Gender Equality, Secret Weapon against Hunger

13 August 2013 -- A three-day high level consultative meeting was hosted by ADB and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regional office (RAP) with support from Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) to raise awareness on gender, food security and nutrition issues in the Asia and Pacific region.

(Left to right) -- Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific; Yukol Limlamthong, Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Cooperatives; and Jeannette Gurung, Executive Director, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN).

The meeting also aimed to identify strategies that would increase employment and livelihood opportunities for women.

The consultation, funded by the ADB Gender and Development Fund, addressed issues emanating from the technical research paper and publication on gender and food security guided by the Joint Communities of Practice on Gender Equity, and Agriculture, Rural Development and Food Security, as well as the FAO.

The publication, Gender Equality and Food Security: Women's Empowerment as a Tool Against Hunger, authored by Prof. Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, was separately launched with a media briefing on 24 July 2013, followed by lunch with media representatives.

The high-level consultation and launch brought together 76 ministerial and senior representatives of agriculture and women's/gender equality ministries, and CSOs. The meeting was attended by 25 Ministers of Agriculture, and Ministers or Heads of national women’s machineries. See list of participants, bio data of presenters and chairs, and ADB News Release.

Investing in gender equality

The high level consultation was opened by H.E. Yukol Limlamthong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture for Thailand, who emphasized the importance of investing in gender equality to enhance food security. Opening remarks were also made by Hiroyuki Konuma, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, FAO; Jeannette Gurung, Executive Director of WOCAN; and Shireen Lateef (in absentia), Senior Gender Adviser, ADB.

P. Imrana Jalal, Senior Social Development Specialist (Gender), ADB provided an overview of the study and publication, and shared the objectives of the workshop.

Prof. De Schutter delivered the key note presentation on gender, food and nutrition security issues in the Asia-Pacific region and provided a comparative perspective on the global front. His key message was that if women are ever fully empowered by land ownership and as food producers, that will have a huge impact on food security and hunger reduction all over the region. He argued that "gender equality is the single most important determinant of food security".

View also "Closing the Gender Gap" YouTube video by FAO, which presents the business case for investing in gender equality to enhance food security.

Removing the barriers women face in their roles as food producers, farm workers, and primary caregivers is achievable, inexpensive and imperative, argued Lourdes Adriano, Practice Leader for Agriculture, Food Security & Rural Development in the Regional and Sustainable Development Department, ADB. Adriano shared ADB experiences and interventions on gender, food security and nutrition in the region/sub-region. A critical message was that paying women a decent wage, improving their access to tools, fertilizers, and credit, and guaranteeing their right to own and access land would have a huge multiplier effect on food security and hunger reduction.

A presentation by Dr. Kraisit Tontisirin, Senior Advisor, National Food Committee, Thailand, followed, where he said that the roles of females in achieving food and nutrition security were important, as over 50‐60% of service providers, as well as village volunteers, are females, working with community leaders to "reach the unreached".

Global and regional cooperation

In a statement, H.E. Dato' Tajuddin bin Adbul Rahman, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Malaysia, said that Malaysia has more than 30% of women policy makers appointed to high posts. He shared data on women’s participation in agriculture, and as entrepreneurs, pointing out that 65% out of 15,000 entrepreneurs in Agro-Based Enterprises are women-owned.

Dr. Suriyan Vichitlikarn, Head of the GMS Agriculture Working Group Secretariat and former Head of Agriculture in ASEAN '20, delivered comments on Strategic Efforts and Regional Coordination in the Asia-Pacific Region. He pointed out that gender equality, and food and nutrition security require global and regional cooperation, and that interventions had to be beyond regional political statements and policy. This was complemented by Seema Naidu, Gender Officer, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat who shared Pacific Island perspectives on gender and food security, and highlighted the link between gender based violence and food insecurity.

During the launch and media briefing on Gender Equality and Food Security – Women’s Empowerment as a Tool against Hunger, Lourdes Adriano delivered launch remarks emphasizing that "no food security strategy is likely to succeed without taking into account this dimension of women's rights." She said that Prof. De Schutter summed it up well by saying, "strengthening women's rights is the secret weapon against hunger." See program.

Break-out group sessions on good practices and lessons learned from country experiences followed, facilitated by Karin Schelzig, Senior Social Sector Specialist, ADB on Rural poverty and linkages to social and gender-based disparities. Other facilitators included Nomindelger Bayaslaganbat, Nutrition officer, FAO presenting on Gender and nutrition linkages for food security, economic and social well-being; and Seeva Ramasawmy, Gender and Rural Statistics officer, FAO discussing gaps and needs for gender-specific evidence and data on food and nutrition security. See some of the take away messages.

Mobilizing female farmers

Nanu Ghatani, (translated by Kopila Thapa), a female farmer, and a self-described "socially excluded woman" from the Kabre district in Nepal, spoke about her experiences in mobilizing local female farmer groups. She started mobilizing with three local farmer women, they now have 360 members and 21 sub-groups.

The report Gender Equality and Food Security: Women's Empowerment as a Tool Against Hunger takes an in-depth look at women's role in food production, nutrition, and access to food in the region, and the steps needed to remove barriers facing female farmers and food production workers.

She said, "When I started to invite women to join, at first they don't want to speak and now they are so empowered and not only want to talk about themselves, but about their family and community as well." Read her inspiring story and view the WOCAN video featuring Nanu. See the ADB gender blog for more on her in the next month.

During a session on Strategic approaches: Options to address gender dimensions of food and nutrition security, panel discussion presentations were made by: Emmeline Verzosa, Executive Director, Philippines Commission on Women, who discussed the Magna Carta on Women and emphasized that there was a a comprehensive chapter on rights and the empowerment of marginalized sectors with sections on food security and productive resources, the right to livelihoods, credit, capital and technology and social protection; Nandini Gunewardena, Gender and Rural Statistics officer, FAO who spoke about the key approaches and options that have been identified under FAO’s new strategic framework to strengthen gender equality and women's empowerment for reducing rural poverty and enhancing food and nutrition security; Chhaya Bhavsar, Coordinator, Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) who shared a video on the work of SEWA; and Shakuntala Thilsted, Senior Nutrition Advisor, the World Fish, who discussed the gender dimensions of the World Fish programs to enhance food security.

Break-out group discussions followed, with topics focusing on Policy and Concrete actions for Rights-based measures for improving equal access to information, education and resources, facilitated by Nandini Gunewardena; Leveraging policy and institutional reform and priority actions at the country and regional levels - Strengthening collaboration and partnerships, facilitated by WOCAN; and Reducing gender specific food and nutrition insecurity (i.e. social protection, employment) facilitated by Yoshimi Onishi, Gender and Rural Employment officer, FAO.

On the topic Tools and Guidelines for Strategic, Equitable, and evidence-informed national policies and interventions, panelists spoke about Gender and Decent Rural Employment, Nelien Haspels, Senior Gender Specialist, ILO Bangkok; CEDAW's Tool for gender-sensitive agriculture and rural development policy and programme formulation, Yoshimi Onishi; FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries, and Forests in the context of National Food Security, Nandini Gunewardena; and the FAO Women's Empowerment in Agriculture Index, Tania Tam, Regional Food Security M&E Specialist, USAID.

HE Valentino Varela, Secretary of State for Livestock, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestries, Timor- Leste delivered final concluding comments on Timor-Leste's framework of policies, laws and programs, pointing out that it was "not enough to have a good policy and plan, but beyond that we need to have good political will to operationalize all these programs and plans." See the presentation.

The consultation concluded with an Outcome Document which parties agreed would guide their future actions.

Please see the news articles on the High-Level Consultation and Launch: