Date released
05 March 2021

By Jane Alver, ACIAR Associate Research Program Manager for Gender

International Women’s Day on 8 March is a day to celebrate the achievements of women and simultaneously a call to action for gender equality acceleration. This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Women in leadership: achieving an equal future in a COVID world.

Women and men ought to have an equal role in leading discussions and solutions on securing food security and tackling food loss, key issues in response to the impacts of the pandemic, with markets and borders closed. Gender equality and food security are crucial to achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Moreover, working toward SDG 2 on Zero Hunger will require major changes to the world’s food systems. And yet, despite women farmers facing higher levels of food insecurity, despite international attention to the barriers and constraints affecting women’s food security and calls for a paradigm shift, women are still too frequently left off the analysis and out of equal opportunities for leadership and participation.

Women with hands up
Farmers from Hawragari village, Cooch Behar District of West Bengal, showing their support for research adopting conservation agriculture based sustainable intensification practices and technologies.

ACIAR recently joined in dialogue with governments, private sector, civil society organisations, women workers associations, researchers, donors and intergovernmental organisations in a United Nations Food Systems Summit Dialogue on Women to discuss solutions to address gender inequality and the situation of women in food systems.  This dialogue recognised the need to empower women’s leadership in food systems to ensure policies are inclusive and effective. It noted that despite their importance to food security, women still face barriers stemming from lack of land ownership, discrimination, difficulty accessing agricultural credit and farming systems that do not recognise their input.

Building more inclusive food systems will be key to supporting vulnerable populations affected by the pandemic. Inclusive food systems integrate marginalised people into food supply chains, to escape poverty, improve nutrition, and reduce inequalities.  Women must be involved in the solutions. Equal access to resources by women increases production on farms by up to 30% and reduces hunger.

ACIAR’s involvement in this dialogue builds on its ongoing efforts working with multiple stakeholders in commissioning research for development to address gender inequality in food systems and reduce food loss in developing country value chains. Projects commissioned recently by ACIAR address gendered impacts and with gender-equal leadership teams to meet funding criteria. Within a smallholder farming context, such gendered aspects included decision making, land tenure security, access to farming inputs and gender appropriate extension and advisory services.

Women with bok choy
Farmers in Paraiso village in Koronadal City in the Southern Philippine Province of South Cotabato, Mindanao, with the vegetables from a community garden, harvested as part of an ACIAR-funded project improving the methods and impacts of agricultural extension.

The successful projects have women in leadership roles, designing and delivering the projects. Gender analysis of value chains examines the links that allow produce and knowledge to be shared among various sites and between actors.

This combination brings into focus the relationship between individual agency and the formal and informal rules that account for the positioning of men and women within the value chain. The projects aim to develop an understanding of gender inequalities and gender barriers that are conducive to food losses and identify ways to overcome them, as well as informing policy approaches.

Women with corn
Nalongo Nabayaza Proscovia Bakyala Kwegaita Women’s Group, Nakasongola, Uganda. The women group was part of the recently ended Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project financed by ACIAR, which has helped 230,000 farmers adopt sustainable intensification technologies.

Improving gender equity and empowerment of women and girls are key objectives for ACIAR. ACIAR is committed to tackling gender inequality in research design, delivery and impact. Integrating gender in agricultural research for development is smart and sensible development as it addresses the needs of both women and men while recognising and addressing unequal access to resources and decision making.

With guidelines on conducting research on gendered social relations in agricultural development, ACIAR research is focused on the crucial leadership roles of women in smallholder agriculture in the recovery and in building resilience in a post-COVID-19 world.

With women responsible for half the world’s food production, and as high as between 60 and 80% in some developing countries, ACIAR will continue to invest in women’s leadership in agriculture and research for development- not just for International Women’s Day, not just for a post COVID world, but well into the future.