Friday, March 02, 2012

Empowering women for development


ANY hopes for women representation in the forthcoming parliament were shattered last week when the government failed to muster the required votes to pass the bill on the special reserved seats.
 It was a moment of disappointment for women leaders and supporters who have been pushing for this bill.
More disappointing was not only the outcome of vote but the conduct of many MPs who decided to walk out when the bill was being introduced.
While politicians may have their own reasons, we are of the view that such behaviour against women is not only on the political front but a clear indication of what could be happening to all fronts of development.
What is missing here is that we fail to understand that men and women are equal partners in development.
This simple truth continues to be ignored.
This scenario is also holds true for the agriculture sector, even though women have and continue to play an important role in the sector.
Representatives of PNG Women in Agriculture Development Foundation (PNGWiA) from Jiwaka province searching for useful information at the NARI Information Centre during a visit to NARI headquarters last week. - Picture by SENIORL ANZU

 In our rural areas, women contribute a significant portion of the total labour requirements for agriculture related activities.
Yet women face unnecessary restrictions on their ability to buy, sell or inherit land; open a savings account; borrow money; or sell their crops at markets.
Their ability to produce food is further hampered by a lack of access to basics requirements such as fertilisers, transport, extension services, to name a few.
We may argue that in our culture, men are head of everything and women only contribute, especially to labour.
No, this should not longer be the case and we need to move away from this mindset.
We should ask ourselves what would be the case if women enjoyed the same access to productive resources as men.
Studies have indicated that if given the same access, women could boost yield by 20 -30% and contribute to the overall agricultural output by 2.5 – 4%.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN noted that this gain in production could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12-17%, besides improving women’s wellbeing and income.
As farmers, agricultural workers and entrepreneurs, women form the backbone of our rural economy and yet, together with children, they remain one of the most vulnerable groups.
Limited access to education and other vital services is having an adverse impact on the lives of women, especially in rural areas and settlements.
Growing pressure on land, urban migration and stresses associated with climate change are already proving to be unfavourable to women in agriculture.
They are denied from take advantage of opportunities from new technologies and markets.
This is happening despite many policies have recognised women as equal partners in development.
 It is already a concern that gender issues are not receiving the attention they deserve and the current situation has to urgently change.
We need to address gender related issues to achieve more sustainable and broad-based agricultural growth.
We are not alone here as it is a global concern and efforts are already being made to address the issue.
International organisations such as FAO, Global Forum on Agricultural Research, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and many National Agricultural Research Systems are already taking initiatives to overcome the existing gaps and to face the emerging challenges of sustainable development and livelihood of resource poor smallholder farmers, especially women.
It is, therefore, timely for us to see the initiatives undertaken elsewhere and use any useful evidence to refocus our own policies, institutions and programs to empower women.
With sweeping changes in agriculture and other sectors, gender issues are becoming more important and dynamic, thus it necessary to for us to understand these issues and explore options available to enhance the capability of women who play a vital role in agriculture.
It is time for us to work together to close the gender gap and have in place workable policies and reforms to empower women in the country to improve agricultural productivity and nutrition, and reduce hunger and poverty.
We must note that our effort to achieving these is unlikely without women.
We need to do what is necessary to ensure women are empowered to play their roles in development.
There is a need to change our mindset, and accept the fact that women are important partners.
We have to learn to work together with women and value their contributions in development.
We cannot continue to ignore and walk away from these issues, as was the case in parliament last week.
Their actions are unacceptable and set a bad precedence.
 We hope their conduct was in line with their political reasoning and convenience, and not an act against our efforts to empowering women.
It is now becoming necessary for all of us; policy-makers, development professionals, and the civil society to understand the role of women in development and see how we all can work together.
We need to assess the role of women and efforts should be made to redesign policies and reforms that would empower women in the country.

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