Gender News Spotlight

By: Deborah Amos Sunday, August 22, 2021

Like most Americans, I learned to ride a bike as a kid. I still remember the glee after learning how to ride a bike on a subdivision road where I grew up in Florida. I had cracked the mysteries of balance, and now I had the giddy pleasure of my newfound freedom.

But girls around the world don’t always get to experience the joy of a first bike ride. In some countries, conservative societies frown upon women and girls who ride bikes – it’s not considered dignified or appropriate — and gives a girl too much independence.

Joumana Seif, a Syrian lawyer and activist, recalls riding a bike as an 11-year-old in the capital city of Damascus. It was the first time she understood there were different rules for girls and boys.

By: MARYELLEN KENNEDY DUCKETT| Photo Credit: YNN JOHNSON.

In much of the world, the face of farming is female. Globally, reports the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the majority of economically active women in the least-developed countries work in agriculture. And, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture (the latest data available), 30 percent of farmers in the U.S. are women. The problem? Gender-specific obstacles—such as lack of access to land, financing, markets, agricultural training and education, suitable working conditions, and equal treatment—put female farmers at a significant disadvantage before they ever plow a field or sow a seed.

Arguably, the biggest roadblock is land rights. In developing countries, only 10 to 20 percent of landholders are women, and in some parts of the world, women still cannot legally own or control land. When a female farmer isn’t empowered to make decisions about the land she works, it is impossible for her to enter contract farming agreements that could provide higher earnings and reliable sources of income.

Kristen Evans and Iliana Monterroso | August 23, 2021

In forest and natural resource management, it seems like we are seeing multi-stakeholder forums (MSFs) everywhere, from climate change finance to local land use decision-making. MSFs aspire to be spaces for engaging diverse groups in policymaking, decision-making, and consultations through meetings, workshops, and events. However, evidence shows that women are often left out of discussions around forest or land use issues under the presumption that this is men’s domain. This means that, at best, MSFs’ decisions and discussions may not reflect women’s priorities, and, at worst, that MSFs reinforce existing gender inequalities.

Constraints to women’s participation in MSFs

So, how can we level the field for women in the decision-making process? First, it’s important to identify the main constraints.

The challenges of social inclusion are wide-ranging. The reasons for women’s low representation in MSFs often start with a lack of mobility: no transport/means/support from one’s spouse to travel or attend the meetings virtually. From the cultural perspective, in many places, social norms discourage women from speaking in front of men. Many women naturally fear male backlash if they transgress those norms. Women are also often overburdened by household duties, including childcare, which keep them away from attending the meetings. And very often, women simply lack confidence to engage in MSFs due to a lack of knowledge and/or experience.

Additional constraints to meaningful participation may emerge from the way MSFs are organized. For instance, lack of translation to local languages or lack of facilitation focused on including all voices may prevent women (as well as men) from productive participation. MSFs – which are typically organized by NGOs, donors, multi-lateral initiatives, or government agencies – might not have enough women and members of other under-represented groups among their own organizers or executive committees. Some challenges also stem from a broader societal context, such as difficulty of strengthening women’s organizations and networks to ensure their active engagement in spaces.

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