The International Day of Rural Women, held this year on 15th October, is commemorated annually to honour the crucial role women play in ensuring the sustainability and resilience of rural households and communities to improve their livelihoods and overall wellbeing. The day acknowledges the unique and critical contribution of women to agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resources management, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and unpaid and domestic care work.
Gender plays a fundamental role in the way people’s lives are structured, and how they are exposed to POETCom’s work. In this issue, we speak to POETCom’s Gender and Value Chains Advisor Flavia Ciribello to better understand the importance of gender mainstreaming in POETCom’s work and the broader agricultural sector.
When we talk about gender in agriculture, we are not adding something new to the existing reality, but rather we are looking at the reality from a different perspective. In other words, gender is not something that has been created or imported, but it is, and has been, part of Pacific life as we know it.
Applying a gender lens creates space for a deep reflection around culture and social norms, while looking at the social dimensions of agricultural interventions.
When we design technical agricultural interventions, the majority of the time we don’t also consider their social implications, which include gender dimensions. The assumption is that technical intervention will be fair and equalto all people. Such interventions, however, often fail to recognize that differences in needs and capacities affect the extent to which women and men benefit from and contribute to the agricultural sector.
Although both women and men provide a unique contribution to the sector, their access to benefits and opportunities is not fairly and equally distributed. This is mainly due to social norms that determine power dynamics and life opportunities for women and men, and which often prevent women from fully participating in agricultural value chains. Inequality in terms of access to capital, land ownership, learning and vocational opportunities, decision-making and leadership, and mobility is common in agriculture in the region.
If we apply a gender lens to agriculture, we will be able to identify factors that are bottlenecks to the development of the sector.
Discriminatory norms towards women, or any other societal group, contribute to dampening individuals’ potential that, in turn, negatively impacts society. If women cannnot fully participate in agriculture value chains, the agriculture sector will lose a key contribution to its sustainable development and growth.
Taking gender and social inclusion considerations into account is a way to ensure equal and fair distribution of opportunities and benefits at the individual level, but also a way to understand and then develop the sector in a more efficient and sustainable way.
In the organic sector, there is increasing evidence that organic and sustainable farming empowers women in a way that conventional agriculture never has. By its nature, the organic sector has the potential to create more equitable gender distributions of farm labour and power. Emphasis on smaller scale family farms with less mechanized labour intensive processes, less reliance on commercial inputs, increased diversity, and focus on local markets opens up more spaces for female involvement in day to day farm production and marketing. These shifts in the labour process are expected to create greater female involvement in decision-making as women’s knowledge and contributions are increasingly recognized and valued. While it’s useful to acknowledge how organic farming has opened doors for women in agriculture, an equally necessary acknowledgement is how the participation of women broadens and deepens the multiple goals of organic and sustainable farming.
The four year Building Prosperity for Women Producers, Processors and Women Owned Businesses through Organic Value Chains (BPWP) project supported by the Australian Government created an opportunity within POETCom – through making resources available and promoting new skills – to boost its efforts toward gender mainstreaming and the gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda in the organic sector, in general.
Although inclusion and fairness are values that are embedded in POETCom’s vision, we are now also making efforts to integrate gender in our work in a systematic way. Among others, our interventions include: gender sensitive data collection and analysis; a crosscutting and integrated approach to gender and organics at the policy and community level; gender balanced representation in all of our activities; and addressing mindsets and behaviours around harmful and discriminatory gender and social norms.
Data and ‘real’ life show women’s important contribution to the agricultural sector. However, this contribution is often not seen and valued. This overall lack of recognition has led to weak knowledge of their vital role.
Therefore, due to their invisible role within the agricultural sector, POETCom is committed to creating more space for women to BE SEEN and HEARD. That is why we will develop a dedicated page in our newsletter that provides women the an opportunity to share their successes and stories of empowerment as organic champions, while inspiring and encouraging others to take a leading, or simply active, role in the organic sector. The hope is to tell stories on how the journey of women that have been empowered is a way to boost organic farming, and how organic farming can empower women by improving their socio-economic status and reshaping unequal power relations.