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June 4, 2018

On June 8 and 9, seven of the world’s richest countries will gather in Canada for their annual summit. One of the major themes they will focus on is advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment was given priority to back up Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy. The purpose is to address all issues through a gender lens, and to champion innovative and gender-responsive solutions to common challenges such as growing inequality, the changing nature of work, and persistent poverty.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced the creation of the Gender Equality Advisory Council, to ensure that gender equality and women’s empowerment are integrated across all themes, activities and initiatives of Canada’s G7 Presidency. When I first went through the list of the Council members (20 women and one man), I was impressed by their expertise and their successful careers, including their activism and commitment to advancing women’s rights. But what strikes me more is: why isn’t a women farmer on the list? Each of the highly accomplished and recognized women members of the Council come from different sectors and careers, but there isn’t a single representative from the farming sector.

To me, this is the most evident signal of how little food security and nutrition factor into the G7 agenda under the Canadian Presidency.

I’m not an enthusiastic supporter of the G7 gatherings, as I think global decisions should be made in more legitimate and inclusive spaces. However, the G7 in 2009 was able to respond quickly to the food price crisis by launching the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) to support local farmers in low-income countries. This is why I felt even more frustrated when I realized that this G7, like the one in 2017 under the Italian Presidency, would not address food security and nutrition, especially considering that we are facing a new and dramatic food crisis with the rise in world hunger after decades of decline in the number of people who are undernourished – a crisis exacerbated by the increasingly urgent threat of climate change.

Canadian aid is the lowest in the last 15 years, and the overall ambition of the current G7 is very low, partly due to the Trump Administration retreat from multilateral fora. Despite this we’ll continue to urge G7 countries to raise collective G7 spending on food and nutrition security with a focus on agricultural programming that improves livelihoods for small-holder farmers and women working in the agricultural sector, alongside adopting climate change adaptation techniques.”

– Paul Hagerman, Director of Public Policy in Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and Chair of the G7 CSOs Food and Nutrition Security working group

The issue of gender equality and women’s economic and social empowerment cannot be addressed without talking about rural women. Women comprise 43% of the global agricultural workforce, and more and more women are working in agriculture especially in developing countries. Many women in rural areas in developing countries struggle with poverty and marginalization. Despite producing much of the world’s food, they often lack access to land, markets, services, and productive resources. Addressing gender inequality in rural areas is paramount to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

This is why attempting to address gender equality and women’s empowerment without having any focus on climate-resilient agriculture or food security and nutrition is folly. The G7 agenda is flawed from the very beginning.

It’s also why ActionAid supports women farmers. We support them to access land and natural resources, participate in decision-making and dismantle patriarchy which is embedded in traditional customs especially in the less progressive rural areas. I have also spent the last eight years at ActionAid working on promoting women’s rights in global spaces such as the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) and the GAFSP.

At the CFS, the global platform dealing with food security and nutrition, we partner with women’s grassroots movements to assert the centrality of women’s rights in any CFS policy outcome. We do this against the continued argument raised by the Russian Federation that women’s rights are not a matter of the CFS or the UN Food Agencies. In the Chair’s Summary of the CFS High Level Forum on women empowerment, held in September 2017, and in the final report of the CFS Plenary, held in October 2017, we gained the recognition that without respecting, protecting, and fulfilling women’s rights, food security will never be achieved.

With GAFSP, we pushed for the recognition of gender equality as a cross-cutting objective of the GAFSP projects, and monitor that women small holder farmers are involved in any decision-making process related to GAFSP projects implementation and really benefit from GAFSP interventions.

Canada has been one of the major donors of GAFSP. At the end of last year, I was enthusiastic to start working on the G7 agenda. I had high expectations for the new Canadian Feminist Assistance Policy to drive more support to global initiatives such as the GAFSP. I saw it as an opportunity to push more donor commitment to GAFSP which has been successful in supporting women’s empowerment in countries like Nepal and Senegal.

It is unlikely that food security will be placed on the G7 agenda at this point in time, but if they are serious about closing the gender gap, world leaders must recognize the huge role women play in agriculture.