An assessment of Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) in the governance, policies and programs of Bangladesh’s agri-food systems

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Agri-food system policies and programs in Bangladesh increasingly consider environmental challenges and intersections. Social and political dimensions of agri-food systems are of equal importance to sustainable food security. Is similar attention paid to these issues? The impacts of climate change and challenges from environmental pollution and degradation of natural resources have been shown to lead to declines in agricultural productivity, while at the same time further impacting sustainability and ecosystem services. These challenges can worsen food insecurity in Bangladesh. Inattention to these issues in policies, programs and fiscal strategies will not only affect those who are the most marginalized but also undermine Bangladesh’s social and economic development goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The focus of this study was to examine agri-food system governance in Bangladesh considering seven dimensions of inclusive governance: representation, participation, capacity and skills, access to resources, financial resources, knowledge and innovation. Examining 23 key policies and programs, this report aims to address the following questions:
1. Is socially inclusive governance a focus of key agri-food system policies and programs?
2. What interventions could enable a shift towards more socially inclusive governance for agri-food systems in Bangladesh?

In Bangladesh, agri-food policies and programs do recognize women and other marginalized groups as key stakeholders and encourage some participation of these groups. However, the analysis of 23 relevant food, water, environment and climate policies shows that the focus on issues of inclusive governance lacks coherence, and consequently, the processes of representation and participation are inconsistent. There seems to be a growing effort to engage and consult women and marginalized groups in policy development processes, however, these initiatives are not consistent across policies. Moreover, even when policies and programs are relatively inclusive, little is known of their effectiveness and impact in practice. Policies tend to lack complementary implementation guidelines, and while budgetary allocations for ensuring gender equality are mandatory for all ministries, there is little review, monitoring and reflection on what works well or does not, in terms of socially inclusive governance. Regardless of these challenges, the national Gender Budget Report of Bangladesh prepared annually for all ministries to report on expenditures to promote gender equality across different sectors, including in agri-food system programs, is a key example of the national commitment to tackling gender inequalities through consistent fiscal planning.

The study findings show that a key challenge to socially inclusive policies and programs is the lack of granular evidence and knowledge about the diversity of exclusions experienced by marginalized groups. Without proper representation and voice in decision-making, policies designed top-down are often unable to respond to complex ground realities. To promote gender equality and social inclusion, the authors propose the following interventions:
• Ensure intentional and consistent attention to socially inclusive governance across relevant policies and sectors, and review and track the representation and participation of marginalized communities in agri-food system policy processes.
• Assess how heterogeneity and intersectionality among marginalized groups impact representation and participation in governance across agri-food system value chains, livelihoods and food security, and adaptation and coping strategies in the face of increasing climate and other risks.
• Improve awareness of, and capacity and skills related to, gender and social inclusion for institutional actors implementing policies at scale, and also ensure their engagement in agri-food system policymaking.
• Ensure that agri-food system governance processes tackle, and do not reinforce social identity stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity and forms of marginalization.
• Ensure policies are complemented with detailed strategies and guidelines for implementation, supported by appropriate financing, and that there is a framework and process in place to regularly review and monitor outputs and outcomes.

Irfanullah, H. Md.; Garrett, J.; Joshi, D.; Wickramasinghe, N.

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