The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is holding its 37th annual session in Rome this week. State representatives from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe have gathered alongside social movements, farmers associations and NGOs to try and tackle one of the greatest challenges of our time: hunger.
For the first time ever, the CFS has put gender equality high on the agenda, recognizing that empowering women is critical for achieving world food security. States are being urged to come up with concrete commitments to finally make women’s right to food a priority – and a reality.
Women were definitely not going to sit back and watch the show. This week, rural women from around the globe have showed up in Rome to make their voices heard. Women leaders from Asia, Africa and Latin America have come to challenge 'business as usual' by weighing into debates on agricultural production models, nutrition, investment and trade. Their very presence at the CFS and the proposals they are collectively putting forward are a wonderful testimony to women’s central role in our global food system and powerfully challenge entrenched stereotypes about women’s role in farming.
These women leaders have articulated two priorities this week.
They are calling for greater support for women's leadership and collective organizing, recognizing that only by acting collectively will they be able to participate in decision making about agriculture and food policies. For women farmers, being able to join rural unions or set up cooperatives of their own can enhance their access to resources, help reduce costs and risks, increase their access to wider markets and enhance their negotiating power. They know what needs to happen. They simply want their leadership to be recognized and their organizations to be supported.
Rural women also want a say in the types of investments that are going into agriculture as the world grapples with the challenge of producing more food. Women farmers are forcefully calling for investments in agroecological farming, a model of production that holds great potential for women smallholder farmers as it is best adapted to their rapidly changing environment and puts to profit their traditional knowledge and expertise in the use of indigenous seeds, crop diversification and stewardship of biodiversity.
As government representatives make statement after statement this week at the CFS, women’s message is clear: they want less talk and more action. Esther Penunia, President of the Asian Farmer’s Association, summed it up well: "We have analyzed the problem long enough. Let's get to work."
Lauren Ravon is Oxfam Canada's policy adviser