Gender equality and empowerment: a still current challenge
Despite progress over the last decades, women all around the world continue to be discriminated, excluded, under-represented, and ignored. This is a plague that paradoxically affects both the North and South of the world. Ensuring a complete gender equality and full female empowerment includes achieving equal rights in terms of food security, food justice, access to land, resources, technology, finance, removing market barriers, fostering inclusion, and pairing their rights to be educated. These still remain widespread challenges.
A careful, invisible presence
According to FAO, gender inequality in the agricultural sector is one of the most significant areas of gender disparity worldwide. In Europe, 30% of the female population works formally in the agri-food industry, a percentage that goes up to 50%, 60%, and even 90% in some developing countries. However, these data do not take into account the large number of women employed informally in the primary sector, who do not receive actual compensation and are not made visible by the statistics.
Women are those who naturally grow children, ensure family unity, and who intrinsically care the most about food choices and nutrition in the household. Instrumental in the management and provision of their family’s needs, women are also the main protagonists of the world’s fresh food production through their work in post-harvesting processing activities and are more likely to innovate when it comes to pastoralism.
Despite the importance of their presence in the agri-food sector, women still face significant inequalities, which keeps the world far from reaching the Gender Equality SDG stressed by the United Nations. This is clear in terms of the digital divide in livestock management, where less than 3% of women have access to technology and equipment that can reduce labor intensity, maximize yields, and reduce health hazards. This context further explains why the FAO reveals that women’s agricultural productivity is on average 20–30% lower than men’s. Within the European Union, only 68% of women are employed compared to 78% of men, and women earn almost 20% less per hour than their male counterparts. Looking at Italy, the 2021 Gender Equality Index shows that our country has only reached gender equality at a rate of 63.8, with 100 being the full gender balance.
The EU road towards female empowerment
With women being affected by inequalities, especially in the agri-food sector, acting to reduce the gender gap and creating an inclusive industry is crucial. We cannot ignore that to achieve food security and food justice, effective strategies for inclusion and equity must be drafted. The European Union has set out a 5-year-long strategy to achieve gender equality within the Union by 2025. The European Gender Equality Strategy 2020-25 for women’s inclusion and equality, which aims at reducing gender pay gaps, gender violence, and gender disparity in politics, is also supported by the Gender Action Plan III 2021-2025.
Focusing on making gender equality a multi-dimensional priority, the current Gender Action Plan uses, among other measures, the European Green Deal and the Digital Transition as means to achieve the SDG 5 of gender balance. With women being such an important lever for the global agricultural sector and the creation of just and secure food systems, their integration and economic empowerment is one of the EU’s priorities for the next five years. The program of Empowering Women in Agrifood (EWA), which is co-funded by the EU, represents a clear example of the need for engaging women in a program tailored for agri-food entrepreneurs to increase their presence in the agri-food sector.
Raising women's voices and rights: a commitment from global to local
Empowering women in agriculture and eliminating the current gender gap is more urgent than ever, not only to increase female farm returns (by upwards of 20–30% according to UN Women), but also to boost agricultural production in developing countries, tackling the serious issue of undernourishment. This is the basis for more equitable and inclusive food systems. Bringing to light the presence and work of women in the food system decision-making processes goes beyond promoting female leadership.
It is for these reasons that the Future Food Institute, in collaboration with MoooFarm, the Indian program to support India’s dairy sector, dedicated a UN Food Systems Summit Independent Dialogue last July to the role of women in agriculture. The Dialogue, coordinated under the Project DAWN (Dairy, Agriculture, Women, Nutrition) – the flagship initiative of MoooFarm – focused on empowering women dairy farmers to make small-scale dairy farming more inclusive, sustainable, efficient, and nutritious.
Embracing gl-ocal solutions in a perspective of multistakeholderism has also been behind the several events and appointments organized by the Institute to raise female voices at the institutional and political levels: the Women20 Delegation, the active participation in the General States of Women, and several side events during G20 and COP26.
These are all endorsements supported by in-depth research, such as the one developed in partnership with Dole on nutrition and women rights, and local-rooted actions.
From Pollica, one of our main Living Labs and the cradle of the Mediterranean Diet, the Future Food Institute is concretely supporting the European Gender Action Plan by naming Pollica’s Living Lab “2021 City of Women,” restoring the ancient tradition and key value that women have always played in the Mediterranean Basin. In order to raise awareness on the matter of gender equality and empower Pollica’s community, a Gender Library was created inside the village. Moreover, Pollica’s Paideia Campus has decided to open its doors to Ukrainian youth and women escaping from the war, giving them the chance to undertake training programs on the Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle, aiming at creating an inclusive and equal environment.
Given the role women play in the Italian and global agri-food sector, working towards gender equality is essential if we want to achieve food security and food justice. On the International Day of Family, a special thanks to women as primary carers for the nutritional choices of their households is not enough. Acting for a more inclusive and gender-balanced world is, now more than ever, a shared priority.
Tomorrow, in the middle of the EU AgriFood Week, women will play a central role during the session: Actions to Empower Women in Agritech.
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