Sharing expertise on rural women and girls in preparation for the Commission on the Status of Women 2018

Written by Maria Hartl, Senior Technical Specialist, Gender and Social Equity

In September, IFAD hosted an Expert Group Meeting convened by UN-Women to discuss “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls”. The meeting was held in collaboration with the Rome-based agencies to prepare for the priority theme of the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in 2018.

While IFAD and the RBAs always contribute actively to the annual sessions of the CSW,  they are particularly engaged in preparation for the 2018 priority theme of rural women. Collaboration with UN Women on the organization of the Expert Group Meeting and hosting it was a good opportunity to bring the UN and the global debates to IFAD HQ and to enable many colleagues inside and outside IFAD to be part of the discussions.

Photo: Beatrice Gerli, IFAD Rome 2017

With the overall objective of accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all rural women and girls, the EGM assessed three broad, interlinked areas that are critical for rural women’s and girls’ livelihoods, wellbeing, and climate resilience in the context of rural transformation:
• Rights to an adequate standard of living and ensuring income security and social protection
• Rights to food and ensuring food security and nutrition
• Rights to land and productive resources and ensuring land tenure security

A total of 22 experts participated with a wide diversity of profiles: researchers, feminists, international NGOs workers, private sector workers and representatives of farmer organizations (see full list of experts here). The meeting included many partners and collaborators of IFAD, with whom we have worked on many topics.

Ruth Meinzen-Dick from the  International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) is an important long-term partner of IFAD who has taken the lead on the ground-breaking Women Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI).  

Reema Nanavaty of the Self Employed Women's Association (India) and Esther Penunia of the Asian Farmers’ Association who are active members and leaders of IFAD’s Farmers’ Forum and have inspired our work in IFAD with  so many innovations over the years.

Barbara Van Koppen from the International Water Management Institute presented a summary of substantive work on women and water. Her expert knowledge on  Water,  Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)  and Multiple Use (Water) Services (MUS) has played a vital role in keeping the IFAD approach on water and gender up to date.

Marc Wegerif from Oxfam International was also able to catch up on the gender and lang rights with colleagues in ILC and PTA, who work closely with him.

Amon Chinyophiro of Meramo Consulting, one of the champions of the Gender Action Learning System and the Household Methodologies came from  Malawi to talk about food and nutrition security. He has seen huge successes in addressing farmers' economic and gender challenges since the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi started promoting the GALS in 2013. This motivated him to pilot GALS in expanding the adoption of good agricultural practices in the groundnut value chain to increase farmers' incomes.
“It was a big opportunity to be the man among women. I learnt how such “women-only-gatherings” provide the rare opportunity for them to effectively communicate their concerns with minimal interruption. I appreciated the goodwill that the female experts have towards rural women. The rural woman has always operated in a world that is unfair for her meaningful survival; now is the time to address all injustices in her life.”  
Mame Khary Diene, founder and CEO of Bioessence Laboraties, Senegal, represented the private sector and the importance of market-oriented and value chain approaches to empower rural women. Mame is a business partner of women producers in IFAD-supported projects in Senegal, supporting them in standardization, processing and packing of their products and receiving certification. She came with a vision of a profitable business and suggested that we change our perception and representation of agriculture:
“I am the only one coming from the private sector here. Moving from agriculture to agri-business will change things in favour of rural women and youth. Our image of the private sector is always linked to multinationals, while there is plenty of private sector at national or regional level. We must not be afraid of talking about money, this is how agriculture will attract young people. We need to revamp and re-skin agriculture and leave that image of a very poor agriculture that cannot even feed its own people.”

Jane Meriwas, Executive Director, Samburu Women Trust could not reach Rome but participated online with her team as representatives of indigenous people, women and girls. Jane had also attended the Indigenous People’s Forum organized by IFAD.  She shared the challenges of rural indigenous women and girls in the drylands of Kenya and ways to support their livelihoods.

The expert group included Christian Mendoza, a young female expert from the Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir, Mexico who shared at the end of the meeting:

“It´s been an honour for me to attend this meeting with such an important group of experienced women in this topic. I was able to learn about their research and careers and I feel grateful about it. As a young feminist, I think we need to be more informed and connected with rural women regarding their important role in the subsistence of life and natural resources.” 

Last not least, we welcomed our former colleague Clare Bishop in her new role as independent expert presenting the main findings from an FAO online discussion on “Rural women: striving for gender transformative impacts”.

As host, IFAD, together with the RBAs, UN Women, OECD, UNIDO, UNESCO, WHO and ILO were given the opportunity to attend as observers. It was a great occasion to learn from the experts and we were able to contribute our experiences. Without doubt the focus on rural women and girls will be crucial to achieving the 2030 Agenda and the global challenges of zero hunger.

We thank everyone who participated in the Exert Group Meeting – particularly those of you we haven’t been able to mention by name – and our colleagues in UN Women, FAO and WFP for the collaboration. We are looking forward to continuing to work with them in the lead up to the CSW 2018.

Read more and find the various papers from the experts here