Our readers here at CleanTechnica they are early adopters. visionaries. People who want to be part of the zero-emission system action. In many cases, this means diving into new applications, investments, technologies or products. Our readers are addressed by topics such as the rise of smart cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), personalization of efficiency, self-driving cars, ubiquitous connectivity and artificial intelligence (AI) – all of which are fundamentally changing the way we live and work.
Much of this fascination is male in nature – these are topics and themes and discourses that primarily attract men. Yes, the cleantech world tends to speak to a fine structure of sharing that prefers male ways of knowing.
Bear with me – consider these studies.
These examples combine to lead to the not entirely surprising conclusion that the technologies of tomorrow—those that will shape our clean energy world—have been largely, though certainly not exclusively, driven by men. This discussion is not meant to disparage men. Rather, it is to point out that men’s ways of knowing are specific and may not provide the most effective resources in all cases and under all circumstances.
With this knowledge, we may be able to draw on clean technologies for better agribusiness supplies. We may be able to step back and objectively identify alternative and non-male methods to achieve important environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.
Government funding of agribusiness is often misguided
Climate change is one of several factors that have disproportionately eroded women’s incomes, savings and assets. These losses have even more impacts on women’s well-being: whether they can get healthy food or paid work, whether they have building savings or face violence.
Comment in Nature with name “To alleviate the world’s food crisis, focus on women and girls” outlines how aid programs typically favor men. Subsidy and voucher systems often focus on male-dominated commercial agriculture over smaller plots of land where women grow food to feed their families and sell informally. As a result, entrenched power imbalances create barriers for women who grow and sell crops for a living.
The authors argue that to build more equitable food systems, the response to the global food crisis must work better than in the past. There is no place for actions that reinforce an unjust status quo and widen gender inequality.
Instead, new approaches to many current crises are urgently needed, even if ensuring gender equality in interventions increases time and complexity. The authors insist that standard practices that ignore how policies affect people differently, with increasing inequality, “must stop. This includes providing resources to help women and girls cope with crises in the short term, and to challenge the systems that perpetuate inequality.”
A disproportionate erosion of the well-being of many women
Food insecurity is higher among women globally and the gender gap has widened. Recent crises have hit women and girls particularly hard, especially in low- and middle-income countries, due to rising prices of food, fuel and agricultural supplies. Since Russia declared war on Ukraine, more than $40 billion has been pledged to avert food and humanitarian crises. Yet these massive funds are unlikely to deliver the help women and girls need – the investments could even deepen inequalities.
Cash-strapped governments are often quick to cut welfare programs for women and children. When governments cut spending on education and health, the burden of providing these services often shifts to households and communities, putting additional pressure on women and reinforcing conventional gender roles.
- As COVID-19 shutdowns have affected urban workers in countries around the world, many men have migrated to rural areas to re-enter agribusiness, displacing women into waged agriculture and trade.
- At the same time, they were forced to close small agribusinesses and informal food markets where the women supported themselves.
- The higher cost of fuels used for cooking and transport often means women have to spend more time collecting firewood and may have to walk, cycle or use public transport to take children to school or travel to markets or work.
- Older girls in particular are more likely to marry or drop out of school to work at home when budgets are tight.
- Obtaining grants often requires title deeds and digital platforms, which are barriers for the most marginalized women. This means that while plots farmed by men may have sufficient support, plots farmed by women end up with even fewer resources.
- Rising prices also increase the cost of running and restarting an agricultural business.
- Extension services (government-sponsored farmers’ councils) may lack funds to visit farmers’ fields or villages. Because women are less likely to have access to the mobile internet, they are less able to access this advice remotely for information on dealing with fertilizer, pesticide and fuel shortages.
Rethinking Fair Agribusiness Financing
What specific agricultural strategies can protect women and girls from short-term hardship and reduce long-term gender inequalities?
Authors “To alleviate the world’s food crisis, focus on women and girls” offers a number of possible solutions for fair agribusiness. Here are some of their highlights.
Collect evidence. Gender-sensitive approaches require data that is disaggregated by sex, and this information needs to be more timely, accessible and localized than it is now. It is important to note how crises affect men and women differently; for example, whether agribusinesses that shut down during the crisis were owned by men or women, or whose assets and savings were used when the shock hit. Whether programs reach and benefit women is also not regularly monitored, but it is important to know whether, for example, subsidized fertilizers are spread on fields farmed by men or women, or if extenders reach women.
Support women’s leadership. Stakeholders should shift the rhetoric away from women as victims and support ways to respond to crises: in their homes, fields and businesses. This includes supporting women as leaders. Women often demand a seat at the table. Simple gestures like ensuring meetings are held at convenient times for childcare and promoting better access to finance and investment that support women farmers go a long way.
Targeted incentives can help. A systematic review of 32 programs suggests that those providing fortified foods or nutritional supplements can reduce stunting and anemia by targeting women and mothers of young children. These effectively protect the most vulnerable, including pregnant women, single mothers, the disabled, the elderly or refugees, as well as young children at risk of malnutrition. The expansion of these programs should be a priority, especially for women who are not formally in the labor market and for those whose businesses have been forced to close or are struggling.
Increase job opportunities. An effective way to help women is to encourage them to reopen agribusinesses that were closed during the pandemic and to open new ones. Centers that offer training and access to finance can best reach rural women if they are located in communities where women are most affected. This saves high fuel costs and is in line with cultural norms.
Support women’s groups. Existing social networks and women’s groups can help governments and NGOs focus training, information and resources, including agricultural inputs, where they are most needed. Women’s groups also increase resilience by providing a platform for collective action, sharing work and childcare responsibilities, organizing transport, accessing credit and savings, and disseminating information. Input from these groups and networks is essential to ensure that aid programs address the needs of women in their specific contexts.
Tailored financial services. Conventional financial products often do not reach women because they require ownership of land or a house as collateral. Expanding access can mean waiving or reducing registration fees or accepting unconventional forms of collateral while increasing financial literacy. Both the public and private sectors should work to provide financial products tailored to women’s needs, such as affordable microcredit, more asset-based financing and insurance packages.
Expand access to information. Women are less likely to be approached by extension agents and less likely to receive agricultural and market information via mobile phones, television or radio. Access has worsened during the pandemic. Agricultural extension services must therefore ensure that the messages reach and are useful to women. For example, women who lose access to expensive agrochemicals need information about farming practices that require fewer inputs and are less labor intensive. Increasing women’s ownership of mobile phones and training on how to use them is also essential.
Final thoughts on fair agribusiness
Research institutes, government agencies, NGOs and grassroots organizations can collect and analyze data and assist donors and governments in implementing, coordinating and monitoring their response to the food crisis. If women are formally represented in this process, programs will be more effective in meeting women’s needs and improving gender equality.
This food crisis is not the last crisis the world will face, the report’s authors remind us, but it should be the last crisis in which women and girls bear this grossly unequal burden. Now is the time to transform the agribusiness food system to create more opportunities for women and girls, leading to greater gender equality.
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