Press release: Economic empowerment of rural women positively impacts social norms and strengthens food security


Originally published by the World Food Programme

Economic empowerment of rural women as farmers, entrepreneurs and leaders contributes towards alleviating poverty, increasing food security and achieving gender equality. These findings, based on an evaluation of a six-year multi-agency global initiative implemented in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger, and Rwanda, were shared at a high-level event in Rome earlier this week.

The programme, 'Accelerating Progress towards Rural Women's Economic Empowerment’, implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls (UN Women) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) together with national governments and supported by the governments of Sweden and Norway was evaluated at the end of its first phase of implementation and findings shared.

“Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are pre-conditions for the eradication of poverty and hunger and are essential to achieve all Sustainable Development Goals. By bringing four UN agencies and key partners together, the Joint Programme has achieved long-lasting change for rural women, their families and their communities," said WFP Deputy Executive Director Amir Abdulla. “By providing access to innovative tools and addressing barriers that hold women back, the project has shown that empowering rural women means empowering communities and unleashing the potential of future generations.”

The second phase of the programme that aims to build on the successes of the first phase, bringing more rural women into the programme and contributing to global learning and policy dialogues on the rights of rural women, will commence in January 2022.

Addressing stakeholders at the event, Eva Lövgren, Deputy Director for International Organisations and Policy Support, SIDA said, “Today’s event is another brilliant example of how learning can be shared. It is clear that the Joint Programme has built a foundation on which proven methods for strengthening women’s economic empowerment can be replicated and scaled. Now the programme stands ready to build on what works”.

Building resilience, decreasing vulnerabilities and promoting economic empowerment

The findings revealed that women participating in the programme benefited greatly from enhanced agricultural practices through access to productive assets, labor-saving technologies, market linkages and leadership training, which meant that they were able to increase their agricultural productivity, obtain more sustainable income and ensure a better diet for their families.

A positive shift in social norms was also observed, which meant that women played a greater role in household and community-level decision-making. For example, men in Nepal and Niger reported growing support to improve the status of women in villages as well as to contribute to household chores.

Women participating in the programme were more likely to be elected to local councils and engage in local governance as a result of improved self-confidence through leadership, technical and business-related training. For example, over 3,000 women in both Ethiopia and Liberia became members of land committees and were involved in decision-making processes.

The economic impacts of COVID-19 and climate change were also largely mitigated for women participating in the programme. Rural women and communities applied climate-smart agricultural practices supported by the programme. During COVID-19, women were able to maintain their income security through the increased availability of cash transfers or access to funds and savings.

“The programme has increased people’s resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, including in those countries that suffered double crises as a result of natural disasters. Given the current context with the pandemic, the increasing devastating consequences of climate change and vulnerabilities to natural disaster, we must apply a resilience lens across all our interventions and ensure that rural women and men have the capacities, assets and resources, as well as access to the services they need to withstand shocks. The potential to build resilience will be an integral part of the programme’s design in the second phase,” said FAO’s Senior Gender Officer, Susan Kaaria.

“The joint programme’s integrated approach allowed rural women to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through strengthened social networks, savings groups, and solidarity that facilitated access to food reserves and cash savings to withstand household income and food insecurity in the aftermath of the crisis. For the next phase, we can build in greater resilience to climate and other shocks and reducing women’s and girls’ disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work that is always exacerbated in times of crisis,” said Acting Chief of Economic Empowerment for UN Women, Seemin Qayum.

The success of the first phase of the project that ran from 2014 to 2021 has been attributed in part to the benefits of building synergies and capitalizing on the four implementing agencies' comparative advantages: FAO's policy assistance on agriculture and food security; IFAD's rural investment programmes; WFP's food assistance innovations; and UN Women's technical and policy expertise on women's economic empowerment.

"Today has been an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the progress we have made in advancing gender equality and women's empowerment, and to look forward to what more we need to do," said Meike van Ginneken, IFAD's Associate Vice President, Strategy and Knowledge Department. "Now more than ever, in the wake of the pandemic and the increasingly devastating consequences of climate change and biodiversity loss on rural women and communities- we must continue these efforts. The Joint Programme on Rural Women's Economic Empowerment is well placed to do this and stands ready to scale up."

Launched in 2014, the Joint Programme was the first such initiative to bring together the three UN Rome based agencies and UN Women — with the goal to spearhead a comprehensive UN system response in support of rural women's economic empowerment and securing women's livelihoods and rights. The programme has reached over 80,000 rural women in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger, and Rwanda. A second phase of this programme will be launched in January 2022.