Mar 9, 2024
Celebrating the 2024 International Women’s Day

For the first time, the global Global Food 50/50 Report 2023/2024 extended its scope to address workplace policies crucial for fostering equal opportunities. Highlighting the imperative for inclusive solutions, the report underscores the significance of family-friendly policies as workplace necessities and fundamental human rights issues.

During the celebration of the International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8, 2024, at the CIFOR-ICRAF campus, Dr. Susan Kaaria, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), paused the question, “Are we making progress? A question that rang throughout the day’s discussions and interactions, aligning with this year’s IWD theme, “Invest in women: Accelerate progress.”

The event, “Investing in women to accelerate progress towards equitable agrifood systems,” co-convened by AWARD, CIFOR-ICRAF, and CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform, featured a diverse panel that discussed systems, processes, practices, and solutions that work for women. The discussions focused on two main calls to action: investment in women’s leadership and innovating solutions that work for women in agrifood systems. Notable speakers included representatives from Global Affairs Canada, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), CGIAR GENDER Impact PLATFORM, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), CIFOR-ICRAF, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), CABI Africa, and AWARD.

In his keynote, Mr Hanif Pabani, First Secretary, Pan-Africa and Regional Development, Global Affairs Canada, underscored the importance of investing in women to lead research for development. “Women can be powerful agents of change, offering the innovative solutions we need to global challenges,” he said. He stated that while numerous factors contribute to widening the leaky pipeline of women in agricultural leadership, strategic partnerships could potentially tip the scale. He further noted that intentional partnerships have the power to catalyze research evidence generated, go beyond identifying the gaps, and effectively scale up solutions.

Referencing the Global Food 50/50 report, Dr. Kaaria, moderating the discussion with Dr. Éliane Ubalijoro, CEO, CIFOR-ICRAF, and Prof. Appolinaire Djikeng, Director General, ILRI, emphasized the significant impact of care responsibilities on women’s career trajectories. While acknowledging the progress made, especially at the institutional level, to promote gender equality, the discussions underscored the need for further action.

Dr. Ubalijoro pointed out that to achieve gender equality in institutions, it is important to have supportive systems and visible women leadership and mentors at the top. “How we look at who leads gives us permission (to be ambitious and bold),” she said.

Prof. Djikeng highlighted the early gaps in women’s academic and professional lives. He advocated for supportive policies, monitoring frameworks, and holistic approaches to correcting these gaps.

The discussions also featured inspiring stories from women leaders: Dr. Aster Gebrekirstos, Global Scientist, CIFOR-ICRAF, Dr. Immaculate Omondi, Scientist, Gender Research Economist, ILRI, and Dr. Beatrice Muriithi, Scientist, icipe. The scientists highlighted the transformative impact of interventions beyond capacity building in inspiring women to thrive and pay forward through action.

Women remain underrepresented in postgraduate programs and high-level research, management, and decision-making positions despite the uptick of women researchers in sub-Saharan Africa. A 2020 study on Gender and student performance in sub-Saharan Africa revealed that women represent over half the science graduates at the bachelor’s level (53 percent), compared to 43 percent at the Master’s level and 28 percent at the Ph.D. level. Factors like gender norms, lack of supportive institutional policies, and the lack of a culture that nurtures and rewards rigorous research greatly influence the underrepresentation of women in science.

Dr. Omondi emphasized the importance of safe spaces for women scientists to thrive, acknowledging ILRI’s role in facilitating her career growth. “Thanks to ILRI’s belief in my potential, I am excited about what I have been able to do to transform lives and livelihoods through my work,” said Dr. Immaculate.

Similarly, Dr. Gebrekirstos emphasized the crucial role of family and community support in her journey. She referenced her father’s support throughout her education and career, signaling the role of men in dismantling barriers and paving the way for an equal society.

Mentoring emerged as a crucial tool in navigating career paths for women. The panel noted that mentorship provides a supportive and nurturing environment for women to fully explore their abilities, open doors, inspire, and build successful careers in science.

While sharing her experience, Dr. Muriithi mentioned that she desired to empower more women but lacked the know-how. Thanks to her onboarding AWARD’s Gender Responsive Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship, she has since gained the tools to inspire change within her community. The Fellowship seeks to grow a pool of confident and capable African women to lead policy changes to improve African smallholders’ livelihoods.

Further discussions with Dr. Michèle Mbo’o-Tchouawou, Deputy Director, AWARD, Dr. Monica Kansiime, Deputy Director, CABI Africa, Dr. Edidah Ampaire, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC, Dr. Leigh Ann Winowiecki, Soil, and Land Health Global Research Lead, CIFOR-ICRAF and Dr. Rebbie Harawa, Director-Africa, ICRISAT, underscored the urgency of addressing glaring gender disparities across agrifood systems.

Dr. Harawa highlighted the need to bridge the nutrition gap to build resilience. She commended ICRISAT’s efforts to promote highly nutritious cereals and legumes. “We are not only looking at the nutritional value of the crops, but we are also making sure that they are gender inclusive,” she added, noting that solutions must address the needs of men and women farmers.

On the other hand, Dr. Leigh Ann called for inclusive innovations to improve the continent’s biodiversity. She noted that women play a crucial role in food systems as farmers and custodians of seeds, emphasizing the need to include their voices in conversations about environmental conservation.

Dr. Kansiime highlighted the role of gender-responsive policies in reducing inequalities. From extension services to financial decisions, inclusive policies can transform how we work, promote decision-making, and re-distribute care work, thereby building a stronger enabling environment. “As we work to create opportunities for women and youth, we must interrogate the root causes to advise research better and create policies that work,” she asserted.

The need for resources and well-structured funding mechanisms was a recurring discussion point throughout the conversations. Dr. Ampaire pointed out that gendered funding instruments can hold people accountable for ensuring inclusive outputs. She encouraged the funding community to embrace gendered funding to foster equitable outcomes.

Watch the full event here.

See the event photos.



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