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Stepping it up for Women and Girls in Rural Drylands

Photo by UNICEF Ethiopia

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2016, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is stepping it for women to raise awareness about their roles, and to recognize their invaluable contribution to agriculture and other socio-economic, cultural and political aspects of life in the world’ most vulnerable communities in rural drylands. The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

Our program shares strongly the commitment of the United Nations and that of many other organizations and civil society movements to accelerate gender parity through the effective implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda.  Global action and solidarity in support of women, girls and gender parity is critical than ever in the face world events such as severe population displacement, migration, climate change, extreme violence against women and girls and widespread instability and crises in many regions. 

Therefore to commemorate this special day, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is:

  • Launching Women and Gender in Drylands, an Exposure photo story to highlight gender issues in rural drylands of the developing world, and to celebrate examples of successful gender-responsive research interventions by the program.
  • We have joined forces with the CGIAR Gender and Agriculture Network to shine the spotlight on some of the incredible Women in Science that work on behalf of our program and partners to hear their voices and experience of conducting gender-responsive research for empowering women in agriculture, in rural drylands and elsewhere in the world.
  • As part of our to gender equity and gender-responsive research, we have joined the Global Campaign on the International Women's Day and invite you to take  the Pledge For Parity in order to  help accelerate gender parity in all rural dryland areas where you live, work or study. 

Despite increasing attention being given to the important contribution of rural women  - over the past 20 years - in achieving food and nutrition security and ensuring sustainable use of natural resources under the extreme pressures of population increase, climate change, migration, land degradation and desertification, progress towards gender parity has slowed. In 2014, the World Economic Forum (WEF) predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. In 2015, WEF estimated that a slowdown in the pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn't close entirely until 2133.

The gender gap in rural drylands imposes heavy costs on local and global communities in terms of lost agricultural output, food and nutrition security, and resource degradation, and economic growth. For example, agricultural yields by women farmers globally are often 20–30 percent lower than those by men, due to lack of access to banking, financial services, and inputs. Filling this gap - and helping women get the same resources as male farmers - could lift 100–150 million people out of hunger worldwide.

Women and girls in drylands make significant contributions to rural economies as farmers, entrepreneurs, and laborers. They are responsible for producing and processing food, feeding and caring for family members − particularly children and the elderly, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households, as well as local and global economies. 

Yet, in many dryland countries across Africa, Middle East, Central and South Asia, rural women continue to face discrimination and have limited access to agricultural assets, land, credit, education, healthcare, employment, information, technologies and other services, which limit their mobility and participation in critical decision-making processes, and prevent them from fully enjoying their fundamental rights and better livelihood opportunities.

That is why gender-responsive system analysis is the cornerstone of our research work. Our Gender Strategy directs researchers to identify agro-livelihood opportunities, analyse the distribution of resources and vulnerability to risk, and seek understanding of social issues that affect gender roles, values, norms, and rules. For example:

  • In Egypt, we are supporting women to engage in innovative and ecologically friendly cactus production as a strategy for coping with water scarcity and adaptation to climate change.
  • In Mali, we are working to develop a tree value chain with women and young people benefiting from higher income through seeds production, while the ecosystem is strengthened through soil revaluation and higher rain water retention, as more trees get planted.
  • To improve food security in many countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, the program is working to increase women’s greater involvement and participation in the management of food banks, seeds, and tree nurseries.
  • In several countries in Central Asia, our research work is supporting the implementation of various local initiatives to train, develop and strengthen the capacities of women in conservation farming.

Our field experience shows that rural dryland communities will thrive, only when all their members, irrespective of gender, age or other social characteristics are empowered to contribute to and benefit from the dryland agricultural systems. Women and men’s full and equal participation is essential for the sustainable development in drylands, in addition to addressing global issues such as climate change, land degradation, food and nutrition security, and poverty reduction.

On the International Women’s Day 2016, we call for greater attention and support for the empowerment of women and girls in rural drylands - working together with men and boys - as one of the necessary precondition for a truly inclusive and transformational 2030 agenda.

About the author

Dr. Richard Thomas is the Director of the CGIAR Research of Dryland Systems.