The world quickly embraced a ‘new normal’ in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that swept the globe in 2020, dramatically upending life as we knew it. That should inspire a shift to a new way of growing food by decisively tackling gender inequality that pervades the agricultural system globally.
For far too long, women have been consigned to playing second fiddle in the global food system. Inspired by the immortal dream of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., who envisioned a ‘Promised Land’ where equality for all reigned, I stand with the millions of women marginalised by gender inequality even as they cling to unfulfilled international commitments on mainstreaming gender parity as a way of achieving food security.
We must be bold as to disrupt the status quo that eternally condemns women to marginalisation, to unshackle them from the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability. The new normal of agriculture must deliver on gender equality, equity and empowerment.
In striving to bring the millions of women in Africa toiling on land they do not own, growing crops they cannot sell, working long hours of unpaid labour and being considered uncreditworthy by lenders to the decision-making table, we must first recognise their potential to transform agriculture.
Ahead of the 2021 UN Food Summit, I was part of a worldwide listening tour. Many women narrated the inequality they experience, the inability to cook a decent meal for their children, the number of times they had to hold back their needs and pass the plate on to a member of the family (You see, for us women, that is honour). How can this be ingrained in the food-producing systems?
They pleaded to be treated and valued as equal and productive members of communities; and for an end to the historical injustices they have faced. They also asked governments to fix laws and policies that denied them equal treatment and for financial solutions to enable them to access much-needed credit. They demanded fair and equitable wages—which can only be realised through a cultural shift driven by behaviour change.
We have had way many conversations around these pain areas and the changes required to attain the dream of equality. When shall we be bold enough to act? Sixty per cent of the agricultural workforce are women.
I see a world where women are not just labourers but producers on farms they own alongside their husbands. I see leaders, decision-makers and innovators. I also see a world where, because of empowerment, women have better access to factors of production.
As such, they can produce twice as much or more than they do, and where the enhanced output translates into affordable and accessible food, nutritious diets and improvement in standards of living for all.
For financial institutions, I see more customers, bigger savings and growing loan books. Let financial institutions change their attitude and create products for women, see their potential and teach them financial literacy to empower and grow them. For every man there is a woman; why is a significant part of the other half not visible to you, in this world of innovation, creativity you can’t find a product to unlock this clientele?
For governments, I see a wealthier and broader tax base. Time is night for states to be deliberate about affirmative action, passing laws and policies that support women’s empowerment in food systems. There is a lot of evidence of where countries that have been so bold have reaped huge benefits from it.
For the media, it is time to highlight the inequality and tell us inspiring stories of how and where equality is working, to inform and drive the much-needed behaviour change.
Now is the time for a cultural reorganisation to discard negative practices. Civil society has a crucial role in educating the populace. For intellectuals and policymakers, it is the moment to shepherd conversations and actions toward the end goal of an equitable and progressive society that is empowered and productive and can feed itself.
The benefits of a more resilient food system driven by gender equality are many. However, they will remain a pipe dream if we do not get off the rhetoric and work towards gender equity and address the systemic hurdles hindering our path to the Promised Land.
It is time to act by actualising a new normal, time to champion new thinking and rally individual and collective responsibility to correct the gender inequality in our food systems. We must stay hungry for change until the change we desire becomes a reality.
Dr Kalibata is the president of AGRA. @Agnes_Kalibata