At the Forum of Female Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Agriculture, officials warn that the recognition of unpaid work is vital to empower rural women
San José, 28 November 2022 (IICA) –Only the recognition of the unpaid work that rural women do every day and their full access to productive resources will guarantee food security and greater development opportunities in rural areas.
This was the warning issued by the female ministers and deputy ministers of agriculture of the Americas who participated at the 3rd Forum convened by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the goal of which was to discuss priorities in the region in terms of policies with a gender focus in agrifood systems.
The Forum of Female Ministers and Deputy Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas seeks to improve public policies and give greater visibility to women’s central role in rural development, thus consolidating the full recognition of their rights.
Despite their crucial role in food production and community life, women receive less income than men, and face greater obstacles to accessing land ownership and financing.
The Forum, which was held virtually, was opened by Cecilia López Montaño, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of Colombia, who hosted the event together with IICA Director General Manuel Otero.
The Forum included the participation of Laura Suazo, Honduran Secretary of Agriculture and Livestock; Samantha Marshall, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs of Antigua and Barbuda; Miriam Guzmán, Deputy Minister of Rural Development of the Dominican Republic; Ivania del Carmen León, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Nicaragua; Jenny Ocampo, Minister of Agrarian Development and Irrigation of Peru; and Lydia Ori, expert in agriculture policies of Anton de Kom University of Suriname.
In addition, María Noel Vaeza, UN Women Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean, and Javier Pineda, Associate Professor of the Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, spoke about the role of the care economy in the rural development of the Americas.
The Rural Women Training Course, designed by IICA, was also presented during the event. The course will be implemented in January 2023, in response to a request made by female ministers and deputy ministers during the II Forum.
This is a tool designed to give rural women practical instruments to strengthen their leadership and contribute to improving their skills as entrepreneurs in rural areas. It was presented by Priscilla Zúñiga, Manager of the Gender and Youth Equity Program, and IICA Technical Specialist Silvia Castellano.
Patricia Vildósola, director of the Campo supplement of the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio, was the moderator in the activity.
Recognizing the value of care
The Colombian minister López Montaño stated that the crucial issue preventing rural women from having full access to their rights is the non-recognition of the care economy, which refers to the time dedicated to caring for the family and domestic chores.
“The Covid-19 pandemic destroyed much of the progress that we women had made over the decades and showed where we have failed. It is clear that the real gap between men and women lies in the difference in the way they use their time. In the twenty-first century we still see women as the main caregivers,” she said.
“The crux of the problem is the ongoing perception that care activities are women’s responsibility. In Latin America, in 2021, the economic contribution of unpaid work was between 16 and 27 percent of the GDP. Women dedicate almost 20 percent of their time to unpaid domestic work. If we recognize only the work that women do outside of the home, there is no future.”
Laura Suazo, Chair of IICA’s Executive Committee –one of the governing bodies of the Institute- and Honduran Secretary of Agriculture, explained that since women have taken a leading role in agriculture, decision-makers have wondered how they would handle childcare at the same time.
“We have prepared and we have been able to manage the family issue, but we still have limited opportunities to occupy high-level positions. In Honduras, only after the first female president had been elected was the food sector entrusted to another woman. This means women creating opportunities for other women,” she said.
Samantha Marshall said that rural women are at a disadvantage in accessing financing to improve their businesses and noted that some do not even have the support of their own families.
“In Antigua and Barbuda we are encouraging more women to choose agriculture on a greater scale, despite the difficulties in the Caribbean from hurricanes and floods, which are more frequent because of climate change,” said Marshall, who pointed out the value of work in cooperation with IICA to strengthen small Caribbean farmers.
The Peruvian minister Jenny Ocampo said that hunger, climate change and the pandemic have generated scenarios of constant crisis in the world. “This obliges us to look more closely at our territory and at rural women. The need to ensure food supply has been made evident and family farming is essential.”
Ocampo mentioned the low participation of rural women in decision-making in Peru and said that they only preside over 18 percent of councils focusing on river basin water resources and manage only 30 percent of the surface of the largest farming land areas.
León, the Minister of Nicaragua, spoke of the importance of cooperativism and associativism to bridge the gender gap in family farming. She also mentioned that her ministry works in favor of better access to trade markets for rural women.
The Dominican Vice Minister Miriam Guzmán stressed that if rural women’s unpaid work were included in the countries’ GDP, its true importance would be clear to see. “The global fear of food shortages is a great opportunity to put our issues at the top of the agenda,” she said.
Changing the perspective
María Noel Vaeza, on behalf of UN Women, said that a new generation of agricultural public policies that includes women is needed.
“I hope this group of female ministers, which is something new in the Americas, changes perspective and contributes to recognizing the disproportionate responsibility that women have. It is vital to recognize the leadership and contributions of rural women and the importance of their participation in decision-making. It must be made clear that unpaid work is a job, and it that indigenous women’s knowledge is fundamental,” she said.
Professor Javier Pineda gave a review of public policies on the continent that have helped improve women’s participation.
Manuel Otero said that IICA is committed to the transformation of agrifood systems based on real participation of women and the elimination of historical sexism.
“Women produce half of the world’s food, and 70-80 percent in the case of developing countries. Despite this, they own only 15 percent of the land and receive only 10 percent of the income,” he said.
Otero said that only 15 percent of the region’s agriculture ministries are led by women and announced that IICA intends to advocate with international financing agencies to formulate public policies in favor of women.
“At the ministerial meeting next year this issue is going to the top of the agenda. We have made enough assessments. It is time for action,” said Otero.
At the close, IICA’s Director of Technical Cooperation, Federico Villarreal, summarized the points addressed at the Forum and stressed the need to systematize “the concept of the care society,” incorporating its productive, environmental and social dimensions, and that men should participate in the transformations that drive women’s empowerment.
Institutional Communication Division.