Blog Post

How to Increase Gender Equity in Agriculture: New Evidence from Malabo Montpelier Forum

The twelfth annual Malabo Montpelier Forum was held on June 8 and centered on a new report from the Malabo Montpelier Panel: Bridging the Gap: Policy Innovations to Put Women at the Center of Food System Transformation in Africa. According to the report, nearly two-thirds of African women play a role in the region’s agrifood system. Although women are involved in every node of the agrifood value chain—from production to trade to consumption—however, their full potential contributions to agricultural transformation, as well as their food and economic security, remain hindered by a range of social, political, and economic barriers.

Chief among these barriers are a lack of access to land, agricultural inputs, financing, information, new technologies, markets, and employment both on- and off-farm. For example, recent data shows that in 2021, only 23 percent of women involved in agriculture had ownership or secure rights to the land they work. Women in Africa also earn lower wages and receive less education on average than their male counterparts, particularly in rural areas.

While these challenges are significant, however, the report also emphasizes progress toward increasing women’s equal inclusion in the agrifood sector. A number of continental, regional, and national policies have been put in place over the past two decades to address gender inequality in Africa’s agrifood systems: the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2004); the African Union’s Gender Policy of 2009; the Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges in Africa of 2009; and the Declaration on the 2015 Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063, as well as policy frameworks from ECOWAS, EAC, SADC, and other regional economic communities. These policies all recognize the importance of women’s equal involvement in the agrifood sector to sustainable agricultural and economic transformation, food security, economic growth, and climate change adaptation.

The Forum report also highlights case studies from four countries that have instituted robust policies and programs to empower women and girls and increase inclusivity and equity in the agrifood sector: Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, and Togo. Ethiopia’s Land Certification Program aims to strengthen women’s land rights and access, as does Rwanda’s Land Law of 2021. Ghana’s Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty Programme provides cash transfers to support nutrition and food security for poor households; an estimated 56 percent of the program’s beneficiaries are women. Ghana has embedded a Women in Agricultural Development Directorate within its Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that gender equity and inclusion are built into all policies and programs impacting the country’s agrifood systems; Rwanda also has several governmental departments and agencies devoted to mainstreaming women’s rights and concerns into policy and budgets. Togo’s National Fund for Inclusive Finance provides women credit at lower interest rates to increase their access to financing; in addition the Government of Togo earmarks 25 percent of its public procurement budget for female entrepreneurs. These country-level policies and programs provide practical examples of how policymakers can better support and prioritize gender-responsive and inclusive interventions.

The report uses these case studies, as well as continent-wide data, to emphasize several key lessons learned.

First, while regional and national policy frameworks are a good start, these policies need to be more effectively consolidated. Collaborative policymaking will allow governments to learn from one another and ensure their individual policies and programs are not working at cross-purposes.

Second, governments must back their policy pledges with dedicated and protected funding for gender equity across agencies.

Third, women’s participation and representation in governments and other decision-making bodies must be prioritized and increased. This is key in ensuring that women’s needs and concerns are heard and supported in effective, sustainable ways.

Fourth, interventions and programs must be designed from a gender-responsive place. Building women’s needs into programs from the start is critical to true gender equity.

Fifth, and related, interventions should also include education and messaging for men and boys regarding the benefits of gender equity for all. This will increase men’s buy-in of programs and policies that represent a shift from traditional gender roles.

Sixth, products and services need to be made both accessible to women and tailored to meet women’s specific needs and constraints. For example, bringing extension services directly to women producers rather than requiring women to seek them out would help address constraints to movement faced by many rural women producers.

These takeaways can help national and regional policymakers make faster progress toward the full inclusion of women as equal partners in and drivers of sustainable agrifood system transformation.