From May 28th to May 30th, 2013, the organization Women Deliver is hosting their annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where international leaders in women’s health and empowerment will discuss solutions to address challenges facing women all over the globe. This week, Food Tank will feature different initiatives that are working to empower women in the food system.
Despite evolving attitudes toward gender equality and a growing movement to include and empower women across Asia, there are still significant gender gaps. In 2011, women held only 18 percent of national seats in parliamentary bodies across East Asian and Pacific nations. In India, women lag behind men in basic literacy by a full 25 percent. While poverty rates for women in China are only modestly higher than those for men relative to other regions of the world, a scant 23 to 33 percent of elderly men rely on their children for assistance, compared to 60 to 70 percent of elderly women. These seven initiatives across Asia are working to protect gender equality and encourage women’s participation in agriculture and the food system.
1. Global Plant Health Clinic: In Vietnam, 53 percent of the rural population is female, and 74 percent of these women are involved in agriculture. In 2007, CABI’s Global Plant Health Clinic program and the Southern Horticultural Fruit Research Institute (SOFRI) partnered to introduce the first plant health clinics in Vietnam. Clinic workers were trained to recognize symptoms, and to manage clinics. Each clinic served to transfer knowledge and technologies from SOFRI to farmers at a low cost, allowing farmers to use fewer chemicals and farm in a more sustainable manner. Since 2007, SOFRI has been working to expand the plant clinic model to other areas of the country. Vietnam now has 19 trained plant doctors, serving six provinces.
2. Rice Intensification in Cambodia: The Center for Studies and Development of Cambodian Agriculture (CEDAC) and Farmer Nature Net (FNN) partnered to promote the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which has been shown to increase yields and improve soil fertility while reducing the use of chemicals and maintaining local ownership of seeds. CEDAC supports several other agricultural innovations and techniques including Ecological Chicken Raising (ECR), pig raising, home gardening, aquaculture, composting, and multi-purpose farming.
3. Financial Inclusion in India: Shramajivi Mahlia Samity connected 80 Indian rural women’s groups to financial services, allowing women farmers access to credit and savings accounts. In addition, the program trained women on participating in local government, leading to a rally of more than 700 people demanding enhanced services for the elderly and persons with disabilities.
4. Free Births to Save Women in Lao PDR: Lao PDR has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Southeast Asia. The Lao PDR government is piloting free maternal deliveries in the districts of Nong and Thapanthong, with the goal of reducing maternal deaths. The facility-based deliveries are shown to be much safer for women than delivering outside of a medical facility.
5. Ram Shrestha and Nepali Grandmothers: In the 1980s, it became apparent that Vitamin A deficiency was a major factor in high rates of infant mortality and night blindness in Nepal. Shrestha returned to his native Nepal in 1991 to help with the government’s vitamin program. He worked with grandmothers, who have a significant amount of influence in the family, to distribute Vitamin A supplements and ensure that the children took them. The work of more than 50,000 women community health volunteers led to a significant reduction in night blindness and the halving of the infant mortality rate.
6. Reduced Pesticide Use in India: Arkhiben Vankar, an Indian midwife from the state of Gujarat, is known as “the pesticide lady” due to her development and promotion of an herbal pesticide that reduced costs and was free of toxins. The toxin-free pesticide—made from bitter plants—has been shown to be just as effective as chemical pesticides, which are dangerous to farmers.
7. All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF): This Beijing-based organization’s stated goals include mobilizing women to be involved in China’s reform, promoting self-esteem and confidence, and obtaining equal rights for Chinese women. In 2013, ACWF launched a program targeted at rural women in China, which promotes environmental protection and energy conservation. The campaign aims to educate and empower women to conserve water and cut back on pollution, to utilize ecological agricultural practices, and various other conservation techniques.