Professional Equality: How to foster women’s access to economic opportunities?

On 24 May 2019, to mark 100 years since the establishment of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a high-level conference was convened in Paris in association with the Agence Française de Développement (AFD). Decent work was the theme of the day as an array of high level participants descended on the French capital to discuss the pressing issue of how to open the gateway to gainful employment for the millions of young people seeking to enter the labour market each year. The thematically diverse conference also considered sustainable value chains, better protection of workers, environmentally friendly jobs and professional equality between women and men.
IFAD lent its experience and expertise to the last topic, in the form of the Director of ECG, Margarita Astralaga, participating in a panel discussion entitled Professional Equality: How to foster women’s access to economic opportunities?

Sitting side by side with a diverse group of academics and fellow development professionals, Astralaga's contribution was distinctly rural in nature. Despite the fact that women make up 43 per cent of the rural work force, they continue to face a number of barriers that prevent their full participation in the rural economy.  Setting the scene, Astralaga cited disparities in literacy and access to inputs, as well as discriminatory formal and informal norms, as particularly important impediments to gender equality.

Despite this challenging backdrop, a menu of options exists that can alleviate the situation and empower women. There is no one size fits all strategy; projects and interventions that aim to foster gender equality should take place at multiple entry points and consider local contexts and cultural sensitivities. To maximise its impact, IFAD adopts a multi-pronged approach that goes beyond individual self-improvement among women towards transforming the power dynamics and structures that serve to reinforce gendered inequalities, taking action at the political, community and household levels. For example, at the political level advocacy and policy dialogue are powerful actions that can catalyse the enforcement of women's land rights, allowing them to inherit land and circumvent discriminatory customs that frequently prevail at the local level. Capacity building at the community level has the potential to reduce the prevalence of early marriage and malnutrition, including micronutrient deficiencies. At the micro level, household methodologies can contribute to building gender equality in the home.

Moving forward, IFAD will utilise the Women Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) to track the outcome of interventions, thereby collecting valuable lessons learned that will inform future operations. Furthermore, as part of its eleventh replenishment, IFAD has committed to increasing the target for transformational projects to 25 per cent.