Close your eyes. Picture a farmer.
It’s likely you pictured a man – after all, that is the stereotypical image of a farmer the world over.
It’s clearly a picture that Women Organising for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN) Executive Director Jeannette Gurung is driven to change.
Dr Gurung facilitated an opening session at the Responsible Business Forum for Sustainable Development – Addressing gender equality goals in food and agriculture companies – in Singapore yesterday.
The Forum is examining each of the Sustainable Development Goals, and asking just what business can do to see them achieved. SDG 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.
Not surprisingly given the Forum’s location, the session heard from a range of speakers involved in programs to improve the plight of women in agriculture across the Asian region. Some were farmers, others headed up local on-the-ground programs, women’s collective initiatives, NGO activities or corporate social responsibility areas of global companies.
Beyond the clear ingredients necessary for successful local change – which starts with acknowledging women as farmers, and includes access to finance, as well as education on agricultural techniques and business skills provided in a time and manner that accommodates women’s circumstances – a handful of other trends were evident.
In particular, a call to ‘tackle the drudgery’ rang true. For many women, empowerment of any sort requires a shift in responsibilities for the day-to-day activities of sustaining and managing a home and family.
Whether it be the time required for a woman to cook a meal – sometimes beginning with sourcing clean water, or the distance needed to travel to visit a doctor, a monumental culture shift is required to give women the time and space necessary to become equals in agriculture.
Yesterday’s discussion pointed out that it’s cultural change that can be aided significantly by technology. Technology that delivers improved access to essential infrastructure, and technology that provides more efficient agricultural practices.
Coupled with true engagement of women (and indeed their families), technology can help deliver the incremental improvements in daily life that will in time economically empower women.
Technology, and its roll-out is most likely to come from the business sector. As Dr Gurung said: One of the reasons we as NGOs are increasingly looking to the private sector is that we’re just so frustrated by the smallness of the initiatives and impact of governments.
Yet business is unlikely to invest in developing and delivering such technology without a commercial benefit. And so we come full circle.
We’re hearing a clear story that investment in building capacity in women farmers strengthens their independence and place in the world.
Yet demonstration of the positive impact that will have on our world can be louder. As the practice of social capital measurement develops, and business increasingly recognises and measures this, its value will grow.
It’s then that we’ll see business put its weight behind driving equality in agriculture. And its then that both business and our world will see wholesale benefit.
By Susan McNair, Managing Director