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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! ⬇
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.
¹ UN Women, Gender Mainstreaming: Concepts and Definitions
² POETCom, Gender and Organic Value Chain Analysis Toolkit
³ POETCom, Organic stands for Gender Equality