Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

25 Years of Progress Since Beijing

25 years of progress since Beijing

2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, held in Beijing, China. As the global community marks this anniversary, the 64th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (March 9–20, 2020) will review and appraise the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, which address gender inequality across sectors—including women and the environment, agriculture, and economy. We’re taking this opportunity to look at progress on women’s enterprise development, access to agricultural extension services, and women and the environment, and where we want to go next.

Women’s access to agricultural extension services

Twenty-five years ago, the picture of women’s access to agricultural enterprise services, including training in technical and managerial skills, agricultural extension, and access to markets was bleak. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a mere 5 percent of all agricultural extension resources were directed toward women, and only 15 percent of extension workers were female. The gap in access to services and technologies hindered women’s ability to increase agricultural productivity and profit. This had detrimental implications because equal access to producer resources would increase women’s farm yields by 20–30 percent and total agricultural outputs by 2.5–4 percent.

Acknowledging that access to agricultural extension services, technology, and markets is crucial for improving the livelihoods of women and their families, the Platform for Action included two strategic objectives: (1) facilitate women’s equal access to resources, employment, markets and trade; and (2) improve women’s access to vocational training, science and technology, and continuing education.

Promising efforts to increase women’s access to agricultural extension and increased investments include initiatives such as the USAID INGENAES Activity. INGENAES supports Feed the Future countries to build more gender-responsive and nutrition-sensitive institutions and programs that can meet male and female farmers’ needs through extension and advisory services. In 2015, INGENAES conducted an impact evaluation on nutrition–agriculture linkages in rural Bangladesh. Findings showed improvements in women’s empowerment due to active involvement in more community organizations and in decision-making on poultry and vegetable marketing, as well as better access to markets and improved income and spending on healthcare, education, and transportation. These changes increased household food security and dietary diversity.

Women’s enterprise development

Ensuring women’s access to enterprise development has important impacts on global food production, economies, and health. We know, for instance, that women spend a higher proportion of the income they control on children’s health and nutrition than men do (according to FAO data). Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, donors and partners around the world have boosted investments in women’s economic empowerment to increase women’s access to markets. For example, the USAID Bangladesh Rice Diversified Crops (RDC) activity is collaborating with the private sector to expand women’s opportunities in agricultural entrepreneurship. RDC is partnering with LightCastle Partners, one of the fastest-growing consulting firms in Bangladesh, to create a more data-driven economy. They offer a business accelerator program for female agriculture entrepreneurs that covers marketing, product cycles, and recordkeeping. After the program, they conduct follow-up visits to understand how the women have applied their learning and link them with opportunities to present business plans to potential investors, buyers, and financial institutions.

With new knowledge and confidence, as well as connections to investors, women have achieved incredible success! As of October 2019, the program has held three bootcamps with 59 accelerator program participants who have opened more than 10 trade licenses, signed more than 15 agreements with forward market players, opened 44 bank accounts, generated 41 “agri-cards” (a special debit card that helps farmers buy needed inputs and equipment), and launched 4 social media advertising pages. The participants also report impacts such as more effective business plans, greater decision-making power in business and in their families, and increased social and familial acceptance.

Women and the environment

Women play an important role in environmental stewardship. They are predominantly responsible for collecting water and fuel and growing subsistence crops that feed their families and provide supplemental income, as well as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of their homes. Women’s livelihoods are inextricably linked to the availability of natural resources, yet they are often left out of environmental decision-making. They are especially vulnerable to climate shocks and stresses because scarce access to resources means acquiring water and fuel becomes more time consuming and the crops that feed their families become harder to grow.

Recognizing the magnitude of this issue, world leaders made women and the environment a critical area of concern in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. They outlined three strategic objectives: (1) involve women actively in environmental decision-making at all levels; (2) integrate gender concerns and perspectives in policies and programs for sustainable development; and (3) strengthen or establish mechanisms at national, regional, and international levels to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women.

With increased emphasis on the intersectionality of this area of concern, large donors have begun to invest in women and the environment in the years since the Beijing Declaration. For example, in 2014 USAID launched the 10-year Advancing Gender in the Environment (AGENT) Activity to advance gender integration, gender equality, and women’s empowerment in a range of environmental sectors. This large-scale activity is a step in the right direction for increasing women’s involvement in environmental decision-making at all levels, integrating their concerns in policies and programs, and establishing ways to assess the impact of development and environmental policies on women, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

Looking to the future

These three themes bring to light a missing piece to the puzzle: lack of data. Despite progress in areas like women’s agricultural extension, the lack of public data means it is still difficult to form a global picture of women’s access to extension services. A recent UN Women report revealed a lack of gender and environment data and expressed a need for more robust gender and environmental analysis—both qualitative and quantitative—to reach the goals in the Beijing Platform for Action. This report calls for integrating social, gender, and power dynamics into environmental analyses that drive environmental change.

The Feed the Future AWE Program aims to fill these gaps by working with USAID missions to conduct context-specific, high-quality gender analyses to understand gender norms that influence agriculture interventions. With this understanding, we can identify and respond to gender-differentiated needs and opportunities by providing support for collection, capture, and application of data with custom gender-sensitive indicators. Through these services, we are helping fill the data gaps around gender, agriculture, and the environment to address fully the challenges women face.

Twenty-five years after the Beijing Conference, women’s opportunities in agriculture and the economy are still a work in progress. As we approach the Beijing+25 session and look to the future, we hope to see more projects and organizations investing in these issues to achieve gender equality.

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