Giving Women The Tools They Need To Feed The Planet

Women have a huge impact on agriculture, but are we giving them the tools they need to help feed the planet?

The statistics say “no.”

This week, Planet Forward hosts its Women and Girls: Nourishing the Planet in the Face of Climate Change” salon. The conversation will address the role of women in agriculture in developing countries, as well as how we can help empower women so that they can overcome their inequalities and the adverse effects caused by climate change.

At the salon, we will discuss policies, practices and tools to help women do their jobs better.

We’ll be discussing four key questions with our group of experts, students and decision makers:

1) How does climate change and weather volatility affect women disproportionately in developing countries?

In Africa, eight out of ten people who participate in farming are women. In Asia, it’s six out of ten.

Women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force, but they do not have equal access to resources, land, technology, mobility and decision-making as their male counterparts.

While 79 percent of economically-active women in developing countries consider agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, they only own 10 percent of the available agricultural land. This land is often smaller and of inferior quality compared to land owned by males. Women’s access to agricultural inputs, like fertilizers, often lag behind men’s as well -- by 50 to 150 percent.

Add in the adverse effects of climate change and the challenges that women face become even more difficult to overcome. 85 percent of deaths that occur during disasters are women and children. In the 2004 Asian tsunami and the 1991 cyclone disasters in Bangladesh, two events that were linked to climate change, women were hit hard. 70-80 percent of all deaths during the former event were women, and 90 percent were women during the latter.

2) What are some of the adaptation and mitigation technologies that most improve the lives of women and the poor?

Providing access to education is a major way to improve the livelihoods of women and the poor in developing countries, as well as to increase life expectancy. For example, strong education of females in the state of Kerala, India has contributed to an increase in life expectancy to 70 years, compared to 56 to 58 years for the average Indian female. In fact, investment in education of females has been determined to have the highest rate of return of all investment types in developing countries, according to the World Bank.

Women not only play a prominent role in agriculture, but they often lead their households. In some regions of Africa, 60 percent of households are headed by women, so addressing social and economic barriers are also important steps in improving life for entire families. Women’s education has also been shown to contribute to 43 percent of the reduction in child malnutrition.

3) How can we empower and invest in women and girls to create opportunities that improve livelihoods and buffer the impact of climate change?

It is essential that women have equal employment opportunities, competitive wages, access to agricultural land and resources, and knowledge of legal systems.

Promoting the quality of women and agriculture and improving their conditions not only will benefit women, but it could also contribute to society as a whole. Just giving equal access to women could increase crop yields on farms by 20-30 percent, boost total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4 percent and reduce the number of undernourished people by 150 million. Production gains like this could reduce the amount of global people who are hungry by 12-17 percent.

4) How can we better communicate these challenges and opportunities with government, private sector and the public?

Creating policies that help close the gender gap in agriculture can dramatically influence the future of global food security. According to the World Food Organization, priority areas for reform include: eliminating discrimination against women in access to agricultural resources, education, services and markets, investing in labor-saving technologies, and helping women to participate in fair labor markets.

Women in developing countries have the potential to make a huge difference in agriculture and in combating the effects of climate change. Let’s help them do it.

Want to get informed? Follow the Planet Forward livetweet of this event, starting at 9 a.m. EST on Wednesday, November 5, 2014.

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