Agricultural Policy: Integrating gender equality and human security

Getting Started

Public policy is at the heart of government action. It is “a practice and discipline of making tangible written rules that govern a group of people or society at large.” As such, public policy intends to solve real-world problems, including in the agriculture sector, the sector of focus in this toolkit. This includes for example tackling food insecurity and malnutrition; limited access to economic opportunities (e.g., markets and formal employment); and limited access to productive resources (e.g., land, equipment and technologies, education and training).  

Typically, public policy issues are complex, and recent global concerns such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic add further stress and difficulties to policy makers’ agendas. Nevertheless, in order to make public policies most effective, it is important to ensure that processes and decisions address citizens’ diverse needs while adhering to societies’ collective morals. Integrating human security and gender equality significantly impacts the quality of public policies and is key towards achieving this goal. And yet, up to this date, public policies ever so often lack the required inclusiveness. This can have serious – even if unintended – negative consequences, particularly for those individuals who are disproportionately vulnerable and marginalized, but ultimately also for society as a whole. 

The following modules discuss the need for and impact of integrating gender equality and human security in public policies with a focus on the agriculture sector. Specifically, by proceeding through the modules below you will learn about:

  • The definitions of gender equality and human security, and their interrelation with public policy;
  • The impacts of developing policy without applying a gender lens; 
  • Practical ways to integrate gender and take action in your role as a parliamentarian or decision maker; and
  • Partners that can support you in taking action.  

Getting Started

Public policy is at the heart of government action. It is “a practice and discipline of making tangible written rules that govern a group of people or society at large.” As such, public policy intends to solve real-world problems, including in the agriculture sector, the sector of focus in this toolkit. This includes for example tackling food insecurity and malnutrition; limited access to economic opportunities (e.g., markets and formal employment); and limited access to productive resources (e.g., land, equipment and technologies, education and training).  

Typically, public policy issues are complex, and recent global concerns such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic add further stress and difficulties to policy makers’ agendas. Nevertheless, in order to make public policies most effective, it is important to ensure that processes and decisions address citizens’ diverse needs while adhering to societies’ collective morals. Integrating human security and gender equality significantly impacts the quality of public policies and is key towards achieving this goal. And yet, up to this date, public policies ever so often lack the required inclusiveness. This can have serious – even if unintended – negative consequences, particularly for those individuals who are disproportionately vulnerable and marginalized, but ultimately also for society as a whole. 

The following modules discuss the need for and impact of integrating gender equality and human security in public policies with a focus on the agriculture sector. Specifically, by proceeding through the modules below you will learn about:

  • The definitions of gender equality and human security, and their interrelation with public policy;
  • The impacts of developing policy without applying a gender lens; 
  • Practical ways to integrate gender and take action in your role as a parliamentarian or decision maker; and
  • Partners that can support you in taking action.  

Gender equality and related international frameworks 

Gender equality is an important concept in the context of sustainable, people-centred development. Indeed, achieving gender equality is a sustainable development goal in itself (SDG 5), and a pre-condition for achieving the 2030 development agenda as a whole. 

As defined by the United Nations, gender equality refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. It is important to note though that equality does not mean that women and men will become the same; equality rather means that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities, and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female. Thus, gender equality implies that the interests, needs, and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration, while still recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Further, it is critical to understand that gender equality is not a women’s issue but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. 

Multiple global frameworks exist on gender equality that also intend to guide policy making at the regional, national, and local levels. Of particular relevance in this context are the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPfA). CEDAW is commonly considered as an international bill of rights for women, while the BPfA is understood as the most progressive blueprint for advancing women's rights up to this date. Both frameworks include important references to gender and public policy: they highlight the need for women’s participation in policy formulation and implementation, and for policies to foster the empowerment and advancement of women. 

Furthermore, the BPfA includes specific references of relevance for the agricultural and fisheries sector: for example, it stipulates the promotion of women’s central role in food and agricultural research, extension, and education programmes (Section B), and discusses women’s relation to the economy and the environment (Sections F and K, respectively) as part of its critical areas of concern. You can learn more about CEDAW and the BPfA through the links at the end of this section.  

 

The interconnection of human security and gender equality

Human security is another concept of relevance in the context of sustainable development. Human security goes beyond the absence of conflict and centres on the security of individuals. Broadly understood, it captures a very wide range of areas related to individuals' well-being and safety, including for example food security and health. Furthermore, human security is an approach to assist countries in identifying and addressing widespread and crosscutting challenges to the survival, livelihood, and dignity of their people, particularly the most vulnerable. Specifically, such an approach calls for enhancing resilience through adopting “people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people," (source). Taking a human security approach is thus central to effective and inclusive policy making. 

Understanding gender equality and human security also means understanding the strong link and interrelation between these concepts, in that human security can only be fully achieved if gender is taken into account: “There can be no improvement in human security without addressing as a major - if not first - priority the issue of ‘lost opportunities’ and ‘foregone achievement’ that result from deep gender inequality and insufficient progress in the empowerment of women.” This also aligns with the broader scope of the SDG agenda which aims at enhancing resilience and pursuing goals comprehensively and holistically. 

Numerous sustainable development projects and programs across the globe, including some of those focused on the agricultural sector, effectively translate this vision into practice. An example from the Caribbean is the United Nations project ‘Advancing Sustainable Development through Human Security, Climate Resilience and Women’s Empowerment in the Caribbean.’ Through its comprehensive approach, the project addresses multiple issues, such as unequal access to land and land/business ownership; discrimination in access to resources, extension services, finance and insurance; and the absence of gender analysis and application, in varying degrees, of public policy, with the overall objective to contribute to human security for farmers and small agro- and fisheries business entrepreneurs, many of whom are women.
 

Typically, policies have different impacts on different segments of society, and the widespread assumption that policies are gender neutral (i.e., affect individuals of all sexes and gender identities similarly) rarely ever holds. Take, for example, a cut in public investments in health care - or an overburdened, collapsing health care system as observed in many places as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: in most societies across the globe, including the Caribbean, taking care of sick children and other household members is a task that primarily falls on women; this means that disinvestments - or a lack of sufficient investments to address overloaded systems - are likely to affect them disproportionately. Typical consequences are an increase in women’s workload at home, which can also lead to the loss of formal employment or time to invest in one’s agribusiness. 

Alternatively, think of a scenario where policies foresee a reduction in export taxes, thereby generating an incentive for local farmers to engage in export crop production. This likely comes at the expense of subsistence crops, which frequently are a non-tradable good under women’s responsibility.  

A third example is social protection policies. Women make up the majority of informal workers in the agricultural sector - a sector of critical importance to the Caribbean (source). If policies neglect to explicitly account for this situation, women are disproportionately vulnerable to experiencing hardship, as they may fall through safety nets and protection schemes. 

These scenarios show how policies can impact women and men differently based on the actual roles and responsibilities society ascribes to them, their distinct vulnerabilities and needs, and capacities and skills. They also show that these impacts can be direct and indirect, subtle and obvious, short and long-term, and experienced at the individual and collective levels. Furthermore, the scenarios indicate the risk for policies to (consciously or unconsciously) create new or perpetuate existing inequalities between women and men if they neglect to consider gender sufficiently. 

Policies that are not gender responsive fail to recognize that the roles and responsibilities of women/girls and men/boys are ascribed to, or imposed upon, them in specific social, cultural, economic and political contexts

Although decision makers rarely intend to actively discriminate against women or men, research shows that up to this date many agricultural policies, including in the Caribbean, do not take gender into account, which can have similar consequences. There are many reasons for this, with a lack of sex-disaggregated data and limited awareness of women and men’s distinct lived experiences being typical causes. Furthermore, many policy makers are not fully aware of the linkages between ‘technical’ sectors such as agriculture and fisheries and gender, which constitutes a major barrier. 

The globally accepted strategy for promoting gender equality and effectively integrating gender into policies (and other activities and measures) is called gender mainstreaming. Specifically, the United Nations define gender mainstreaming as follows:

“The process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes, in all areas and at all levels. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.” 

There are numerous practical ways in which you as policy maker can take action and facilitate the integration of gender through the strategy of mainstreaming. Here are three actions that are of particular importance and that you can implement right away: 

Ensure women and men’s participation: Ensure that women and men actively participate in policy making processes and benefit from policies and related programs, projects, and further activities. Where women are underrepresented (for example in workshops and trainings), you can specifically reach out to women and encourage their participation or think of launching an initiative that specifically targets women. Such proceeding is called affirmative action. 

Collect and use sex-disaggregated data: Make sure that policy-related quantitative and qualitative data are collected and used as the basis for policy formulation. This also entails ensuring that you are fully familiar with women and men’s distinct vulnerabilities and needs, capacities, and skills in the respective area of concern.  

Apply inclusive language: When you communicate – and this includes the written formulation of policies – use inclusive language. This means to use non-discriminatory vocabulary; to make gender visible when it is relevant for communication; and to not make gender visible when it is not relevant for communication. 

Furthermore, as parliamentarians and policy makers, you may use your close connections to the local population and communities to bridge the gap between the realities of women and men on the ground and high-level government procedures: talking to people, hearing their stories, needs, and concerns will help you a great deal in advocating for and formulating gender-responsive policies. In the context of the agricultural sector, this includes, for example, connecting with both women and men and asking them explicitly about their roles and responsibility in value chains, if they can freely access land, financial capital, information on technology and markets, and what the distinct challenges are they may face. Such data and information strengthen the evidence base and facilitate tailored planning.  

Working together with local and regional partners can help a great deal with improving policy making processes and policy impacts. Specifically through sharing of further information, and providing support in mainstreaming gender and in making the human security approach work, local and regional partners present valuable actors of change whose capacities and skills policy makers should utilize. Helpful partners can for instance include international organizations; regional and national NGOs and CSOs with a focus on gender work and agriculture/fisheries/small business; women’s movements and networks; and local universities. 

Below are some examples of partners that can support you in taking action:

  • UN Women Caribbean: https://caribbean.unwomen.org/en
  • Barbados Professional Women: https://www.ngocaribbean.org/barbados-professional-women/
  • Women of Purpose: https://www.ngocaribbean.org/women-of-purpose-ministry-barbados/ 
  • Business and Professional Women Barbados: https://bpwbarbados.wordpress.com/about/ 
  • Gender in Fisheries Team program operating out of UWI Cave Hill: https://www.cavehill.uwi.edu/cermes/projects/gift/overview.aspx
  • Local affiliate Networks of Rural Women Producers
  • Environmental awareness groups
  • Youth-led civil society organizations

Good Practices

The good practices that follow have been shared by parliamentarians and other stakeholders.