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The future of agricultural progress is in gender equality

There has always been a fight in the world for gender equality. Whether it was equal rights to vote, work or marry freely, women have always been a vulnerable minority of society. Most of the progress made in the gender equality field has occurred in modern and developed countries, which have made wonderful changes in women’s rights.

However, many of these changes are still far from accomplishing complete inclusion for women, let alone for diverse minority groups such as the LGBT+ community or people with special needs. When we realize that developed countries have the most “advanced” policies, we can imagine that in underdeveloped countries, the matter is still rudimentary.

In recent years, greater attention has been paid to issues of the gender gap, both at the national and international level. Internationally, gender-specific regulations have been adopted within the Human Rights treaty framework (particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against women). In addition, the international community has solemnly proclaimed its commitment to the equality of Gender and Women’s Empowerment at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action), at the World Food Summit (Objective 1.3 of the Plan of Action), and in other recent international conferences.

Part of these efforts are supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), since it has become evidently clear that women play a very important role in the future of food and agriculture, specially in South Africa.

Gender equality in Africa? 

First of all, in Africa, close to 62% of women work for the agricultural sector where they do most of the work of production, processing and commercializing the products. They have a primordial job in agriculture, however, only a few have access to research programs (22% of them represent women in the scientific community), to the planning and stablishing of goals, and to the decision-making process.

Women constantly face challenges that men do not, they have little access to resources and basic services that include land, finance, training, supplies and equipment to mention a few. It has been only in recent years that laws in South Africa have changed so that women could own a piece of land.

“Gender equality was one of the fundamental principles of land reform in South Africa. To promote this principle, the White Paper sets out a number of mechanisms, including elimination of legal provisions restricting women’s access to land, non-sexist participation methodologies, financial support for women, registration of land redistributed in the name of women and priority for women applying for a grant” (White Paper on Land Policy 1997 and Gender Policy in Land Reform 1997)

But only think about the unique and special point of view that women, who have worked all their lives in the fields and come from generations of women who have done the same, can bring to the table. They have privileged insight and knowledge that could take research on the subject to a new level.

Studies show that if women had the same opportunities as men in the agricultural sector, for example, productivity would increase by 20% in several African countries. The World Bank has stated that by helping women improve and increase their role in the economy, there would be significant benefits for development and economic growth.

Game players  

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of the institution African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) said that “today, when it comes to food security, Africa is playing a football match in which the outcome is a matter of life and death, all the more so given the effects of climate change and population growth. Bringing the talent of all team members is more than ever a pressing need. You cannot play with half of your team members because then you are bound to lose” (OMPI, 2018).

Besides the evolution of laws and changes made around the world on this subject, there are programs designed specifically to help empower women in Africa. Because when women improve their livelihoods, entire families, communities and countries benefit from it. Women in South Africa work, take care of their families and help stablish a strong sense of community. Therefore, the influence they represent can be a real game changer.

IFAD has been at the forefront of gender equality in rural communities, with a focus on transformative and long-lasting results. Their programmes and projects are inclusive and results oriented as they help rural women grow more food, connect to markets, increase their incomes, and become more literate and financially skilled.

They also highlight the fact that change has to come from within. This is why all family members, including both men and women, are being brought into the programs, approaching them with a different focus on the problem which aims to break the persistent pattern of gender inequality from the inside out. Not just focusing on the woman of the house, but on every link of a family which then transforms into a community, society, nation, mankind.

Even though there is still much to do concerning gender equality in agriculture, we know that it is a key factor when trying to accomplish what hasn’t been done in centuries, taking the South African country and the African continent out of poverty and underdevelopment.

There is a match to be played, and all its team members sit on the bench for now, deciding whether they can play with half the team or they need to improve their chances and include everyone. Only the future of the planet and mankind are at stake. Will they make the right choice?