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This year, in celebrating the centenary anniversary of the International Women’s Day we paid tribute to the achievements of women who for 100 years have inspired both men and women.

Over the last 100 years, women made a compelling case to achieve equality. While we’ve made great strides there is still lot to be achieved to close the gender gap on many fronts.

On Monday 8 March, on the occasion of the presentation of the“State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11: Women in agriculture – closing the gender gap for development” a joint FAO-IFAD-WFP publication, an international panel of experts discussed ways and means of closing the existing gender gap

BBC’s Zeinab Badawi moderated two lively panel discussions with:

  • Bina Agarwal, Director of the Institute of Economic Growth- University of Delhi, India;
  • Elizabeth Atananga, President de la Plateforme Régionale des Organisations Paysannes d’Afrique Centrale – Cameroon ;
  • Smita Bhatnagar, Senior Coordinator, Self Employed Women’s Association – India
  • Kevin Cleaver, Associate Vice President, Programme Management Department, IFAD;
  • Hafez Ghanem, Assistant Director General FAO;
  • Arlene Mitchell, Senior Program Officer Agricultural Development’s Market Team –B&M Gates Foundation;
  • Thenjiwe Ethel Mtintso, H.E. Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa,
  • Sheila Sisulu Deputy Executive Director WFP
  • Ann Tutwiler, Deputy Director General, FAO and
  • Hans-Heinrich Wrede, H.E. Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany.
The panel discussed the role of women in agriculture and rural economy. During the discussion, time and again, both the panelists and the passionate audience - including numerous students, reiterated how women are more:

  • innovative than men
  • creative and can make ends meet with fewer resources
  • consciousness in managing resources.
  • productive than men if they are given the access to the same productive resources as men
  • pragmatic than men

The panelists agreed that one of the reasons why the agriculture sector is under-performing is because women do not have access to the same tools and resources as men. The “State of Food and Agriculture 2010-11” reports that “more than 100 million people could be lifted out of poverty if women had the same access to productive resources as men”. One of the report’s main conclusion is that once women have access to fertilizers, seeds, land, credit, technology and education, they will give a boost to the agriculture sector and contribute to creating a vibrant and highly productive agriculture sector.

During the debate, Bina Agarwal, reminded the audience that “land is a key productive asset for women farmers but we have not moved far enough in ensuring that women have access to land”. Lack of access to land is a reality that thousands of women rural farmers are confronted with.

Elizabeth Atananga is just one of the thousands women who after years of hard working on her land (in her case 32 years), lost her rights to the land when she lost her beloved husband.

Despite the fact that millions of women in rural areas across the globe are responsible for growing, harvesting, storing, preparing food very few own the land. Why?

The whys are different from region to region, from country to country, from village to village. They may be legal or cultural. But regardless of the geographical and national peculiarities, one common element is the fact that women often times are unable to defend their rights simply because they are not aware of them!

“Food security cannot be achieved without empowering women,” said H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and “success depends on the inclusion and NOT exclusion of women” said Arlene Mitchell

The panelists unanimously agreed that women need to be empowered and to do so, the development community, governments, men and women need to translate words into action by:
  • involving women much more in the business sector
  • involving women more in decision making processes and allowing them to lead the way
  • changing men’s mentality and mind-set
  • changing laws
  • investing more in women and paving the way to grant women equitable access to the necessary resources
The participants agreed that there is no “one size fits all”, Kevin Cleaver reminded the audience that “solutions need to be tailored to the local contexts, and that solutions need funding as nothing can be done without money.”

There was agreement that all development actors, international institutions, private sector, governments and NGOs play an important role in the stride for more equity between women and men.

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State in her video message reminded the audience that “we must keep the momentum going. The International Women’s day should not be a one-time event.”

The day after the debate, IFAD President echoed Secretary Clinton’s words, reminding the participants that women’s day is not just an annual ritual. “Women are the backbone of society and this is particularly true of rural societies, where women are often responsible for farming and earning cash as well as extra chores such as gathering firewood, collecting water, washing clothing and tending to children and the elderly”, said Nwanze. “As a result, women frequently work 16 hours a day – far longer than most men”.

“At IFAD we have a duty to recognize the contributions that women make and to remove the obstacles they face, that is why we must remain focused on these issues, each and every day of the week”, reminded Nwanze.

At the IFAD event, we had the privilege of having more time with Elizabeth Atananga, a woman whose experience is helping, and will continue to help advance women’s cause. As Elizabeth said : “Les femmes doivent participer à la prise des décisions sur les sujets qui les concernent". Gender equality is the ultimate goal; empowering women and men is the way to get there.

A recent evaluation of IFAD’s performance on gender equality and women’s empowerment found that we had improved – particularly in our new projects” said the President. During the IFAD event, our colleagues gave a quick summary of the achievements of IFAD-funded activities to bridge the gender gap and create more equality between women and men. But we can do better and with the support of passionate women advocates dreams will come true

The social reporters through their work, will contribute to close the gender gap, by sharing nuggets of information and reporting live from related events. It was great to tweet together with our FAO and WFP colleagues the fervent calls for action, on the occasion of the International Women’s day. It’s amazing how through team work we can get our messages heard loud and clear in the Twittersphere Let’s join hands to achieve the common goals, of advocating for gender equality and translate these words into action!

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"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do"
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1 Responses to Celebrating the International Women’s day centenary: keeping the momentum going to close the gender gap in agriculture

  1. Mona Monro said:
  2. This is the women's international day and I think this day is celebrated with lots of fun. You have given the best story and this is the real story. As there are many women who perform many bravery things in their life and they also get lifetime achievement award for that.