GAIN Interview Cruncher - International Women's Day

Global , 8 March 2023 - 

Join us as we mark us mark International Women's Day celebrating the achievements of women around the world. We speak to some incredible female leaders around the world striving to #EmbraceEquity.

Shiulie Ghosh: Hello, everyone! Thanks for joining us as we mark International Women's Day celebrating the achievements of women around the world. I'm Shiulie Gosh, and for this discussion, we're going to very much focus on the theme of this year's International Women's Day, and that is Embrace Equity, and it's a hashtag you're going to see a lot of: #EmbraceEquity. 

What does equity mean? Because we talk a lot about women's equality, and that sounds kind of similar to equity. But actually, there are fundamental differences, and if I can try and put it really simply: equality is about giving everybody across the board the same access to the same resources, the same tools, and the same opportunities.

Equity recognises that not everyone has the same circumstances, so sometimes they need different tools, different opportunities and different resources in order to get the same outcome.

And so it's basically an adjustment of balances because it recognises that things have to be made fairer. And this is something that affects women in particular because there is often gender discrimination built into social and political structures. And that's something that can be made a lot worse by external factors, like conflict, climate change and the recent COVID pandemic. Now, removing those gender discrimination from social structures requires political commitment. And it's great that many Member States of the United Nations have committed to the Sustainable Development Goals which include removing gender inequalities, empowering women and girls and eradicating hunger.

We think they need to move faster, and we think there needs to be greater accountability for some of those equipments. And for GAIN and its partners, we know that equity and inclusion make stronger food systems and improve food security and nutrition - when it comes to feeding growing populations, supporting livelihoods of the millions of people who are involved in employment across those global food supply chains and in making them more sustainability. Though we would like to see more data and more evidence which supports that. 

So for this Interview Cruncher I'm really pleased to be speaking to a panel of amazing women who have broken their own boundaries, and forged careers in environments which are very often male dominated. We're going to be discussing the issue of equity, and how gender equity isn’t just an ethical or moral imperative, it's something that helps whole communities and whole societies. 

So let me introduce you to them now: We have Dr. Elizabeth Kamani-Murage, Senior Research Scientist and Lead, Nutrition and Food Systems Unit, at the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC).  She's also on the GAIN Board of Directors. Liz, it's great to have you with us!

We have Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Chief of the Economic Empowerment section at UN Women. 

We also have Gloria Steele, Chief Operating Officer at CARE, also former Acting Administrator of the US Agency for International Development, USAID, and we have Bhuvaneswari Balasubramanian, Senior Technical Specialist, Knowledge Leadership & Programme Lead, GAIN India. 

Ladies, welcome to the discussion, it’s great to have you with us. 

Elizabeth Kimani-Murage: Yeah, thank you so much. I'm going to make a presentation about the work that I've been doing. 

So I'm going to talk about the Kenyan urban poor women’s lived experience with food insecurity during the COVID19 pandemic. So just briefly about the situation of food in security in urban poor settings in Kenya, from the work that we have been doing. I am a research scientist, and I've been doing work amongst the urban poor in Kenya for the last, like 20 years and have been doing a lot of work related to nutrition and food security. 

And from this work we've identified high levels of food insecurity amongst the urban poor at about 80%, and also high levels of malnutrition, like children under 5, at 50% stunting, and women undernutrition at 30%.

The situation of women’s vulnerability was exacerbated during the COVID19 pandemic, and this affected the livelihoods of women… which they are already vulnerable. But this really became even worst. I'll just read this comment from one of the women:

“The COVID19 affected me because I wash clothes, so I would go looking for work and wouldn't get any, because they also feared letting us in because they didn't know where I was coming from, and maybe I had corona, and would infect them… (Liz: that is the employers) and if you didn't get a job, you would just have to go hungry.”

So that was a challenge. So many women in these settings actually work in domestic situations, they do domestic work, and during this COVID19 they were really affected because people are fearing that they would get infected.

So another aspect of women's vulnerability was among the young girls in school during the COVID19 period… schools were closed, and that was for about a year here in Kenya. 

And so these people live in very congested situations. They are vulnerable. They don't have enough livelihoods, and during this period it even worsened, and these girls, when they came to home their situation became worse and so this resulted in vulnerability to teen pregnancies, early marriages, and resulted in school drop out. 

A woman once told us that because of the movement restrictions - like there was a restriction from of moving from urban areas to rural areas and the other way around.

A woman was telling us how she went to rural areas, and then she was caught up there because of COVID19 restrictions, and she was not able to come back. She left her teenage girl in the house alone, and she found eventually, when she was able to come back, she found the girl was already pregnant and had already gotten married to someone else.

So really that vulnerability, and these case stories were told by many people in this setting. 

So there were some coping strategies that women employed during this period. These are coping strategies that are employed even during non-pandemic period, during the non COVID period, and that’s because of the vulnerability that we see in these settings. 

But during this COVID19, the vulnerability exacerbated because of low livelihoods and sex for food was reported as a frequent practice amongst women, and also girls, and some respondents even told us that there were even arrangements between a woman and a husband that the woman could do sex for food, so that the family can have food to eat. 

So this community worker told us: “women in this community practice prostitution, sex for food. I understand it is not because they want to, but it is because they are looking for what their children can eat.” So, anyway, it's understood in the community because of the vulnerability.

There were some positive coping strategies that the women initiated during this period, and some of them actually started some urban farming to feed their families, and when we engaged with them they told us that that it was helping them to cope with the situation. 

And so we have initiated an initiative called the Zero-Hunger initiative at APHRC. And this initiative is actually meant to contribute to the food systems transformation to make the food system more nourishing, more equitable, more inclusive, and more resilient. 

From this engagement that we did with these communities, we were able to to start a support system through these interventions to support women and also youth, and it’s economic to feed themselves in dignity, but also to empower them. 

So we are supporting these women groups and youth groups to start urban farming projects, innovative farming - because the space is small - but they are able to do some innovative farming. One of the groups that we are supporting is a group that is supporting girls that have been abused, have gone through gender-based violence. Many of them have been ripped, and so that's a safe place for them. And so, they are doing this urban farming to be able to feed these girls, but they are also able to feed their families. 

So really we are seeing that the intervention is having some impact. So in conclusion, I would like to say that the vulnerability to food security puts women in urban poor settings in a compromising position for exploitation and the COVID19 exacerbated this vulnerability, and so interventions should be put in place to alleviate this. Thank you.

Shiulie Ghosh: Liz. Thank you very much indeed for that presentation! Your description, your vivid description of how women were selling themselves in order to feed their families… How difficult is it to change that imbalance of power where women are ending up, even exploited by their own husbands? How do you change those perceptions, those gender norms? It must be very difficult.

Elizabeth Kimani-Murage: Yes, I think it's very difficult, and it's because of the vulnerability. When we talk to them, they say it's because of that vulnerability that they go to that extent. So it means that if they are empowered economically, and they are able to feed their families in dignity from other sources then they don't have to do that. So it's about empowering the women.

Shiulie Ghosh: And how far are you hoping to extend your urban farming initiative? How can it be scaled up?

Elizabeth Kimani-Murage: Yes, actually, we have seen it as a proof of concept that it's working. At least it's working to start helping these women and youth at least to empower them to feed their families first, feeding their communities and empowering them.

And yes, it can be scaled, and we are looking for ways to scale these interventions, yes.

Shiulie Ghosh: Thank you. Thank you very much indeed for that. So we're talking about empowerment. Let's then bring in our Chief of the Economic Empowerment Section at UN Women, and to talk a little bit about what you're doing: Jemimah.

Jemimah Njuki: Thank you very much Shiulie and I'm so pleased to be here with you today. I'm going to talk about our work at UN Women and specifically on food systems. 

As you know, we are one of the UN agencies, and with a very specific mandate on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. 

We focus our work on three areas, or we have what is called the triple mandate:
1.    working on normative laws, including laws against discrimination based on sex, laws on land, and other laws as well. 
2.    We work on coordinating gender equality work within the UN system. So that's together we can amplify the work of the system as a whole, and 
3.    We run programmes around the world with about 70 country offices.

I actually come from the food systems background, which is why I'm really excited to be here, and what I often say is that women and food systems are in one of the unhappiest marriage that we have ever seen, if I may put it that way, because we know that to achieve the nutrition security we need womens’ engagement and leadership. 

And yet, over and over again we see our food systems and unbending inequalities that make it really difficult for a true transformation to happen, you know? Just as the data is showing, there are currently over 800 million people that are going to be hungry, and a majority of these are women and girls. There are 126 million more women than men who are suffering from chronic hunger. 

I'm also not in this field by mistake, I grew up in the slopes of Mount Kenya, we have seen the situation really change. My mom, my dad, we worked on 5 acres of land that was enough to feed everybody and to educate me and my siblings. But that land today is no longer enough, as Elizabeth has been saying, it is no longer enough because of climate change, because of crises like the COVID19 crisis, and at a time when we actually do have a cost of living crisis, it is very important that this theme of embracing equality puts women and girls at the centre of the recovery. 

So basically what I'm trying to say is gender inequality is a wicked problem, and wicked problems don't always have single bullet solutions. But there are also things that make us optimistic. And I have sort of classified these things into 4, and with a couple of examples of how we are addressing them at UN Women.

So, the first one is ensuring that women have access to resources and technologies, and these include Climate Smart agriculture technologies, it includes digital technologies, this year the theme of the Commission on the status of women is on technology and innovation. And so we are really looking forward to having discussions with Member States and other stakeholders on how to close this technology gap.

I want to give one example. UN Women, FAO, WFP, and IFAD are implementing a joint programme on rural women's economic empowerment in 6 countries and in countries where we have this programme, where we are addressing women's land rights, where we are addressing their access to climate information, and climate resilient technologies we have seen sometimes up to 82% increase in agriculture productivity.

And so it is very very important that we have specific targeting and specific addressing of the barriers that are facing women in terms of their access to technologies.

The second ingredient that I want to talk about is women’s leadership and agency because we have seen around the world women and girls are taking food security, climate, and environmental action, but their participation, and their leadership are under-resourced, under-supported, undervalued, and sometimes even not recognised. 

I'll give you an example. At the UN Food System Summit we launched a report called the Global Food 50/50 and this report looks at women’s leadership in food systems organisations - and actually GAIN was an important part of this effort, because we conceptualised it together - with GAIN, with the International Food Policy Research Institute  (IFPRI) and UN Women, and what we saw from the report that was then launched again-  we did the the study again in 2022 - but only 8% of the Board Chairs of food systems organisations are women from low and middle income countries, and it is not enough that women are just in production and processing of food.

They have to be in leadership positions, their voices and leadership must be felt and must be supported.

So the situation really needs to change and the third ingredient I want to talk about that you actually highlighted, Shiulie and Elizabeth in your conversation, is breaking the social norms that continue to hold women back, including norms that define what women can own and it's been a very interesting journey for us at UN Women because last year we carried out a study on the gender equality, it's called the “Gender Equality Attitude Study of 2022” and it was updating findings from an earlier study that was called, “Are you ready for change -  gender equality attitudes, 2019”.

Now the study aims to measure the prevalence of discriminatory attitudes and gender based stereotypes that publish with gender inequality and to demonstrate how widespread these are, but also how they are changing, and what can be done to change that. 

Now I want to emphasise, because this is so important at this time, but what we found is a surprising 25% of respondents agreeing that in times of food shortages, priority for food should be given to men -  25%! -  31% agreeing that when jobs are scarce men should have more right to a job than women. 

So, these norms are not just influencing what resources women can or cannot own, but it is influencing what they can eat or not eat, or who has preference for food when they are shortages, but we also know these norms can change as Elizabeth highlights. At UN Women we have 2 major initiatives that are trying to address norms and stereotypes. 

1.    One is the He for She, engaging men and boys to change these norms because we know they are a key player in how norms change 
2.    We also have an alliance of private sector organisations called the End Stereotype Alliance that uses media and global campaigns to change some of these stereotypes, and this is, in addition to really working around norms at the country level.

And I will just mention quickly the third ingredient which is policies. Ensuring that we have policies that engage women and that work for women. So it is not enough for the policies to just engage women, whatever goes into them has to then to work for women. We have seen some of those policies around land ownership, The Kenya Constitution is a good example that conferred equal inheritance rights to both men and women, but it must go alongside addressing some of these norms, and actually putting the practical implementation strategies for this.

I will stop there, but I just want to say that recent developments also showing us that we are losing hard worked gains on gender equality, we are seeing a lot of backlash, we must guard what we have gained jealously, but we must also work much harder to make sure that we get to true equality for men, for women, for boys, for girls, and for other gender diverse groups as well.

Shiulie Ghosh: Jemimah, I mean some of those figures that you gave us were absolutely eye-opening. I want to pick up on what you were saying about that we have to do more. Clearly there's a recognition that having women involved in food systems and in other parts of society, is beneficial for communities.

I said right at the beginning that UN Member States have by and large signed on to achieving Sustainable Development Goals, I know they've been put way back now, delayed because of the pandemic, but are we seeing enough progress from policy makers, from decision makers from governments in terms of eradicating some of those inbuilt discriminations and deficiencies that you've been talking about?

Jemimah Njuki: So what we have seen in the last couple of years, as you said Shiulie, is that we are way off track on all our SDGs, including SDG5 on gender equality.

And one of the things that happened - couple of years ago-  is the Secretary General put together what is called our Common Agenda, and the idea with our Common Agenda is to really push Member States to accelerate progress around some of the key areas where we are lacking behind. 

So on areas like guaranteeing social protection, because I was really interested in what Liz was presenting, because if, during COVID19 we had social protection measures that protected those vulnerable women, they wouldn't have had to resort to the.. you know those harmful coping strategies that they have. So there is a momentum growing around guaranteeing things like social protection, there is a momentum around addressing the unpaid care work that women have to bear, because that also contributes a lot to their ability to participate in economic activities. 

But having said that, to also say, we are seeing some countries even going going back on gains that have already achieved. We have seen what's been happening in Afghanistan on the rights of women and girls. So even as we have these programmes that are accelerating momentum and Member States coming together to actually commit to accelerate momentum, we are also concerned about areas where we are seeing some of those hard won gains going back.

Shiulie Ghosh: Backtracking? Yeah, that that that's very true, Jemimah. Thank you very much indeed for that. Let me bring in Gloria, because I know that empowering women and girls is one of the core mandates of CARE. Tell me a bit about what you're doing.

Gloria Steele: Thank you. Thank you very much Shiulie, and it's amazing to be with women leaders like everyone in this room today. I'd like to thank GAIN for inviting me participate in a discussion of a topic that is near and dear to my heart:  food security - which is how I started my career - and gender. This year's theme for International Women's Day is embrace gender equality, an important topic that I'm also very happy to participate in.

CARE puts women and girls at the centre of our programmes, because we know that empowering women leads to broader social and economic growth, and borrowing some statements that were shared with the panel, when women are empowered, they are more likely to invest in the health and education of their families and empowered women play a critical role in creating more stable communities.

We know that women play a crucial role in the production of food and in feeding their families. We know this from our own studies, and that there's a high and strong correlation between gender equality and food security, including especially, the nutritional status of families.

At the same time, however, in 2020 a FAO report shows that over time, from 2014 to 2021, women have experienced greater food insecurity than men. And sadly this gap keeps growing, as of 2021 we estimate that there are as many as 150 million more women who are food insecure than men in the world, and this is an extremely large number, bigger than the population of many countries around the world. 

We believe that centring women and girls increases the number of vulnerable and disadvantaged people that we are able to reach. It also accelerates the impacts that we're able to achieve, whether on food security, health, the economy, etc., and it makes those impacts more durable, and it improves families and communities resilience. 

Our focus on women and girls is an integral part of CARE’s gender transformative approach. 

This is an approach that we have been applying to many of our programmes.

We believe that by adopting and implementing a gender transformative approach, we address the causes of gender inequality, which by in large are rooted in inequities, in social structures and institutions. Through our gender transformative approach we address gender-related inequities in power dynamics, in gender blind, and often inequitable legislative and policy frameworks, and in region and harmful gender norms and rules. We talked earlier about gender norms that prevent women from having access to resources for example. Through this approach we aspire to achieve a lasting change in power dynamics and women's choices over their lives.

In short, through a gender transformative approach, we can help to achieve gender equality by addressing inherent gender inequities which I think is very important, and which is why, I am really interested in the focus on gender equity.

What a gender transformative approach is not, is addressing symptoms or outcomes of factors.

It is not about creating temporary increases or improvements in opportunities. We support our country teams to put women and girls in the centre by designing and implementing and scaling proven approaches that work to address structural inequities which resolve in or exacerbate gender inequalities.

We provide thought leadership to influence internal and external programming. We provide training and other forms of technical assistance to reinforce adoption and implementation of proven gender transformative approaches.

In slide 5, I provide 3 examples for gender transformative programmes in action in Rwanda, Burundi, Bangladesh, and Nepal, through deeper engagement in use of participatory approaches. In this and in other cases CARE has achieved more sustained positive changes in addressing gender inequalities and the structural issues that drive gender inequities. And we have observed greater cost-effective effectiveness and higher impacts as well as higher returns and our investments in these programmes.

Let me end by saying that the gender transformative actions are a key to making truly sustainable changes in addressing gender inequalities. However, addressing gender inequalities require getting a deeper understanding of the inequitable social structures and institutions that result in the inequality in the first place. The problem is that we do not have enough data to gain this deeper understanding. There is a lot of data on gender, and a lot of data on food security, surprisingly, there is little overlap between the two.

It is getting better, but it's still a long way to go. You know, the most recent review of policy responses to the global healthcare prices, for example, of 86 policies and plans designed to address food insecurity that were were published in 2022, 26% over the women entirely and almost half did not mention gender inequality or gender inequity. Over 50% of the global reports, policies, response plans and funding documents do not have any form of sex disaggregated data on food security.

So let me end by saying that if we are going to achieve gender equality, we need to work towards achieving gender equity. Commitment to gender equity requires a discipline commitment to addressing the data gaps needed to resolve gender inequities caused by existing gender norms, structures, and institutions.

So let me end there, I think there's a lot of work, potentially. But.. and there's a lot of work in understanding more deeply how we can address the gender equity inequities. Thank you.

Shiulie Ghosh: Gloria, thank you very much indeed for that. I want to go back to your point about on the win-win that you had on your slide there. The point that investing in gender transformation approaches is cost-effective, and you get a massive return on investment, because I think often money and economy make the point more strongly than other arguments. Is that a message that's getting through?

Gloria Steele: Oh, well, not enough. And I think we need to make that. I think every donor, everyone who wants to be able to see that there are returns that we are making it back, and I think one of the ways that we can communicate effectively to some of the donors is translating the impact in: how does this increase incomes? How does how do increased incomes relate to the investments that you made? In other words, a return on investments.

So we need to do better. And do better job of that. But we're getting there 

Shiulie Ghosh: Excellent, Gloria! For the moment thank you very much indeed for that. And last but definitely not least, let me bring in Bhuvana. Tell us about GAIN’s work in India?

Bhuvaneswari Balasubramanian: Thank you, Shiulie and it's such a privilege to be here and to go last, because you get to be inspired by the fellow speakers.

How do you embrace equity when it comes to food systems? And I'll take a minute to look at what is a food system, what do we talk about? It's basically, you know, to put it short, it's farm to fork.

And when you look at the key factors or the key brackets, it's: 
1.    food supply chain, which is production, storage, distribution, processing, packaging, marketing. 
2.    It's the food environments in terms of availability, affordability, quality, safety, vendor properties and food messaging, labeling, and marketing. 
3.    Individual factors that affect access to food which includes economic, cognitive, aspirational, and situational factors. 
4.    Consumer behavior that informs procurement of buying a food preparation… of food and consumption of food which affects our diet in terms of nutrition and health outcomes and other larger impacts. 

It was the socioeconomic impact and the environmental impact and there are several cross-cutting external drivers, such as climate change, globalisation, income growth, organisation. You know population growth and migration, political leadership and governance, social and context… cultural context.

In a diverse food system…. So the reality is that gendered experience of the food systems value chain and its external drivers is a reality that often negatively impacts women and leaves them in the sidelines of decision making, if each of the value chain doesn't become gender intentional.

Having this context in mind, what does gender equity mean to us at GAIN? There is enough evidence to show that gender intentionality and food systems approach make better sense in terms of nutrition and food security for having an equitable, just, and a resilient food systems, and it simply makes business sense. Investing in women workforce, or in women across the value chain, be it farm workers to consumers, it makes better business sense for everybody who is investing at… across the value chain.

Women are an integral, but often an invisible part of the food system value chain, and despite affecting them significantly, they are not centre stage and often sidelined, their voices are not actively involved in shaping how food systems value chains work.

What does GAIN do in terms of its programmes to make it gender intentional?

We have increasingly focusing on how do we, as an organisation work towards a programme management life cycle that is very gender intentional in its approach. Be it across our programmes right from design to implementation, the learnings that we get from it through our monitoring and evaluation exercises. And how does this influence policy, governance and driving impact at scale?

For instance, if I have to draw from our experiences of implementing programmes across Asia and Africa, you know, for instance we work with self help groups in India for scaling up market linkages, for biofortified crops. We work with cell phone groups in Bihar and India to support, scaling up a fortified rations as part of the safety net programmes for pregnant women and children. We provide financial support through our Nutritious Food Financing facility for women in Sub-saharan and African countries. Our Workforce Nutrition programme, one of the key pillars under our Workforce Nutrition Alliance is to provide support for new mothers through breastfeeding facilities. 

So a lot of our programmes have that gender lens to ensure that we have the gender voice included in our programmes to really do justice and ensure better and healthier diet for all, leaving no one behind. But truly the revolution begins at home. For us at GAIN, the culture focuses on equity, diversity, and inclusion.

And for that we rely heavily on data. We have a strong EDI team that collects data on analyses on a periodic basis, and has these demographics analysed and reported on, which informs us, who are we as GAIN colleagues? You know how many of us in the Board, how many of us in the staff are women, men and people across different ages, ethnicities, religions, countries, and what is our growth trajectory? In terms of learning and development and employment opportunities within GAIN, what is our pay gap? Is there a pay gap, can we.. Do you know, how do we reduce that pay gap within GAIN? 

And I had to do a bit of research, I'm pretty glad I did that, for this discussion today to say that you know the top one fourth percent of a quartile of  colleagues in GAIN, 69% of them are women in terms of the top one fourth quartile in leadership roles as well. This is fantastic, and it makes me so happy to report that here.

Apart from that, I think a personal motto for me, as somebody you know, working with GAIN, and as a woman in a workspace, is to be an ally. And what do we mean by being an ally? You know, listening to all our you know, fellow speakers here, it really made me think that we've been sidelined for generations, and we've had our realities carved through our own personal and generation experiences as women, and as a result of that we have some truly innovative and resilient learning that we have done through our coping mechanisms, and I am sure all of you can relate to that, especially in the workspace. 

We are resilient in terms of our solutions, and it's interesting and fascinating. What can we do as women, as people managers?

We can listen to those studies, we can create safe, enabling spaces for women to truly nurture their true potential and grow, create opportunities for cross-learning and for paying it forward as we grow further. And that's a personal motto for me, being an ally for everyone and I'll stop here.

Shiulie Ghosh: Bhuvana- I think - that message will probably touch a lot of us, that sometimes women are women's best allies. Can I ask you the importance, then, of female leaders? And that depends on getting more female leaders into those roles. But female leaders supporting and mentoring those within the organisation below them, how important is that?

Bhuvaneswari Balasubramanian: Oh, it's absolutely important in terms of having a seat at the table where decisions are made, especially in a workspace like ours, you know, food systems. 

Food is something that's so integral to a woman's life, because that is the saying, you know, “Give a man fish, it would feed him for a day, teach him to fish, he would feed himself for his lifetime. But teach a woman to fish, she will feed her family for a lifetime.”

So yeah, that's the kind of relationship that women have with food and bringing food to the table. Bringing food to children is an extremely emotional and a personal experience for women. So food systems are empty without women in that conversation, across that value chain and as leaders - if I could just add - and as leaders, I think it is imperative for us to ensure that there are women's voices heard at every stage, in every workspace and every profile across the food systems, and in health and nutrition, be it in any sector. I think there are women's voices that need to be heard.

Shiulie Ghosh: I think you just hit the nail on the head there, that's exactly what I was going to come on to and have a wider discussion with all of you, about how we get more women into positions where their voices are heard, and who should be involved with that. Jemimah I know you may have to leave us shortly so let me come to you first.

You know, particularly with food systems, but I think this goes for all industries. How do organisations become more inclusive, more supportive in making sure that the women can succeed, and that we have women not just doing the production and doing the harvesting, but actually at decision making level?

Jemimah Njuki: Thanks, Shiulie for that question. So this is multifaceted. First we know we don't have enough womens’ leadership and representation in food systems across the whole spectrum. And what we know we must do… and we have done this in politics, right? That across the world in politics we are putting quotas and laws that support those quotas for women's leadership.

The other day we saw a good example from Sierra Leone where they said “there must be at least a third. It's still not ideal. We want at least 50%, but at least a third of women in leadership, not just across government, but across private sector and other sectors as well,”

And that becomes a first point to then say, there is a law, there is a legislation that actually compels everyone. Because it's very easy for us to keep talking amongst ourselves about how women's leadership is important, right? And sometimes we are actually always talking to the converted. I'm sure even here we all believe that to be important.

But that first step of legislation is really, really critical, right? 

Shiulie Ghosh: So, we start with legislation? And build on that?

Jemimah Njuki: And then build on that. 

But to build on that, that's where we have to address the structural barriers, because quotas are a first point. 

How do we then address the structural barriers that stop women from being in those spaces? Some of those have to do with the internal policies. How inclusive are the food systems organisations on.. of women? What are the policies they have about parental leave? What are the policies that they have about sexual harassment in the world of work? 

Shiulie Ghosh: So, let me bring in Gloria because I can see Gloria nodding, and Gloria, one of the things you said in your presentation was, it was really important to get men and boys involved as well. So Jemimah makes the point. How do you change those policies which make it more difficult for women? How do we do that?

Gloria Steele: Well, I think, by knowing which policies will make it, inconclusive and inclusive for women in an organisation with large, including organisations that are involving agriculture and food systems. Women leaders, or leaders in general should make sure that there is a pipeline of women to access peoples positions, and organisations: say 50% of candidates for a certain position should be women. 

Jemimah talked about parental policies. There should be longer leave periods for men, so that they also take off (work) during the longer paternity leave, and it's not just a woman that's been totally taken out of the workplace when she gives birth. And of course, looking at family-friendly policies within organisations are very important. There are those that truly discriminate against women who have children and a family to raise, and then being conscious about unconscious biases that are gender related. I think that's really important, and making sure that trainings and other resources are available.

We can start from the beginning, STEM is not as a gender related… You know it's related to men, to boys. We should make it be known that STEM is just as important, and as important for girls and accessible to girls. So, it it's a whole range of things that we could do in order to make the workplace more inclusive and more equitable for women as workers and as leaders. 

Shiulie Ghosh: Yeah, as it was mentioned also the access to digital tools actually make women much more productive in the agricultural sphere.

Elizabeth, let me come to you because I know that you've advised governments in Kenya. So when it comes to designing better policies and programmes to support womens involvement in food systems, is that gaining traction?

Elizabeth Kimani-Murage: In the past I have been more involved in breastfeeding and nutrition work, and it’s from that perspective I realised, I learned a lot that food security is very important for us to be able to optimise breastfeeding and early nutrition for children. So I have entered in this space of supporting women in agriculture in the recent past.

So I have not really been involved in informing the or policies in the food system yet, but the work we are doing is very important in informing those policies. 

Like in Nairobi, for example, we have this policy of promoting and regulating urban agriculture, which is a good policy that would support women to be involved in agriculture and in urban farming for economic to feed themselves, but also to feed their families and for economic gain. So if that… we can be able to inform that actually this is working, it can inform other counties in Kenya, but also be scaled beyond Kenya in Africa, that we can promote even women who are in urban areas to be able to participate in urban, in farming and supporting themselves.

Shiulie Ghosh: Thank you. I'm going to give the last quick thought to Bhuvana, because we are coming to the end of the discussion, and it's a very simple question. Bhuvana, where do you want to see food systems a few years from now? Here we are on international Women's Day, what needs to change about food systems?

Bhuvaneswari Balasubramanian: Well, the food system in itself is very complex, right? And for it to change there are so many moving parts that need to allign themselves and be available to feed into each other and to inform each other, so that you grow healthier foods that are available for people to eat. For all people, especially the most vulnerable, and that influence women and children. 

So what needs to change is the inclusion of vulnerable voices in the decision making, in the implementation, and most of all in resource availability, and by that I mean in terms of financing. There needs to be money put in to include vulnerable voices.

For instance, the Bill and Melinda Gates has, you know, Women Lift Health, which is a programme that grooms, managers, women managers, mentors them by pairing them with leaders in that space, so that there are more women in leadership roles to make decisions and include women's voices, and that's something we need. There needs to be limelight. 

There needs to be a spotlight focus on gender and on vulnerable voices, so that it's more equitable and just.

Shiulie Ghosh: Thank you very much, and I want to thank all of my speakers today. I think it's really important the work that you're doing to, as Bhuvana said, focus a spotlight on what needs to be done to remove gender inequities, because we know that that's something that benefits whole communities and whole societies. 

So thank you very much indeed for joining us! You can watch this, and our other Interview Crunchers on our website, that's and do follow us on social media as well, but for the moment have a very good day!