The equality of women has come a long in 20 years. This month leaders are gathering in New York for the 59th Commission on the Status of Women with a main focus on the challenges and progress made since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted at the Fourth International Conference on Women in 1995.
In 1995, 12 areas of critical concern for women and girls were highlighted in the Platform for Action. Revolutionary at the time, they were written to motivate organizations, donors, and governments to address the issues impacting women and girls and create equal ground for both sexes.
While we’ve seen improvement for some of the 12, there is still a long way to go and agriculture impacts each of them. Because the success of women in agriculture is critical, we've highlighted progress made and where it is still to come.
1) Women and Environment: Better agriculture practices are needed in order for the world to better care for water, land and other natural resources. As many of the world's farmers are women, women can play an important role in conversations around environmental protection.
2) Women in Power and Decision Making: In some farming areas, crops are gendered - with more lucrative cash crops being reserved for men. When female farmers are able to grow and sell market-oriented crops, women and households can benefit.
3) The Girl Child: Women around the world are still subject to both conscious and unconscious bias, from childhood on. As one recent study in India shows, it's still not uncommon for girls and young women to receive less food than other family members, which results in smaller, less healthy children.
4) Women and the Economy: Women are pillars of economic growth, particularly in the agriculture and agribusiness sectors, but that growth is stunted because of not being able to access markets, capital, and financing.
5) Women and Poverty: Women farmers make up more than a quarter of the world’s population and approximately 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. They also represent approximately % of the world’s population living in extreme poverty.
6) Violence against Women: Since Beijing, sexual violence against women remains a “global epidemic.” In the United States, there are approximately 560,000 women and girls working on farms, most of them immigrants, they face higher risks of sexual violence and sexual harassment. The tide is slowly turning, with growing momentum to protect female farm workers.
7) Human Rights of Women: When women's rights are enforced, there are positive benefits for women, men and families. One example is land tenure; while this is a human rights challenge for all, enforcement of women's land tenure rights can result in improved child nutrition, health and poverty alleviation.
8) Education and Training of Women: Training and education for women is critical. Too often, however, these are geared towards men, not taking into account time constraints and specific needs of women. If education and training barriers for women were removed and access to inputs and resources increased, they would quickly out pace men in output and productivity by 20-30%, feeding an additional 150 million.
9) Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women: Since Beijing, proponents of "gender mainstreaming" across government ministries, including Ministries of Agriculture, have helped to ensure that women are specifically integrated into policies and programs and not just addressed through women-specific initiatives or Ministries.
10) Women and Health: Women need more control over their health choices. Poor access to health services and information – and the ability to make their own healthcare choices – can result in unwanted pregnancies, sickness, and other health issues for women, limiting their ability to carry out domestic and field work, and ultimately negatively affecting their household incomes and local economies.
11) Women and the Media: Access to mobile phones and other technologies are critical for supporting education and information sharing among farmers. Both the development organizations and technology companies are keenly aware of gender gaps in technology access and are taking specific measures to bridge this gap.
12) Women and Armed Conflict: During times of conflict and post-conflict, women face higher risks of violence, sexual violence, and death. Cultivating fields, fetching water, and many other daily tasks expose women and girls to violence, and ultimately, lead to food insecurity, poor health, and poverty.