Rome, 28 July 2021 –It is time for evidence to contribute towards achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment. We are called upon to light a decision-making path for our leaders”, stated Dr Indran Naidoo, Director of the Independent Office of Evaluation (IOE) of IFAD, as he opened the United Nations Food Systems Summit (FSS) parallel session on ‘evidence pathways to gender equality and food systems transformation’, on 27 July 2021.

Gender inequalities negatively affect food systems, in spite of the fact that women represent almost half of the total agricultural workforce in low-income countries, as underlined by H.E Ms. Céline Jurgensen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations in Rome. “Whereas women are key actors in every part of the food chain as farmers, entrepreneurs, processors, traders and consumers, systematic gender inequalities remain leading women’s contribution to be often undervalued.” 

The high attention paid to women’s empowerment by international policymakers has fallen short of making the necessary impact. “Policies adopted to close the gap between opportunities for women and men have not been enough. Experience has shown us that achievements made thus far have been isolated because they are not holistically approached. In many cases, women have entered into what is conventionally seen as ‘men’s world’. The challenge is now for men to enter into what is conventionally seen as ‘women’s world’”, stated Ms María de los Ángeles Gomez Aguilar, Alternate Representative of Mexico to FAO, WFP and IFAD.

With a global pandemic causing havoc to food systems worldwide, evidence is needed to deliver viable solutions to this paradox as never before. “In these times of conflict and pandemic-driven crisis, evaluation has never been more relevant and necessary. As members of the evaluation community, it is our duty, our responsibility to share findings from evaluations so that we learn and act; so that we contribute to solutions. We provide the scientific level of objectivity needed now more than ever”, Dr Naidoo underscored in this regard. H.E. Ms Alexandra Bugailiskis, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Canada to FAO, WFP and IFAD, reiterated this point by emphasizing that “evaluation makes sure that we can invest effectively and make good returns”.

Co-organized by IFAD, WFP, FAO and CGIAR Advisory Services, the gender-focused FSS parallel session brought together over one hundred and fifty among high-level representatives of the diplomatic community, international organizations and civil society for a discussion facilitated by Ms Allison Smith, Director of CGIAR Advisory Services. Discussions focused largely on the findings of a joint report of the four agencies that summarises learning and experience from 47 evaluations addressing food systems-related programming since 2017. The result of this collective effort is a document that highlights nine evidence and experience-based lessons, which will enrich gender-responsive and transformative approaches to food system programming.  

At the core of the report lies the recognition that if systemic gender inequalities are to be addressed, then food systems programming needs to move from trying to ‘address the symptoms’ of gender inequality, to tackling its root causes. That is, to shift from a lens of ‘equal participation’ of men and women, to a vision of transformative change and reform. “The focus on trying to directly address and change general norms and values is important to address gender relations and empowering women”, stated Mr Béla Teeken, Associate Gender Scientist at IITA Nigeria in this regard.

Creating alliances for change, monitoring progress, building local capacities and scaling-up initiatives are among the cobblestone that pave the way to realizing this vision. “We do not get very far if we do not have the involvement of national and local actors. Partnerships are key. We need more collaboration with women-led organizations, civil society organizations. We need to build alliances around gender, food security and sexual reproductive health”, stated Ms Jette Michelsen, Deputy Permanent Representative of Denmark to FAO, WFP and IFAD.

In the same vein, Ms Maureen Munjua, Country Representative of Tanager in Kenya further noted that “each organization has a footprint, and this footprint can be used as a basis to scale-up our individual and collective responsibility and commitment to improving gender equality and nutrition”, while Ms Saadya Hamdani, Director of gender and inclusion at Plan international Canada, stressed that “coherent indicators must be set so that we have consistent monitoring of results as we go along our programming.” 

Undoubtedly, gender transformative approaches represent a shift in how we think about and approach gender. Engaging men and women together as agents of change remains an uphill battle – the importance of which cannot be overstated.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a game-changer, a cross-cutter, a catalyst at the core. Activities that support Gender equality and women’s empowerment can spur progress towards all other sustainable development goals. Not only will its achievement improve nutrition, health and education outcomes for women, men, girls and boys, but it will also bring wider benefits for families, communities and nations”, summarized Ms Andrea Cook, Director of Evaluation at WFP in her closing remarks.  

For further information, please contact Alexander Voccia at a.voccia@ifad.org

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