Walking the Talk on Gender and CSA

There’s no denying that gender and climate change are current buzzwords.  Discussions surrounding these issues feature prominently on the development agenda and blanket Twitter and the blogosphere.

But with new partnerships being formed and policies being shaped, the question is, what is happening on the ground? Are lives being affected in a positive and tangible way?

Through climate-smart agriculture initiatives (CSA), they are!

CSA involves adjusting all forms of agriculture — farms, crops, livestock, aquaculture and capture fisheries — to better adapt to climate change. Productivity is increased and the resilience of vulnerable smallholder farmers, particularly women, is strengthened.

The World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) partnership is focused on initiatives that will benefit 1.2 million small-scale farmers in East and Southern Africa. This includes assessing if and how such engendering can and should take place. Two obvious principles in this regard are: (i) if these gains are to be truly sustainable, the benefits that men derive must be equally shared by women; and (ii) there must be a focus on gender dynamics; that is, sustainable agricultural policy needs to be climate-smart, people-smart and gender-smart simultaneously.

Promoting equal rights for women goes above and beyond ensuring that policies and laws are fair. In many cases, it means challenging centuries of entrenched traditions that dictate that even when women work as hard as their male counterparts on farms, the right to access land and natural resources ends up primarily benefiting men. It also means understanding what flexible mechanisms are needed to ensure some level of self-reliance among women and men. The poor are not looking for handouts, but they do need to know which systems they can turn to when assistance is needed.

Tackling both cultural norms and responsive systems may seem difficult but a journey of 1,000 miles begins with one step, and a good starting point would be to explore and commence discussions toward closing the gender gaps that currently exist at the policy level.

Rio+ and FANRPAN have started these discussions with stakeholders in Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Most men and women agree that greater government attention should be given to gender and CSA. They also agree that gender inequalities are real, and must be addressed if truly sustainable CSA policies are to be implemented and, most important, that policies focused on narrowing the gap need to be communicated more clearly to the public.

This common ground is key to promoting robust discussion on what gender-smart agriculture should look like.

But we don’t need full agreement to act. More women than men participating in a RIO+/FANRPAN survey in the five participating southern African countries believe that government policies should be “much more focused” on the issue of gender and CSA, according to surveys. But more than half of men who were surveyed also share this view.  Other results of the survey show a significant interest from men in promoting gender equality and including women equally at all levels, yet it does not translate that way on the ground.

Does this mean that we have simply learned how to talk gender but don’t put our talk into practice?

We talk about including women, increasing quotas, formulating new laws and improving policies, yet too often we see increased numbers of women without access to meaningful participation, and gender-related ministries are too often out of the loop. Often, we also see little or no capacity for women to engage in agriculture and climate change issues either as individual challenges or as a combined challenge.

We also need to take a step further: it’s not enough that gender should be mainstreamed into climate change policies, but that climate change must also be mainstreamed into gender policies.

The gender world is fraught with contradictions and deep-rooted structural biases that dictate how we live and breathe discrimination on a daily basis. If Climate Smart Agriculture policies are to be truly sustainable, we can no longer pay lip service to gender equality; we MUST truly and wholeheartedly begin living it, socially and environmentally.

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