On 9 October 2017, during the Forty-fourth Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS-44), a side-event organized by the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation and partners drew attention to the critical links between ‘Feminism, Forests and Food Security’. Marlène Elias, Gender Research Coordinator of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry, and Gender Specialist at Bioversity International, discussed why gender equality is central to sustainable forestry and food security and nutrition. Only days before the International Day of Rural Women, the event provided food for thought about the persistent injustices rural women experience, and the change we can—and must—collectively achieve.
´I’m here to reflect on what we are doing in the CGIAR Research Program FTA at the intersection of feminism, forests, and food security, and how we can make progress together.
As with Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, gender is at the core of our research program. We too take a rights-based approach that promotes gender equality, and recognizes women’s rights as fundamental human rights. We carry out research and practice to help protect and fulfill those rights through the forestry and agroforestry sectors. We also consider gender equality a precondition for achieving all of the forest-related outcomes of our research program.
Rural women fall behind
With few exceptions, globally, rural women fall behind rural men and urban women and men on every gender and development indicator for which there are available data. In our research across Latin America, Africa and Asia, we see that women:
- have less access than men to land, forests, and other resources
- are underrepresented and lack influence in decision-making and leadership positions in forest governance institutions
- lack access to extension, technologies, and information related to forests and agroforestry
- are excluded from the most remunerative tree product value chains or segments of those value chains
- lack access to decent work in tree crop and other value chains;
- carry high, unpaid domestic workloads and care responsibilities
- are underrepresented and underserved in climate change mitigation and adaptation programs and initiatives
These conditions are all interrelated. Although their local manifestations vary across regional contexts, rural women’s disadvantages and exclusions are systemic and cut across nearly all spheres of life and society. Those women who experience additional, intersecting forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, marital status, age, or other factors face the most acute marginalization.
This is not to say that rural women are passive victims. They are organizing to protect their rights to land and forests, strengthen their decision-making and economic opportunities, and enhance their empowerment, as active agents. But in too many cases, women’s activism and leadership are leading to their persecution and criminalization.
The gender-forest-food security nexus
In our research and practice, we analyze gender as a critical factor in the forest-food security and nutrition nexus, where women’s and girls’ disadvantages as food consumers – due to norms that discriminate against them in terms of the quantity and quality of food they consume – lead them to be among those most affected by food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger.
Our work brings visibility to women’s often unacknowledged contributions as:
- key collectors and processors of nutritious forest foods that are both consumed within their households and sold, thereby enhancing the food security of their families and of households in other villages, cities, and countries;
- key holders of knowledge about forests and forest foods, including knowledge of how to process these;
- income earners from forest products, with positive links between women’s income and children’s nutrition and basic family needs;
- important decision-makers with respect to household diets.
Recognizing and supporting them in these roles must figure in any strategy for achieving food and nutrition security.
In many ways, our approach resonates with Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, which emphasizes 3Rs ((women’s) rights, representation, and mobilizing the resources needed to make change), as well as a forth R around ‘reality check’, or getting the data and the facts right.
So, how can we make progress together?
Transformative change requires an approach integrated across sectors to protect and fulfill women’s rights, and enable them to benefit and contribute to food security and nutrition, and other sustainable development challenges.
The ‘R’ for resources is extremely important since many policies exist but are not resourced, implemented or monitored.
Deep and lasting change will require supporting women’s grassroots organizations that reflect their interests, priorities, and realities, and give them a collective voice.
As a research for development institute, we can play a role in generating quality data disaggregated by gender, age and other social factors to fill important knowledge gaps that hinder design, implementation and monitoring of policies and practice. To do this, we need mixed research methods that can help us see quantitative trends, but also give us a deeper qualitative understanding of women’s and men’s lived experiences.
It is time to move beyond short term and technical solutions to address the structures that reproduce inequalities. This includes challenging discriminatory norms that perpetuate gender inequality, unsustainable forest management, and food and nutrition insecurity. A number of innovative approaches exist in this respect, including certain participatory action research methods.
Finally, we must engage men and boys in all of these processes; as feminism, forests and food security are not the challenge of women alone, but of all of humanity.´
The CFS44 side-event 37 on ‘Feminism, Forests and Food Security’ was organized by the Swedish Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the Swedish International Agricultural Network Initiative (SIANI), Vi Agroforestry, the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry, the Swedish Federation of Forest Owners, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), and Sveaskog. The event was held at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy.