(Photo ©FAO/Jafaar Al Merei)

Women’s Equality in Agrifood Systems Could Propel Global GDP by $1 Trillion, Report says

ADDIS ABABA – Tackling gender inequalities in agrifood systems and empowering women reduces hunger, boosts the economy, and reinforces resilience to shocks like climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report reveals.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launches its the status of women in agrifood systems report for the first since 2010, and it goes beyond agriculture to provide a comprehensive picture of the status of women working across agrifood systems— from production to distribution and consumption.

The report highlights that globally, 36% of working women are employed in agrifood systems, along with 38% of working men.

However, women’s roles tend to be marginalized and their working conditions are likely to be worse than men’s –irregular, informal, part-time, low-skilled, or labor-intensive.

Likewise, women engaged in wage employment in agriculture earn 82 cents for every dollar that men earn.

They also have less secure tenure over land, less access to credit and training, and have to work with technology designed for men.

These inequalities, along with discrimination, create a 24% gender gap in productivity between women and men farmers on farms of equal size, the report finds.

The study notes that agrifood systems are a more important source of livelihood for women than for men in many countries.

For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa 66% of women’s employment is in the sector, compared with 60% of men. In southern Asia, 71% of women overwhelmingly work in agrifood systems, although fewer women than men are in the labor force.

Socioeconomic benefits

“If we tackle the gender inequalities endemic in agrifood systems and empower women, the world will take a leap forward in addressing the goals of ending poverty and creating a world free from hunger,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in the foreword of the report.

The study backs his claim stating that closing the gender gap in farm productivity and the wage gap in agricultural employment would increase global gross domestic product by nearly $1 trillion. Such measures could also reduce the number of food-insecure people by 45 million, it claims.

Similarly, benefits from projects that empower women are higher than those that just mainstream gender.

The authors explain that if half of small-scale producers benefited from development interventions that focused on empowering women, it would significantly raise the incomes of an additional 58 million people and increase the resilience of an additional 235 million.

“Efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems depend on the empowerment of all women and gender equality,” Qu continued.

“Women have always worked in agrifood systems. It is time that we made agrifood systems work for women.”

Inequality linked to climate, global shocks

The report also indicates that when economies shrink, women’s jobs go first. Globally, 22% of women in the ‘off-farm’ segments of agrifood systems lost their jobs in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic compared to 2% of men.

The gap in food insecurity between men and women also widened from 1.7 percentage points in 2019 to 4.3 percentage points in 2021

Women had to take on more care responsibilities, which often resulted in girls missing more school than boys, and exposing them to increased Gender-based violence.

The study also confirms that women are more vulnerable to climate shocks and natural disasters, as resource constraints and discriminatory gender norms can make it harder for them to adapt.

Women’s work burdens, including hours worked in agriculture, for instance tend to decline less than men’s during climate shocks such as heat stress.

‘Challenges Persist despite Some Success’

The report finds “some success” that has been achieved in reducing gender gaps in digital access and finance.

Women’s access to mobile internet in low- and middle-income countries narrowed from 25% to 16% between 2017 and 2021, while the gap in access to bank accounts dropped from 9 percentage points to 6 percentage points.

However, the overall progress in reducing most gender gaps has stagnated or reversed.

A decade after FAO’s last report, women still lack access to training, credit and to fundamental tools – including land, fertilizers and irrigation systems – that empower them and enable them to make an equal contribution.

Ita fundings show that men still hold greater ownership or secure tenure rights over agricultural land than women do in 40 of 46 countries reporting on the Sustainable Development Goal.

The authors underscore that although the extent to which national policy frameworks address gender issues improved over the past decade, gender inequality in agrifood systems persists.

This is partly due to policies, institutions and discriminatory social norms are still constraining equal opportunities and equal rights to resources, the authors explained.

Interventions improve women’s productivity

Overall, the report says reducing gender inequalities in livelihoods, and improving access to resources “is a critical pathway towards women’s empowerment and more just and sustainable agrifood systems.” This includes further closing gaps related to access to assets, technology and resources.

Interventions to improve women’s productivity are successful when they address care and unpaid domestic work burdens, provide education and training, and strengthen land-tenure security, the study finds.

Access to childcare also has a large positive effect on mothers’ employment, while social protection programs have shown to increase women’s employment and resilience, the report states.

Gender-transformative approaches show promise in changing discriminatory norms and are cost-effective with high returns, the authors recommended.