Women and men’s separate on the ground realities in the agricultural and fisheries sectors must be the cornerstone on which policies are developed
UN Women MCO Caribbean Deputy Representative Isiuwa Iyahen (right) and Joint Programme Coordinator, UN Trust Fund for Human Security, Angela Davis

AS policymakers seek to develop new areas of cooperation and initiatives to fight rising food insecurity and high food production costs, they are being urged to maximise on their connections with the local community to bridge the gap between high-level government procedures and the reality of women and men on the ground, to ensure equality of access and opportunities for those in the agricultural sector.

The occasion was the launch of two key toolkits developed by UN Women MCO Caribbean under the UN Trust Fund for Human Security (UNTFHS) joint programme for parliamentarians on the ParlGender Tools E-platform which focus on integrating gender equality and human security in agricultural policy and structural adjustment programmes.

The agricultural labour force is highly segregated. According to the UN Women’s Status of Women and Men Report: A Gender Analysis of Labour Force Data and Policy Frameworks in Six Caricom Member States, 2019, men are more likely than women to be formally employed in agriculture, with over 2,903 men compared to 1,128 women recorded for Barbados; 3,588 men to 953 women in Grenada and 144,528 men compared to 49,644 women in Jamaica in 2017; in a sex disaggregation of employment by industry.

Research in the Caribbean has, however, highlighted that women make up the majority of informal workers in the agricultural sector and if policies neglect to explicitly account for this situation, women are disproportionately vulnerable to experiencing hardship, as they may fall through safety nets and protection schemes.

Deputy director, gender equality and communications,ParlAmericas, Lisane Thirsk

UN Women consultant author Hannah Strohmeier stressed the importance of collecting sex disaggregated data but also of doing the necessary gender analysis.

“Looking at the numbers is important, but it is also really important to hear people’s stories and based on that, make informed decisions. It is important that women and men are involved in the interventions, that they participate in the development process through being consulted but also in a leadership capacity — of ownership, formulating and implementing policies that address women and men’s needs and that they do not discriminate against one or the other,” she said.

“While the susceptibility of this region to the effects of natural disasters and climate change were already well known and challenging for the agriculture sector, the past two years of the pandemic and the ongoing food insecurity situation created by the instability in Ukraine have reinforced the need to intensify efforts to build resilience in this sector, at the individual and societal levels.”

The UN Women deputy representative said that at the highest level Caricom, heads of Government have placed these very issues on the front burner of their regional dialogue to support and find alternative measures through the development of and strengthening of value chains for optimal quality and economic return; to increasing access to productive resources such as the use of new, state-of-the-art technology for sustainable farming, the use of digital technology such as GPS and online marketing platforms; and increased economic opportunity through access to land, capital and lucrative markets.

“Here in Barbados at the return of AgroFest following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, we saw the furthering of country-to-country agricultural cooperation efforts between the governments of Barbados and Guyana, who have engaged in numerous bilateral discussions and exchange visits to find solutions to this very pressing threat of food insecurity,” Iyahen added.

She noted too that integrating gender equality considerations in structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) was vital as research in the Caribbean, showed that these type of programmes impacted women as well as small holder farmers and fisherfolk more negatively than larger farmers as many lacked equal opportunities to enter and benefit within a liberalised market.

She noted that key barriers included:

• Limited access to resources (eg, land, labour, and capital) to invest in business opportunities that may be derived from the implementation of SAPs;

•Limited access to education and technical knowledge for diversification and/or expansion in the viable value chains;

•Limited access to available credit to purchase necessary inputs which have become more expensive over time.

Some of the entry points to consider when integrating gender into SAPs are through data collection and usage; land reform; employment; poverty reduction and education and training.

Deputy director, gender equality and communications, ParlAmericas, Lisane Thirsk, said that gender is too often a sidebar — or the last checkbox in the list. However, the tools offer practical guidance on how to meaningfully centre gender equality and women’s rights, which is prioritised by ParlAmericas, UN Women and all the UN agencies implementing the joint project.

“The inspiration behind this platform — grew from the fact that knowledge-resources that are truly tailored for decision-makers, and for the advisors who provide guidance to decision-makers, are in some cases surprisingly sparse. As you well know these are important roles and distinctive ones — materials need to respond to your daily responsibilities. Resources are not always accessible enough for busy schedules, either. For that reason, a combination of types of resources that can be consumed even on the go, was purposeful. So the toolkits aim to allow for self-guided learning, they can be reviewed in smaller pieces at a time.”

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