Our Perspective: challenges and importance of gender equality
Olam’s ambition to improve smallholder farmer livelihoods cannot be fully achieved without addressing gender equality. Gender equality is a fundamental human right, and is also strongly linked to agricultural productivity and social and economic development.
Yet in many communities where Olam works, women have vastly unequal decision-making power, control over use of income, and access to education, finance, land, and inputs. Entrenched social barriers keep women from accessing productive resources and even household decisions. Their additional household responsibilities, such as gathering water and laborious food preparation (often involving hours of husking, cleaning, and pounding rice or maize for it to reach the form that wealthier consumers buy off the supermarket shelves), restrict their time to engage in remunerative activities or attend training.(1)
The case for gender equality is strong. Numerous studies show the positive correlation between gender equality – for example, equal access to education, employment opportunities, and healthcare – and economic growth, measured in GDP. (2, 3) Further studies show that female farmers achieve the same yields as men when they have equal access to farm inputs and training. (4, 5)
Olam works to close the gender gap in agriculture by providing equal opportunities for women to obtain farm inputs and support; encouraging farmer groups to include women leaders; actively drawing women to training on Good Agricultural Practices and farm management; providing targeted trainings on nutrition and crop diversification; and sensitising communities about gender equality. In the past year, the number of women farmers we support through the Olam Livelihood Charter (OLC) has increased by 6% to 67,708 or 20% of OLC farmers. Two-thirds of these attended training on Good Agricultural Practices in the past year.
True gender equality will require change at all levels of society and institutions in order to break down the social barriers that keep women from realising their full potential. Ensuring that women have access to education, healthcare, and land rights are critical issues that can only be addressed by the private and public sectors working together, and, of course, there being significant investment. In the face of these formidable challenges, Olam strives to ensure that women have an equal opportunity to be successful farmers.
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