Invest in women, ignite change in food systems

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By Ismahane Elouafi, CGIAR Executive Managing Director

On this International Women’s Day, we celebrate women’s ability to accelerate progress and their central role in transforming our faltering food systems. Around the world, it is often women at the center of making decisions about what the family eats: what gets cooked and what gets served. Women play an equally important but less recognized role in agricultural production. Quite simply, we cannot talk about food and nutrition security without discussing gender equality. 

However, in an era marked by unprecedented challenges, including the climate crisis, conflicts, post-pandemic recovery, and soaring costs of living, progress in gender equality is faltering and, in some cases, reversing. The stark reality is that, at the current pace, achieving gender equality will take nearly 300 years without additional investment.  

A 2023 estimate suggests an extra $360 billion annually is required to achieve gender equality and empower women across key global goals by 2030. On International Women’s Day 2024, UN Women is rallying development actors to heed the call to “Invest in women: Accelerate progress.” CGIAR, through its GENDER Impact Platform, aligns with this initiative, emphasizing the crucial need for and benefits of investing in women’s access to finance, economic empowerment, and agricultural solutions that work for women. 

Critical areas to focus on include:  

  1. Investing in Making Finance Available to Women, Youth, and Indigenous Peoples 
  2. Investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment 
  3. Investing in Agricultural Solutions that Work for Women 

    Investing in Making Finance Available to Women, Youth, and Indigenous Peoples 

    Financial inclusion has a significant positive impact on women’s productivity in agriculture. To bridge the gender gap in financial inclusion, interventions must focus on capacity-building in financial and digital services, access to relevant financial products, and creating inclusive financial systems. Climate finance, specifically tailored to women’s needs, can enhance climate change action in agriculture. For example: 

    • Cash Transfer Programs in Bangladesh: Combining cash transfers with nutrition behaviour change communication positively impacts household nutrition and reduces intimate gender-based violence. 
    • Insurance and Finance Bundles in Kenya: In Kenya, a study revealed that households led by women face higher levels of credit constraints compared to those led by men. It concluded that policies should focus on reducing barriers to credit access, especially among poorer women households.  
    • Climate Finance in Indonesia: CGIAR’s study recommends maximizing climate finance mechanisms to promote gender equality, reduce poverty, and ensure long-term gender-transformative change. 

    Investing in Women’s Economic Empowerment 

    Women remain underrepresented in agribusiness, owning only one-third of small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets. Promoting women’s engagement in agribusiness not only contributes to income generation but also leads to socioeconomic empowerment, job creation, and overall economic growth, as in the following examples. 

    • Rice Businesses in Uganda: Women in the rice business credit their success to the acceptance and inclusion by other women in the industry, emphasizing the importance of support networks. 
    • Indian Tea Workers: Ethnic minority women in the tea sector face exploitation and operate at a loss. An intersectional approach is essential to identify just development pathways for marginalized producers. 
    • In Uganda, women involved in the rice business the difficulty of breaking into the predominantly male group of rice millers poses a challenge. Women attribute their success to being accepted early on by those already in the business. Forming groups provides opportunities for collaboration, information sharing, and joint support in rice trading. 

    Investing in Agricultural Solutions that Work for Women 

    Women’s roles in agriculture are often marginalized, characterized by poor working conditions, manual labor and low pay. Designing agricultural solutions that work for women can substantially elevate incomes and enhance resilience, benefiting millions. 

    • Solar Panels in India: Gender-responsive design enhances women’s adoption of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) interventions, like lightweight solar panels designed for ease of use. 
    • In Nicaragua, women’s adoption of climate-smart agriculture was a factor in increased crop diversification, an essential element of dietary diversity and food security. 
    • In Ethiopia, despite progress in narrowing the gender digital gap globally, many women lack access to the internet. Female farmers, in particular, struggle to use digital services for agriculture. CGIAR is working to bridge this gap by including digital innovations in a combined innovation process and partnering with ‘Lersha,’ a digital platform. 

    Investing in women is not just a moral imperative; it is an economic necessity. It’s proven, for example, that women are more likely to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices when given opportunity and decision-making power. CGIAR’s commitment to promoting financial inclusion, economic empowerment, and tailored agricultural solutions for women aligns with the global call to “Invest in women: Accelerate progress”. We must also ‘walk the talk’, so I am proud to say that at CGIAR, we actively seek to create and sustain inclusive and enabling workplaces where everyone can reach their full potential.  

    By putting gender at the heart of food systems innovations and workplace philosophies, we can break the barriers hindering progress, create resilient agri-food systems, and empower women to lead transformative change. It is time to make bold investments to propel us towards a more equitable and sustainable future. 

    Header photo: Women farmers in Jawahar, India. J. Turner / CCAFS.

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