entrepreneurs along the various stops on the agriculture value chain.  As evidenced by decades of development work, supporting, enabling and empowering women has tremendous spillover effects not only for family and society, but also for stability and economic growth.  And supporting women in agriculture can transform the sector into one that is even stronger and more resilient, as was highlighted earlier this month in work by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The benefits of supporting and empowering women are clear, compelling, and tangible.  But one of the difficult lessons of this past year is that rural women themselves remain particularly vulnerable in crises for reasons entrenched in societies and policies around the world.  In other words, we have a long way to go to build the resilience needed to safeguard the gains brought by women in all sectors.  As my colleague Ndaya Beltchika, IFAD’s Lead Technical Specialist in Gender, Targeting and Social Inclusion, recently explained in IFAD’s “Farms. Food. Future” podcast, the COVID19 pandemic has had widespread effects on rural communities – in terms of income loss, declining remittances and overloaded health systems – but the impacts on women have been even more profound in breadth and depth.  Women tend to be the caretakers – so with school closures and sick family members, that burden is heavier; with extended home confinement, instances of domestic violence increase.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge”.  What a perfect theme as we come to grips with the fact that we cannot take the gains we have made – as women, as development practitioners, as citizens concerned about the world – for granted.  Shocks like a pandemic (or climate change, or economic downturns, or conflict situations…) affect women more and highlight the fragility of our progress.  What does this mean?  We need to double down in our efforts to not only make progress but to stem inequality along the way.  We need to empower rural women because they face more challenges even when the going is good.

In addition to thinking about this on the macro or ag-sector level, it is essential that each of us also considers our personal roles in advancing women – wherever we are, and whenever we can.  In that same interview, Ndaya provided five straightforward ways in which all of us can incorporate this mindset into our daily lives – to “choose to challenge” the current inequalities around us, contributing to a broader ripple effect:

  1. Share the care.  Women often are responsible for the bulk of caretaking and housework – making education and entrepreneurial progress even more challenging.  And as Madhura Swaminathan pointed out in her recent Borlaug Blog, women’s contributions to the food system – paid or unpaid – are foundational; valuing these contributions starts with counting them.

  2. Stand up against sexism and harassment.  Call out inappropriate behavior in a safe and respectful manner and challenge discriminatory assertions – and support others when they stand up against harmful actions and behavior as well. 

  3. Teach girls their worth.  Remind girls in our lives that they are strong, capable, and deserving of the same respect as boys.  Empower the girls (especially in STEM fields) who someday will catalyze systemic or technological leaps in horticulture, livestock, water management, etc.

  4. Promote healthy images of masculinity.  In our families and communities, support expressions of masculinity that include vulnerability, sensitivity, caretaking, and other non-traditional roles for men.

  5. Exercise our political rights.  We know that women continue to remain underrepresented politically in most countries around the world.  As of 2020, women only held 25 percent of seats in national parliaments and comprised less than seven percent of world leaders.  Be informed, vote, and support qualified women already in positions.

03/18/2021 8:00 AM |Add a comment
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