How can we make food system policies more gender responsive?

How can we make food system policies more gender responsive?

Global , 2 May 2024 - 

Every year, the voices and discourses on gender equality and women’s rights become loudest around International Women’s Day (March 8th). The rest of the year, women’s voices are seldom heard and considered, especially in corridors of power. Men and women have distinct needs, and there are intersecting vulnerabilities such as poverty levels, ethnic affiliation, age, and disabilities which further limit women’s voices. However, the voices of women must be systematically and consistently included in all conversations, at every stage, and on all topics, especially when it comes to policies. 

Our national policies strongly influence our day-to-day lives. This is particularly true of food system policies: they shape our food choices as they relate to the availability, accessibility, affordability, and acceptability of food. Since food system policies are so critical to our lives, it raises the question - How gender-responsive are our national food system policies? And what do gender-responsive policies mean?

Gender-responsive policies are those which account for the different interests and needs of people based on their gender. This means that these policies consider and respond to existing gender disparities - such as differences in malnutrition rates between men and women or boys and girls. Gender-responsive policies pay particular attention to barriers to gender equality, which are caused by harmful gender norms.

Across the world, there are well-documented gender disparities in both nutritional outcomes and participation in food systems – which includes relatively limited participation in the policy development processes and leadership. Therefore, it is important for organisations like GAIN to support governments and policymakers to ensure that policies which shape food systems are gender-responsive. This requires the rigorous analysis of policies and policy documents, to identify potential gaps in policies, and to provide technical advice to improve gender inclusion.

However, there are currently no existing policy analysis tools specifically dedicated to this purpose.

To address this, the Gender Analysis for Policy (GAP) in Food Systems Tool, is being developed as part of GAIN’s Nourishing Food Pathways programme as a key step towards gender-specific policy analysis. The tool builds on elements of existing gender analysis tools, notably the GBA+: Gender-based & intersectional analysis of policy (Government of Canada); WEA Gov: Conceptualising women’s empowerment in Agrifood Systems Governance (IFPRI/CGIAR); and the Gender in Agricultural Policies Analysis Tool: GAPo (FAO).

The GAP in Food Systems Tool comprises three components: The first explores the broader context around a policy, asking “Are there gender disparities related to the broader issue at the population level? (eg: differences in nutritional status between men and women)”, “Who is involved in the development of this policy?” and “What are the overarching goals of this policy?” The second component is a detailed desk review to determine the policy document's response to specific gender barriers. Finally, the last component focuses on identifying priority policy areas to improve gender responsiveness. The voice of local actors such as civil society organisations representing women’s interests is key in this entire process.

As the first use of this tool, GAIN’s gender advisor applied the GAP tool in Pakistan. The exercise identified two priority policy areas – Food Systems Transformation and Agriculture Sector Policy - highlighting opportunities to increase the gender responsiveness of emerging policies, and ultimately to support the national food system goals of the Pakistani government.  

After analysing a series of papers prepared as inputs to the development of Pakistan’s pathways towards food systems transformation, the findings of the tool were that women were not adequately considered, except as recipients of benefits of certain programmes. Barriers such as restrictive gender and cultural norms, access and control over resources, decision-making, education, and restricted mobility were largely not considered. There was also not sufficient participation of women at various stages of the preparation of these documents. 

Regarding agriculture, the GAP tool found limited consideration of women’s access to and control over resources such as land titles, farm technology, access to credit, the need for training in new farming techniques, and the need to regulate minimum wages for women. All this despite Pakistani women being a significant part of the agriculture workforce.  

GAIN is committed to sharing these findings with stakeholders in food systems to ensure that they are embedded in emerging policy discussions. GAIN also hopes to equip partners working on gender equality to support the government of Pakistan to include gender analysis and increase women's participation at all stages of policy development.  

The application of the GAP tool in Pakistan has helped us to understand the criticality of early engagement of gender experts to ensure a strong participation of women and girls in improving the design and implementation of food systems initiatives, to move us closer towards a more equitable and sustainable future.