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This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity, encouraging us to talk about why equal opportunities aren’t enough and how we all have a role to play in building truly inclusive food systems.

Women are vital actors in the agricultural sector – making up as much as 80% of the workforce in some parts of the world – yet their work is often not valued or recognised in the way men’s work might be. Agriculture is often still perceived as a man’s business, removing women from decision-making processes and depriving our food systems of their abilities and traditional knowledge.

According to the World Bank, ensuring women have the same access to productive resources as men could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 4%.

What does gender equity mean in organic agriculture? 🤔

Gender equity means justice and fairness of treatment for women and men according to their respective needs¹. This can include both equal treatment or treatment that’s differentiated, mindful of differences in benefits, obligations, and opportunities. To ensure fairness, measures must often be put in place to compensate for the historical, cultural, and social disadvantages that prevent women and men from operating on a level playing field. Equity is a mean, equality is the result!

Within the context of organic agriculture, gender refers to women’s and men’s roles within value chains and responsibilities that are socially determined.²

Our expectations and perception of gender, women, and men are shaped by the way society is organised, not by biological differences.

It also refers to gender norms in the household or decision-making processes, which influence women’s and men’s involvement and agency in the organic agriculture sector.

Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society, from reducing hunger and poverty to tackling the climate crisis. © Denis Manaskova

Why does equity matter? ⚖️

Empowered women empower communities! That’s why we should all be working for women to have equal, autonomous opportunities. Only then can we truly work together to find sustainable solutions that address social inequalities, global food insecurity, and the critical environmental challenges we face.

Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society.

It’s a key part of addressing the challenges we face, from reducing poverty and tackling the climate crisis to protecting the health, education, and wellbeing of people of all genders around the world.

The full participation of women in labour forces would add percentage points to most national growth rates—double digits in many cases.

Ensuring women have the same access to productive resources as men could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by as much as 4% according to the World Bank, which would then reduce global hunger by 17 percent.

Regardless of where you live, gender equality is a fundamental human right!

Beyond it being a necessary foundation for a truly sustainable world, unlocking our full potential and spurring productivity, economic growth and sustainable development, gender equality is also a fundamental human right.

Equal opportunities aren’t enough! People start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action. Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances and allocates the right resources and opportunities needed for an equal outcome. Equality is giving everyone the same ladder to pick mangoes at the top of a tree. Equity is realising that we can’t all use the same ladder and giving everyone differentiated tools to reach the top in their own way.”

🗣 Karen Mapusua, World Board President of IFOAM – Organics International

How can organics help? 🙋🏾‍♀️

The organic space creates an opportunity to refine the definition of agriculture, emphasising a broader perspective of livelihoods and welfare that moves beyond the cash-based narrative of traditional economics and embraces a more holistic approach. This includes natural resource management and household food security, where women play a fundamental role.

Organic agriculture promotes knowledge-intensive practices through technical information and training, empowering women to act autonomously.

As an alternative model to conventional agricultural systems, the organic sector’s holistic fundamentals often create more equitable gender distribution of labour, benefits and power that challenge unequal traditional agricultural systems.

The organic farming movement has significantly lowered barriers to entry by creating a better environment for the participation of women farmers. Women farmers generally have fewer capital resources than men – a gender gap that can be lessened by the higher value of (and therefore a greater incentive to grow) organic foods. 


Thanks to their multiple and varied roles inherited over generations, women have become active conservation and natural resource restoration agents. The organic movement creates a space for a deeper dialogue on, and recognition of, women’s contributions to agriculture and their communities.³

Organic agriculture also promotes practices that avoid the use of chemical inputs like synthetic pesticides, which harm both women and men farmers’ health. A 2023 study by PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) showed farmers in India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Laos were largely untrained in pesticide use, with women farmers being the worst affected.

The study showed that 84% of women farmers could not access training and over one third showed symptoms of illness after pesticide exposure.

PANAP Executive Director: Policymakers must set targets to eliminate these hazardous pesticides!

Responding to the study, PANAP Executive Director Sarojeni Rengam called on global policymakers to act and “set bold targets to eliminate Highly Hazardous Pesticides in agriculture, prohibit double standards in pesticides trade, and make available to all farmers information on non-chemical alternatives, especially ecological approaches, by 2030.” 

“The intersecting crises of food, climate and biodiversity cannot be solved if we do not put clear limits on chemical farming and the control that agrochemical transnationals have over our food systems.”

Organic also promotes knowledge-intensive practices and knowledge-sharing, which empowers women to act more autonomously and independently. Considering that women are still the principal caregivers responsible for their household’s diets in most cultures, organic also helps guarantee they have access to food that’s healthier, more diversified, and nutritious.

Selina Nkoile is the founder of the Nashipai Maasai Project, which works to empower Maasai girls through education and uses permaculture to face the climate crisis, solve malnourishment and promote biodiversity. Read her story here. © Nashipai

Organic offers an alternative model to conventional agricultural systems, using traditional practices and knowledge combined with the newest scientific knowledge. It’s also an exciting opportunity to rethink our food systems in a way that challenges existing inequalities, every day.

Some amazing initiatives pioneering gender equality today! ⬇

POETCom: breaking new ground in gender mainstreaming in the Pacific

Floris Niu returned to her ancestral land in Samoa following a series of life-threatening illnesses including cervical cancer – a new beginning where she challenged old beliefs on the role of women and defended her right not to spray her land with glyphosate. Read her story here. © Denis Manaskova

POETCom is a not-for-profit organisation with a membership spanning 17 countries in the Pacific Island region, from farmers’ associations, farmer-support organisations, and NGOs, to the private sector and research institutions. An affiliate of IFOAM – Organics International for over five years, POETCom works for a more inclusive, fair organic movement, building best practices in the Pacific organic community, as well as inspiring the global organic movement.

For POETCom, organic is not only an agricultural movement but also a social movement whose foundation must rely on equitable power dynamics and fair opportunities. There’s growing evidence that organic provides opportunities for women’s empowerment in a way that industrial agriculture has not, as pointed out in POETCom’s statement Organic stands for Gender Equality.

“By its very nature, organic opens opportunities to unlock women’s potential for involvement in the sector, from farming to entrepreneurship.”

Flavia Ciribello, Gender and Value Chain Advisor at POETCom, explained: “Women’s participation also broadens and deepens the organic principles of health, ecology, fairness and care, culture and tradition, emphasising a broader perspective on livelihoods and welfare that are often invisible and not measurable in the traditional cash-based economic systems.”

Profit is important to all farmers, but women often closely interlink profit with sustainability. Health and safety, social and environmental justice, and community development and responsibility are key considerations that drive women’s choices, attitudes, and decisions as producers, entrepreneurs, and consumers. © Denis Manaskova

POETCom is breaking new ground in the organic movement by systematically embracing the Gender perspective in our Pacific Organic Movement. We’re implementing initiatives that drive women’s empowerment, gender equality, and wider social inclusion, thanks to resources made available by the Australian-funded Building Prosperity for Women Producers, Processors, and Women-Owned Businesses through Organic Value Chains (BPWP) Project.”

“We know the journey toward gender equality is challenging and long, and it might take generations before we start seeing concrete and ‘measurable’ changes. But we’ve already started to reap the benefits of our efforts over the last years.”

Since receiving organic certification through a POETCom-approved PGS initiative, the Baniata community has experienced increased household income from the premium sale of their Ngali nuts, a product traditionally harvested and prepared by women. This has strengthened women’s agency and improved their status as decision-makers. Read more

Some of POETCom’s most recent achievements ⬇️

  • Its motion to add Gender Equality and Social Inclusion to the Global Organic Principle of Fairness successfully passed at the IFOAM – Organics International General Assembly in 2021, bringing the power of words to a political and strategic level as well as putting gender equality on the agenda.
  • Launched in October 2022, the Gender and Organic Value Chain Analysis Toolkit is the first and only tool that guides organic stakeholders through deeper reflection and discussion around the interlinkages between gender and organic value chain strategies – a highly valuable resource both for the Pacific and for other regions around the world.
  • Establishing the POETCom women’s chapter in 2021 has created a regional network of women role models involved in organics while integrating and boosting the gender equity and social inclusion agenda across the Organic Movement in the Pacific.
  • Its integrated and cross-sectoral approach is enabling key stakeholders to bring the gender component into national organic policy development.
  • Gender analysis and needs assessments with a women’s empowerment lens are helping strengthen and enhance the value of organic value chains. For instance, POETCom’s BPWP project is working closely with women’s groups in Palau for their taro patch to get organically certified and add value to their produce and products

We thank POETCom for continuing to plant seeds for more inclusive and fair food systems, building best practices in the Pacific organic community, and leading by example!

Find out more about their work

“Without feminism, there is no agroecology!”

According to this 100% women-coordinated, women-led group working within Rede Ecovida, the lives of women farmers should be as healthy, nutritious and sustainable as the food they produce and consume. To this end, they’ve worked to bring the topic of gender equality and violence against women into their cooperative’s documents, standards, and agenda.

“We believe that within the agroecology movement, it makes no sense to certify and consider food healthy if it is produced in spaces where violence and toxic relationships exist.”

“We faced several difficult situations both within and outside of our coordination working, only because we are young women. But this motivated us to advance with the theme of women and agroecology inside the Ecovida network.”

Erika Espinoza and Karina Gonçalves David, Coordinators

Rede Ecovida is a pioneer in PGS* development in Southern Brazil. A network of organic and agroecological farmers, cooperatives groups, local NGOs, and other value chain stakeholders, Ecovida creates spaces for training and knowledge exchange, as well as working to tackle food insecurity and bring communities together for a just and egalitarian society, that’s environmentally sustainable and economically viable for all.

*PGS: Participatory Guarantee Systems are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on the active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks, and knowledge exchange.

Rede Ecovida’s guiding principles are trust, respect and care for life, diversity, and the production of healthy food. These principles are also part of the Feminist agenda and struggle, encapsulated in the motto of this collective: “Without feminism, there is no agroecology!” © MBA core, REDE ECOVIDA

PGS help smallscale farming families and rural communities around the world to receive certification—but their work goes beyond this documentation. They’re also networks that link farming communities together under similar values, interests, struggles, and common goals.

“After a case of domestic violence, we decided to include the issue of violence against women in our internal procedures and manual for certification,” explains Karina Gonçalves David.

“We identified different types of violence and started to work more deeply to systematically deal with cases of gender-based violence within the Rede Ecovida network, across all spaces.”

“Having this topic officially included in Rede Ecovida documentation was an important and inspiring step for other PGS. In the meeting of the Brazilian forum of PGS and OCS’s in 2019, we shared our successes and struggles with other initiatives in Brazil.”

Hercia, Karina, Valdenise and Neltume – 100% female coordination of the MBA core of REDE ECOVIDA! © Rede Ecovida

“We still have much work to do to recognise the achievements and struggles of women within agroecology – and to guarantee their healthy livelihoods! To keep moving forward, we must ask fundamentally ourselves…

  • Where are the women in this building process of Agroecology?
  • Are they present in spaces of dialogue like men?
  • Are they equally heard?
  • What ways of life do we want to cultivate with our food?

“The lives of peasant women, and of women farmers, should be as healthy and as nutritious as the food we want to consume!”

We thank these incredible women for the work that they do and for contributing their voice to this article!

Café Feminino: high-quality organic coffee, produced and guaranteed by women

Located in the hilly region of Minas Gerais, COOPFAM was founded more than 30 years ago as an association of family farmers and in 1998 became the first Fairtrade-certified coffee cooperative in Brazil. Today, they pride themselves on being one of the largest smallholder producer cooperatives in the country, supporting over 800 families – as well as promoting organic production, women-grown coffee, and community development.

As part of their activities as members of COOPFAM, a group of women decided to include a focus on gender empowerment, financial independence, and the visibility of rural women within the cooperative.

A strong commitment to sustainable agricultural practices, community development, female empowerment – as well as support from external research and financial institutions promoting agroecology – have been key to COOPFAM’s success. © COOPFAM

They worked to promote female participation in decision-making, for example by advocating for women’s rights to take part and vote on how to invest the premium received through Fairtrade certification. The women also saw the need to diversify production and extend organic certification to other crops specifically produced by women, like roses and vegetables, through PGS.

As capacity-building for PGS implementation progressed, many of the women involved came together to develop an additional guarantee system for high-quality organic coffee, produced and guaranteed by women: COOPFAM Coffee – Feminine.

“They created this group to develop more focused coffee production and to work on a women’s coffee logo. More women started to participate so the need for a guarantee system emerged and we carried out several training activities to give women a voice in farming,” explained Maria Regina Mendes, PGS coordinator at COOPFAM.

“That’s how we created Café Feminino certification. Thanks to regular annual visits, there’s a lot of exchanging knowledge and experiences because all the women visit each other’s fields.” The income obtained from their coffee blend is then distributed for the benefit of the women and the cooperative as a whole.

Around 40 women have their own brand certified and developed by the group, and part of their income goes back to the collective itself to carry out activities, training courses, field visits, and initiate other projects. © COOPFAM

Organicos Sul de Minas (OSM) manages the PGS initiative and supported the women with capacity-building for PGS development and implementation. It’s now exploring ways to upscale these women’s success to its whole network. “We’ve been thinking about developing a seal to identify women’s production within the PGS process itself, to have this information on the various products that are grown by women in this region: coffee, honey, vegetables, fruits, processed foods, and more,” explained Letícia Osório, OSM representative.

“We want to adapt our assessment mechanisms to generate data on where women are working, what they’re producing, and what volume of food they produce, thus making it possible to develop actions to value this work. A logo that indicates women’s production can generate recognition of their work among consumers and the general population as well.”

Find out more about coopfam
Read more (Portuguese article)

In Northern Ethiopia, a woman turns stones to fruit

“One day, I decided that living hand-to-mouth was not a sustainable way of life and build a list of all the potential livelihood possibilities I could pursue,” shares Haregu Gobezay. She has since transformed previously degraded land into a biodiversity hotspot. Read her story here

Haregu Gobezay is an organic farmer working in the lowlands of Tigray, Northern Ethiopia. Like other Tigrinyan women farmers, she relied on subsistence farming and her husband’s income to provide for the family. Looking for alternate sources of income, Haregu and her community came together to transform previously degraded land into a biodiversity hotspot.

She hired some community members who helped clear the stony field and established her farm in 2005. She’s since been able to cultivate crops like tomatoes, onions, and peppers, as well as build an irrigation canal, which now also provides water to other farmers in her neighbourhood.

Read her story

Women in agriculture: we thank you! 🌱

Every day, let’s celebrate the women spearheading transformation and sustainable change around the world! Help #EmbraceEquity by amplifying their voices and the incredible work that they do – as well as challenging gender norms and discrimination in all parts of society.

“Something that has come up strongly during our extensive strategic planning process over the past year was the desire from members to see a more inclusive organisation and a recognition that we need to embrace equity. I’m excited that our final set of strategic actions includes a focus on convening inclusive conversations on the important issues we all face. I believe this approach will contribute towards equality for women from all backgrounds in the organic movement. We look forward to learning how to do this better and to building on the powerful success stories in our membership!

🗣 Karen Mapusua, World Board President of IFOAM – Organics International

Find out more about our work