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Sep 29, 2023
Why Gender-Responsive Policies are Critical Drivers of Equitable Agri-Food Systems

The recently concluded Africa Food Systems Forum saw increased calls for concerted efforts to scale up the transformation of African food systems through actionable strategies fueled by gender-responsive investments.

The Forum curated a series of conversations that highlighted the nexus of gender and agri-food policies, emphasizing the potential of policies to bridge the gaping divide in agri-food systems.

The 2023 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report on the Status of Women in Agri-food Systems takes stock and assesses the progress toward narrowing the gender gap in agriculture and some of its underlying causes. The report explores what has proven effective in reducing gender inequalities and identifies the need for enabling policies and legal frameworks to foster equitable agri-food systems.

African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) and the African Food Changemakers co-organized a side event at the 2023 Africa Food Systems Forum on “Gender Responsive Policies as Drivers of Innovative Solutions for Equitable Agri-food Systems.” The event drew attention to gender-responsive agricultural policies and programs’ role in closing the gender gaps in agri-food systems, generating gains in innovation-driven development, and enhancing food security and nutrition.

The side event brought together diverse policy and gender expert panelists, including Ms. Dina Esposito, Assistant to the Administrator, Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, The States Agency for International Development (USAID), Dr. Susan Kaaria, Director, AWARD, Dr. Nicoline de Haan, Director, CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform, Dr. Nomathemba Mhlanga, Agribusiness Officer, FAO, Ms. Ndidi Nwuneli, Founder & Executive Chair, African Food Changemakers and Dr. Lilian Kirimi, Senior Research Fellow and Research Coordinator, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural Policy and Development, Egerton University.

In her keynote speech, Ms. Esposito noted that leveling the playing field for women in agri-food systems would grow global GDP by 1 percent, reducing the number of food-insecure people by 45 million.

“Policies and regulations can help or hurt progress for women. They can, for example, open opportunities for women to own land or, perversely, undermine their rights. They can promote women’s access to finance or, perversely, create barriers to accessing bank accounts, digital technologies, and collateral,” said Ms. Esposito.

The challenges of the agri-food sector are complex. To effectively transform the gender gaps, we need to look beyond the symptoms of gender inequality and challenge and change the discriminatory social norms. Therefore, closing gender gaps in agri-food systems is a matter of social justice and a crucial driver of sustainable development.

While speaking at the panel, Dr. Kaaria emphasized the significance of gender-responsive policies as drivers of innovative solutions for equitable agri-food systems. She pointed out that we need to pay attention to how agri-food policies enable [or not] equitable agri-food systems. In 2022, AWARD launched the Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship, which focuses on equipping policy practitioners with the tools and expertise to analyze agri-food policy processes for gender-positive outcomes. Dr. Kaaria made a call to action urging stakeholders to recognize that gender-responsive policies are a prerequisite for sustainable agricultural development.

Gender-responsive policies have emerged as a powerful tool to drive the needle toward more equitable and inclusive food systems. Well-designed policies not only recognize the unique roles and contributions of women in agriculture but also seek to redress historical imbalances.

“Policies allow you to change the way society views things. How can we leverage them?” said Dr. de Haan.

While discussing the significance of gender-responsive policies, the panel also noted the power of fostering deliberate collaborations to advance equitable agri-food systems.

Coordinated efforts to unlock the individual and collective potential of women are necessary to advance gender equality.

Dr. Mhlanga stated that researchers and policymakers must understand where and how women participate in the value chains to design effective interventions.

“The FAO report presents an opportunity for researchers to examine challenges in the agri-food systems beyond production,” she expressed.

She stressed the importance of adopting gender-sensitive strategies, such as customized training and collaborative peer learning, to accelerate women’s empowerment within agri-food systems.

Similarly, Dr. Kirimi urged stakeholders to delve into economic relations and institutions within the agri-food space as they form a significant part of the social fabric that dictates gender roles and responsibilities impacting agriculture. She elucidated the significance of considering gender-transformative policies, highlighting that transformative approaches tackle the fundamental sources of inequality.

Furthermore, she stressed that thoroughly examining crucial priority policies is imperative to effectively integrate women into agri-food systems and ensure equitable benefits.

“To achieve gender transformation on a larger scale,” she concluded, “we need to address three critical policy areas: conventional policies such as regulations and legislation, enabling policies related to credit, finance, technology, and trade.”

By bringing together diverse perspectives and resources, prioritizing inclusivity, data-driven decision-making, capacity building, and collaboration, gender-responsive policies can address the challenges of our complex agri-food systems and foster equitable benefits for women and men smallholders.

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