Finally a report on gender issues that does not exclusively focus on women and covers all gender dimensions

Allow me start this blogpost with a personal note. When you commit to do social reporting, you need to be alert and actively follow the conversation and exchanges.  This means, no daydreaming and no way you can check your emails. You are a reporter. You need to listen, concentrate and proactively follow what is happening in the room. If the topic is one close to your heart, you have a less of a challenge, otherwise, you can easily get drained.

When I volunteered to do social reporting for launch of the FAO-IFAD-ILO publication Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural development: Differentiated pathways out of poverty, I was not too sure what to expect. While I understand and appreciate the importance of gender mainstreaming and being gender sensitive, I have to confess that I would not describe myself as a“gender diehard”.

I found  this well-attended, well-organized and substantive event quite refreshing and this was mainly because the participants and discussants while acknowledging the gender fatigue managed to move away from rhetoric and telling the same things over and over again rather highlighted the challenges facing rural men and women from a different angle. Kudos to the authors and the organizers.

“Today we’ve come together to celebrate the fruit of two years of hard work which has resulted in this evidence-based publication”, said Rosemary Varga Lundius, one of IFAD’s gender advocates. And indeed a celebration it was.

Henock Kifle, IFAD’s Chief Development Strategist, in welcoming the over 80 development practitioners and the numerous member country representatives highlighted that this joint FAO-IFAD-ILO publication and the accompanying seven policy briefs address fundamental questions such as:

  • what do we know about the gender dimensions of rural employment?
  • what are the gaps in data and research?
  • are there examples of good practice that could inform national policies?
The main purpose of this research was to gather information on:
  • the different tasks carried out by rural women and men
  • the challenges they face
  • the policy responses needed to reinforce their role in agricultural and rural development
“The research combines empirical data and good practices based on national and international experiences. The publication presents an updated analysis of development issues that are crucial for addressing rural poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Kifle.

The report and the accompanying seven policy briefs provide evidence that rural women have the potential to lift their households and communities out of poverty. But they are hampered by persistent gender inequities. These inequities limit their access to decent work, which they need as a vehicle for economic empowerment, social advancement and political participation.

Loretta de Luca, our ILO colleague, said the a copy of this publication should be in the offices of all member states and policy makers. I think the bigger challenge is how will they use the findings of the report and what actions will they commit to take to overcome challenges such as:
  • valuing the contribution of rural women in bringing about economic growth and reducing poverty
  • recognizing the economic role of women as farmers, wage labourers and small-scale entrepreneurs
  • recognizing women’s “hidden” economic role as caretakers of children and the elderly
Soline de Villard from FAO brilliantly described the policy briefs.  She said: “the accompanying policy briefings are grounded in rural reality. They are ‘down to rural earth.’”

I’m sure developing the policy briefs was more challenging than putting together the 210 page report. This is because practitioners have the tendency to want to cramp far too much cryptic information and fall into the trap of losing sight of their audience needs.

The policy briefs are for people who do not have time to read something cover to cover. So the challenge is to package the wealth of information in such a way that conveys the essential messages in a simple, direct and compelling manner, thus allowing the policy maker to make the right decision and act in a timely manner.

Well, the seven policy briefs not only are ‘down to rural earth’ they are informative and written in a way that clearly outline what action is needed and what policy options are required for:
  • promoting decent work that is fair to both women and men
  • investing in skills
  • promoting entrepreneurship among rural women
  • supporting agricultural value chain development
  • investing in infrastructure
  • making migration work for women and men
  • eliminating child labour
Villard in sharing the concept of ‘time poverty’ said:  “rural women work fewer hours than men in productive work, but all together they work longer hours than men - this both for domestic and productive work.”

“Rural women are relegated to under-valued and under-paid work. They do not have access to infrastructure and child care remains one of the key constraints to women proactively participating in rural labour markets”, highlighted Villard.

She also highlighted the fact that rural employment and women’s employment in particular are characterized by:

  • time constraints in domestic and productive work
  • informal, unpaid working conditions
  • risks and isolation, but women are risk averse
Talking about gender inequalities in rural employment, Villard highlighted this inequality is only partially because of difference in assets. “90% of gender wage gap remains unexplained”, said Villard. “This gap could be contributed to gender discrimination and/or risk aversion.”

This made me reflect that perhaps a challenge to achieve gender equality is for both women and men realize that inequality exists.

During the chat show, moderated by own Cristiana Sparacino - who is born chat show host and is now elevated to the ranks of Oraph Winfrey - FAO’s Eve Crowley pointed out that “to alleviate rural poverty and ensure food security, we need to dig in and understand the root causes of the 90% wage gap between women and men.”

One of the findings of the report that I personally found interesting is summarized in this graphics - namely how being female amplifies rural employment deficits.

This publications is one of the few that I’ve come across that touches upon all gender dimensions and not only women issues.  I think that is why I found it so refreshing. Villard in concluding the presentation of the main findings outlined the need for:

  • compiling sex disaggregated data
  • creating more and better jobs opportunities for rural men and women
  • eliminating child labour
  • putting in place effective policies

Talking about employment opportunities, Claudio Lenoci, ILO director for Italy reiterated that ”decent work means equal opportunity for both women and men”. FAO’s Marcella Villareal underscored the fact the without addressing gender inequalities we will not be able to achieve the targets of MDG1 and cannot effectively reduce hunger and poverty.

Crowely, echoing Villareal reminded the participants that “to reduce hunger and poverty and ensure food security, we need to power women economically, create greater autonomy for women and reduce social inequality.”

“We need to transform agriculture into a sector that not only provides employment opportunities but also provides a better livelihoods,”added Crowley.  ILO’s Loretta de Luca passionately advocated that we need to make women protagonist and made the case that investing in rural women is good business.

Let me wrap up this blogpost with one last personal reflection. We often talk about the disconnect between theory and practice. This causes some tension between the practitioner who “dirties his/her hands” and the academic who hypotheses, writes articles which are then peer reviewed and published in prestigious journals. Well, during the chat show, I saw this dynamics in action. It was interesting to see an academic such as Deepa Joshi from Wageningen University citing and quoting from books and academic materials, and Norman Messer - an on-the-ground practitioners - sharing concrete on-the-ground examples.

I was left with the question whether there was any room to bridge this gap? and wonder how big is this gap?

At the end of event, I was satisfied and happy to have spent my Friday morning attending the launch of Gender dimensions of agricultural and rural development: Differentiated pathways out of poverty. I am sure we’ll be hear more about this report. It surely has gone pretty viral on Twittersphere. A big thank you to all the wonderful people who are tweeting and retweeting about this report. And once again kudos and congratulations to FAO-IFAD-ILO colleagues!