Solution Cluster 1.2.3

Accelerate action for women’s nutrition, empowerment, and leadership through transformative entry points for gender-equitable food systems

The idea is to strategically focus on three distinct but connected elements of gender in food systems as transformative entry points for gender equitable food systems. Greater gender equity is an essential prerequisite to food systems transformation. While actions for gender equitable food systems are many and diverse, we have selected three concrete, feasible, actionable, and mutually reinforcing entry points for systems change. They aim to transform three of the most vital elements of gender equality in food systems: nutrition, economic empowerment, and leadership. The complementarity among these approaches is needed to ensure all women both benefit from food systems and make a meaningful contribution to their transformation, leveraging the important role they already play.

  • Nutrition. The disproportionate burden of malnutrition in all its forms on women causes, and is caused by, gender inequality; improving women’s nutrition not just addresses one of the most inequitable outcomes of food systems but ensures women are healthy to participate in food systems transformation. The specific entry point is a new Alliance for Anaemia Actions. Focusing on a pernicious nutritional problem disproportionately experienced by women and girls, anaemia, will bring attention to the role food systems must play to support women in accessing nutritious foods, in a way that gives women a voice in the actions taken.
  • Economic empowerment. It is well established that women’s economic empowerment benefits gender equality, nutrition, and the economy; finding ways to ensure the world’s most vulnerable women can benefit from, and contribute to, food systems economic activity, brings multiple benefits. The specific entry points are hubs designed to support women-led enterprises, generating income through production and value-chain activities, focusing on vulnerable women producing nutritious crops (especially indigenous crops), leveraging women’s already important yet marginalised role in this area.
  • Leadership. Women’s voices are typically missing from decision-making processes in the food system, reducing the opportunity to pay greater attention to gender equality and to benefit from the wider diversity of leadership styles needed in a complex decision-making space. The specific entry point here is to create accountability for food systems organisations/actors to appoint women as leaders, enact gender-responsive internal policies, and be accountable for gender outcomes through a Global Food Systems 50/50 reporting mechanism.

About this Solution Cluster

Food systems transformation will simply not happen without greater gender equality. The evidence shows gender is intricately linked to all components of food systems. Women play critical roles in food systems as producers, processors, traders, preparers, community food providers, consumers, scientists, policy makers, business leaders, nutrition professionals, and caregivers in households. For example, women represent on average 43% of the agricultural labour force globally, often carry the burden of responsibility for feeding their households, and have the highest micronutrient requirements (e.g., iron due to needs during menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation). Persistent gender inequities are both a cause and outcome of unsustainable food systems. Yet the power women have is lying latent, and the transformative role women could play unrealised, owing to myriad and complex social and structural barriers that constrain women’s participation and influence across food systems, including heightened risk of malnutrition. Organisations need to do more to elevate the leadership and voices of women in food systems.

Taking forward these three actions in a coherent interconnected manner will create a multiplier effect to achieve mutual complementarities and synergies. We cannot achieve food systems goals without attending to women’s special needs, amplifying women’s voices and roles in food systems, and transforming the organisations and institutions dealing with food systems to be more equitable and enabling women and their communities to benefit from the economic potential of the food systems.

The Alliance for Anaemia Actions will drive a global investment and action agenda and accelerate country-specific and country-led action to reduce anaemia, taking a strong food systems perspective in addition to health system interventions, including infection and inflammation control. The Alliance will be transformative in that it proposes a coordinated, multisectoral response to the multi-factorial causes of anaemia. The Alliance may act as an entry point to other forms of malnutrition experienced by women, including obesity, and diet-related noncommunicable diseases (anaemia is a unifier since it’s found in women across the under- to overweight spectrum). The Alliance will identify and drive forward the most critical food system interventions needed to improve access and affordability of nutritious foods, concurrent with health, environment, and social protection interventions, an integrated implementation research and diagnostics agenda, behaviour and social change communication, disease and vector control, and targeted supplementation for the most vulnerable, where and when needed.

Increased income and decision-making about that income is one of the most important interventions for improving women’s diets. This would be one of the multiple benefits of the hubs (e.g., regional- level incubators, challenge funds) to empower community-level leaders of women’s food system enterprises (local innovators are crucial for ensuring enterprises work in local contexts). Enterprises focused on profitable, nutritious foods (including indigenous crops) enable women to generate income, feed themselves and families, and increase local access to nutritious foods. They also aim to be transformative by changing social norms and mindsets (if women gain agency in making decisions, acquire feelings of self-respect/self-efficacy, demand greater respect from families/communities) and by catalysing further changes (e.g., land ownership laws, self-help groups for women’s savings, receiving the needed extension services and support, financial services, mobile money apps).

The proposed Global Food Systems 50/50 accountability mechanism will work with organisations in food systems, producing an annual report, highlighting best practices, lessons learnt and progress stories for achieving gender equality, and an accompanying gender equity index, which will review performance and catalyse change in policy and practice across at least 200 organisations active in food systems, including research, private sector, non-profits, and government. The rationale emerges from the existing Global Health 50/50 initiative, an accountability report highlighting the lack of gender equality in leadership of global health organisations, stimulating organisational leaders to take note and alter their gender balance, policies, and outcomes. The initiative has the potential to be transformative through achieving similar impact in food systems and as an entry point for a cascade of changes throughout food systems: more women leaders and decision-makers means, for example, more support for women-led enterprises and greater priority to investments and action to improve women nutrition. This focus will go beyond counting numbers to providing relevant leadership training to strengthen women’s leadership skills and participation in food systems transformation.

Cluster leadership will be formed with global and country stakeholders representing the three initiatives, to ensure alignment of implementation to enhance synergies for specific country settings. The leadership will regularly inform each other on progress, share lessons learned, and multiply actions to achieve better outcomes across the three focus areas and on related gender equity aspects in relation to food systems.

A group of global stakeholders (WHO, USAID, BMGF, GAIN, Micronutrient Forum) has come together to propose a cross-sector Alliance for Anaemia Actions, with the Micronutrient Forum as the suggested host.  The Alliance will seek funding and establish a work plan with those Member States that have expressed interest in an integrated approach to further progress on the reduction of anaemia, to develop a Global Anaemia Action Plan, including but not limited to an investment strategy, implementation research agenda, and advocacy and comms strategy.

The hubs for women enterprises will convene a coalition of partners to mobilise funding through challenge funds, hubs, and incubators already concerned with women-led enterprises and indigenous and traditional foods. The hubs will link to financing sources to ensure gender-equitable access to funding. A network of innovators would be set up, regionally and globally, to support enterprise development and peer-learning and diffusion of best practices, and provide support such as capacity building, accessing inputs (seeds, credit, etc), marketing, and distribution. In enterprise development, special attention will be given to activities that support enhancing access to nutritious foods, leveraging relevant informal activities that are common in many LMIC settings. These networks of innovators will build on the experience of existing organisations with on-the-ground expertise in providing support for women-led enterprises such as, SEWA, Tule Vyema, Kuli Kuli, and others. At country level, strategic linkages will ensure synergy between women’s enterprise hub activities and relevant food-based approaches to reduce anaemia, as well as deliberate attention to women’s diet quality through the targeting of specific iron-rich foods. In addition, strategic links to the Global Food Systems 50/50 initiative will be used to ensure inclusion of women in leadership on relevant aspects of food systems in the targeted settings and more broadly in local food systems-related organisations and entities.

The Global Food Systems 50/50 initiative will be led by IFPRI and the UNFSS gender lever in partnership with the Global Health 50/50 initiative (GH5050). There are about 60 organisations that operate in both the food systems and health arenas already being tracked and included in the Global Health 50/50 report. As an initial step, the initiative will produce a 20-page report on these 60 organisations, drawing on data already collected for the 2021 GH5050 report in time for the UNFSS in September 2021. Post-summit, the Food Systems 50/50 initiative will develop additional gender indicators relevant to the food system and produce a full report that will gather data and assess 200 organisations active in food systems. The broad concept of the 50/50 initiative will strategically be embedded in both the anaemia and the Hub for women’s enterprise components, within which leadership development training will be incorporated.

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