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Empowering women to lift global output

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ROME—Tackling gender inequalities in agri-food systems and empowering women reduce hunger, boost the economy and reinforces resilience to shocks like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) shows.

The status of women in agrifood systems report, the first of its kind since 2010, goes beyond agriculture to provide a comprehensive picture of the status of women working across agri-food systems—from production to distribution and consumption.

The report stresses that globally, 36 per cent of working women are employed in agri-food systems, along with 38 per cent of working men. However, women’s roles tend to be marginalized and their working conditions are likely to be worse than men’s—irregular, informal, part-time, low-skilled, or labor-intensive. Likewise, women engaged in wage employment in agriculture earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.

Women also have less secure tenure over land, less access to credit and training and have to work with technology designed for men. Along with discrimination, these inequalities create a 24-percent gender gap in productivity between women and men farmers on farms of equal size.

Notably, the study underscores that agri-food systems are a more important source of livelihood for women than for men in many countries. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa 66 per cent of women’s employment is in the sector, compared with 60 per cent of men. In southern Asia, women overwhelmingly work in agri-food systems (71 per cent of women, versus 47 per cent of men), although fewer women than men are in the labour force.

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Socioeconomic benefits

“If we tackle the gender inequalities endemic in agri-food systems and empower women, the world will take a leap forward in addressing the goals of ending poverty and creating a world free from hunger”, says FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword of the report.

The study explains that closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agricultural employment would increase global gross domestic product by nearly $1 trillion and reduce the number of food-insecure people by 45 million. FAO News

Similarly, benefits from projects that empower women are higher than those that just mainstream gender. The authors explain that if half of small-scale producers benefited from development interventions that focused on empowering women, it would significantly raise the incomes of an additional 58 million people and increase the resilience of an additional 235 million.

“Efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems depend on the empowerment of all women and gender equality. Women have always worked in agri-food systems. It is time that we made agri-food systems work for women, adds Qu.

The report also indicates that when economies shrink, women’s jobs go first. Globally, 22 per cent of women in the ‘off-farm’ segments of agri-food systems lost their jobs in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to 2 per cent of men.

Women’s food insecurity also rose faster during the pandemic, and they had to take on more care responsibilities, which often resulted in girls missing more school than boys. Gender-based violence also increased, especially domestic violence against women and girls.

The study further confirms that women are more vulnerable to climate shocks and natural disasters, as resource constraints and discriminatory gender norms can make it harder for them to adapt. For example, women’s work burdens, including hours worked in agriculture, tend to decline less than men’s during climate shocks such as heat stress. FAO news

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