Empowering Women in the Fight for Global Food Security

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Women and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

“The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core, and include a target to ‘double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women.’ Indeed, rural women are critical to the success of almost all of the 17 SDGs.” UN SG Ban Ki-moon

There is no doubt that climate change affects less developed countries more dramatically. It also affects women more significantly, since they represent the majority of the poor  and vulnerable. On 15 October, the world recently celebrated the 6th anniversary of the International Day of Rural Women, “the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods.” Climate change’s effects on food security are well-known and well-established; therefore, in order to fully address food security, women’s issues must be at the forefront. The UN FAO released a report on 13 October indicating that expanding social protection will offer a faster track to ending hunger.

How can food security via women’s empowerment be achieved through the UN’s SDGs? Specifically, 1 (4) , 2 (3)  5(7)  relate to women’s rights to land. Current land use practices coupled with the exacerbating effects of climate change like droughts and other extreme events have led to soil degradation and desertification.  Women are often responsible for supplying the food and fuel for the household and finding ways of making up for the shortfall when these catastrophic events occur. However, they are not in a position to make decisions about how the land is used – either for their benefit or the environment’s – because they do not have the authority or ownership of it. For example, in most African countries, approximately 75% – 90% of land is held under traditional rules, customs and practices, which mean that women are not able to assert control over it or its use even though they are primarily responsible for its cultivation.

Solar Market Garden in Benin

Solar Market Garden in Benin

The outlook is not dim, however. As the world looks to COP21’s negotiations in Paris, the Momentum for Change Lighthouse Activities – an initiative spearheaded by the UNFCCC Secretariat – is shining light on models that “mov[e] the world toward a highly resilient, low-carbon future.” Projects profiled are “innovative and transformative solutions that address both climate change and wider economic, social and environmental challenges.”  One Lighthouse winner is the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF ) Solar Market Garden. In Benin, women are now able to grow food year-round despite a six-month dry season. By using solar-powered pumps with drip irrigation systems, women farmers are able to pump water for irrigation from nearby rivers and underground aquifers instead of hauling it long distances. This is both an environmental and socio-economic benefit as the girls of the village are now able to attend school and the women can allocate their time to other economic pursuits.  “It also empowers them to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their communities. By embracing solar power and micro-irrigation technologies, these female leaders are trailblazing solutions for both climate change mitigation and adaptation that can be replicated throughout the world, especially sub-Saharan Africa.”

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

A Group of women attend a workshop in the oasis of Serkla, Guelmima.

This is just one example. Looking forward to COP22 in Marrakesh, perhaps the world can witness firsthand the success that women living in the Moroccan province of Errachidia have realized by cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants using renewable energy and selling them in the markets. This UN Women  project is supported by the UNDP Tafilalet Oasis Programme and the Swiss Cooperation.

Clearly, the support of women’s rights to land, mobilizing their agricultural knowledge, and providing social support will provide food security and opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation.