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What works for women: proven approaches for empowering women smallholders and achieving food security

This briefing paper is the result of a collaboration between nine different agencies, sharing lessons learned from working with women smallholders in order to close the gender gap in agriculture. Despite making up 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, women in Africa, for example, own just one per cent of the land and receive only seven per cent of extension services. Often unpaid or undervalued, women face multiple cultural and institutional barriers, inhibiting communities from harnessing the wealth of women’s knowledge and increasing food insecurity.

With reference to multiple case studies, this paper discusses the various lessons learned, including the benefits of collective action, the importance of access to productive resources and the need to focus on underlying gender inequalities. The final lesson presented is the requirement for gender-sensitive disaster resilience and risk reduction to be integrated with development interventions. One example is that of a mountain community in Tajikistan where women-only workshops were held on first aid and disaster management (in order to build confidence and provide a safe space to encourage participation); the participants then trained other women within the community.

The paper concludes with a list of recommendations for increasing women’s food security and closing the agriculture gender gap.

Recommendations for national governments:

  • address discrimination in land ownership and tenure
  • make extension services such as training and education gender-sensitive
  • engage women at all policy-making levels
  • seek to minimise barriers to women’s participation in agricultural production and marketing by integrating gender dimensions into research and policies
  • ensure gender dimensions of disaster risk reduction are addressed, especially in the most vulnerable communities
  • empower women by increasing investments in gender-sensitive public services and infrastructure
  • look beyond agriculture when investing in rural areas; health, education, and water and sanitation services are also necessary to improve livelihoods.

Recommendations for multi- and bi-lateral donors:

  • allocate the necessary resources to strengthen gender-sensitive food security, prioritising sustainable smallholder farming and gender-responsive essential services
  • support more research partnerships between poor farming communities, extension services and agricultural scientists to maximise benefits to women
  • include a nutritional dimension within agricultural programmes
  • governments should be encouraged to implement and monitor gender-sensitive polices and legislation
  • focus on collecting timely and comparable sex and age-disaggregated data on food security
  • actively support women’s civil society organisations and networks.