Women make up at least 43 percent of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Yet, women in rural and agricultural livelihoods consistently have less access than men to resources and opportunities.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the virus disproportionately impacted women, whose care responsibilities increased as access to local markets decreased. Despite this, they’ve been ignored in nearly half of the COVID-19 relief plans analyzed in a recent report by CARE.
It’s clear that we ignore women in the food system at our own peril. The FAO reports that if women farmers had the same access to resources as male farmers, they could bring 100-150 million people out of hunger. Research from the FAO also shows time and time again that gender equality opens doors for entire communities to improve nutrition security as well as social and economic well-being.
In a recent Food Talk Live interview, Dr. Maureen Miruka, Director for Gender, Youth & Livelihoods for CARE USA, tells Food Tank that women are farmers, innovators, and decision makers. But, “they still face social norms and barriers that prohibit them from fully expressing their leadership. So, we are here to say we should create the opportunities for women to play a role in [addressing] the COVID-19 crisis.”
This year, in honor of International Women’s Day, Food Tank is celebrating 27 women who are working to close the gender gap and empower women in the food system.
1. Mariana Estrada Avila and Teresa Lamas, Rome, Italy
The Global Campaign for the Empowerment of Indigenous Women for Zero Hunger seeks to create awareness around Indigenous women’s roles in the food system. The Campaign was implemented in 2018 by Mariana Estrada, knowledge management and gender specialist for Indigenous Peoples FAO Unit and Teresa Lamas, campaign consultant. They recognize that empowerment of Indigenous women is essential to eradicating hunger and malnutrition around the world. They are also working to make indigenous women’s contributions and challenges visible as a critical step to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Agenda.
2. Gabriella Lucas Deecke Querétaro, Mexico
Gabriella Lucas Deecke founded CIASPE Mexico, a non-governmental organization that works with women in rural Mexico to adopt more productive methods of growing their food to strengthen self-management, resilience, and community-level food sovereignty. As both a farmer and agricultural engineer Gabriella Lucas Deecke founded CIASPE to provide women and their families with training and resources on best practices for climatic, social, and cultural conditions in Mexico and Latin America.
3. Amira Jessica Diamond, California, United States
Amira Jessica Diamond is the co-founder and executive director of Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA)—an alliance created by women for women— mobilizes women-led, grassroots solutions to strengthen communities and protect the environment. The model provides women leaders with strategy and technical training to help scale their environmental initiatives while also connecting them with funders and mentors. Since 2006, WEA has spearheaded 125 projects, partnered with 250 grassroots organizations, and trained more than 6 million women in 20 countries. WEA’s work helps empower women, keep children safe, foster healthier communities, regenerate natural resources, and help local economies prosper.
4. Kafi Dixon Massachusetts, United States
Activist Kafi Dixon founded The Common Good Project, Boston’s first urban farming co-op working to create environments of health for lower resourced women of color in working class families of New England. The organization focuses on economic development based on systems of access to fresh, hyperlocal health foods to empower women and foster a thriving community.
5. Jade Dyson, Singapore
Founding member and President of Women in Agribusiness Asia (WOMAG), Jade Dyson helps to create an inclusive community of food and agribusiness professionals to promote insights required to address challenges facing the Southeast Asian food system. WOMAG holds industry and skill development events to foster opportunities for women to strengthen their knowledge, networks, and skills, as they grow into leadership positions.
6. Tanya Fields New York, United States
Tanya Fields founded The Black Feminist Project, an organization that looks at the intersection of food and reproductive, class, gender, and racial justice to empower Black womxn, girls, non-men, and marginalized genders. The organization enriches women’s lives by crafting accessible, multigenerational, radical women-led programs, including their Food Box Program and workshops on their farm, Black Joy Farm.
7. Annette Kohlhagen Fleck Illinois, United States
Northern Illinois farmer Annette Kohlhagen Fleck created Annie’s Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening women’s role in farming through educational programs. Program topics range from market risk and production risk to succession planning and business planning. Through education and networking, the organization works to empower women ranchers and farmers to be strong and successful agribusiness managers and partners.
8. Diana Fletschner and Beth Roberts, Washington, United States
The Landesa Center for Women’s Land Rights works to secure land rights for the world’s poorest, most rural men and women, and to provide opportunity and promote social justice. Beth Roberts, Director, and Diana Fletschner, Senior Gender Expert and Director of Research believe that ensuring women have land rights is necessary to eliminate poverty and hunger. The organization connects women with resources to secure property rights, policymakers to improve laws, and education and training tools.
9. Lynne Groulx, Ottawa, Canada
Lynne Groulx is the CEO of The Native Women’s Association of Canada, an organization that promotes the social, economic, cultural, and political well-being of First Nations women through conferences, outreach, and policy research. Since 1974, the organization has been the national voice for indigenous women, focusing on the national food research and environmental protection, and sustainability.
10. Marji Guyler-Alaniz, Iowa, United States
In 2013, Marji Guyler-Alaniz left her job in corporate agriculture to start a photography project called FarmHer, capturing women working on the farm. Today, FarmHer shines a light on women in agriculture and their essential work in the industry to help update the image of agriculture, creating community and outreach to young women interested in agriculture. Guyler-Alaniz also hosts the FarmHer podcast and TV show featuring thoughtful conversations with women in agriculture.
11. Nicoline de Haan Nairobi, Kenya
Nicoline de Haan is the director of CGIAR Generating Evidence and New Directions for Equitable Results (GENDER) Platform. The new CGIAR platform, hosted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the new is designed to place gender equality at the forefront of global agricultural research for development. The platform will transform how gender research is done and push for change toward improved gender equality for smallholder farmers across the globe.
12. Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Nairobi, Kenya
Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg is the executive director of African Women in Agriculture Research and Development (AWARD), a career-development program for women agriculture scientists in sub-Saharan Africa. AWARD provides fellowships focused on teaching research and leadership to foster the success and security of African smallholder farmers. They are also working to transform the growing awareness of gender issues surrounding agriculture into policies and programs.
13. Harsharan Kaur, Chandigarh, India
Harsharan Kaur is the state coordinator at Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Bharat, a federation of SEWA member organizations working to highlight issues concerning women working in the informal sector, and to strengthen the capacity of organizations that serve the interests of these women. SEWA Bharat concentrates on income, employment, health care, housing, leadership, self-reliance, education and more.
14. Suni Lama, Kathmandu, Nepal
Suni Lama is the chairperson at National Indigenous Women’s Federation (NIWF), an organization working to empower indigenous women through agricultural training and other education. She is also an executive council member at Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, an alliance of Indigenous organizations across eastern and southern Asia. In addition to promoting and protecting Indigenous lands, food systems, and biodiversity, the Pact has partnerships with women’s networks that work to create awareness of indigenous women’s role in solving climate change and protecting resources.
15. Abby Maxman, Massachusetts, United States
Abby Maxman is the CEO of Oxfam America, a global organization working to end injustice and poverty. Under Oxfam America, The Oxfam Sisters of the Planet program brings together hundreds of diverse women leaders across America to fight global poverty, hunger, and injustice. Ambassadors use their collective influence to shape policy debates on issues that affect women and girls. The program also builds alliances with national organizations interested in anti-poverty and food justice advocacy.
16. Elizabeth Mpofu, Masvingo Province, Zimbabwe
Elizabeth Mpofu is an organic farmer and activist who has dedicated her life pushing towards the betterment of smallholder farmers and on behalf of women’s rights. She is currently the General Coordinator of the world’s largest peasant movement, La Via Campesina, a coalition of 164 organizations in 73 countries helping give small and medium-sized farmers a voice. The organization coordinates organizations’ support of rural women farmers and Indigenous communities across Asia, Africa, America, and Europe. La Via Campesina groups have helped organize and participate in protests for violence prevention and women empowerment.
17. Maureen Muketha, Kiserian, Kenya
Nutritionist Maureen Muketha founded Tule Vyema a Kenya food security organization that teaches women how to grow indigenous crops on vertical gardens and use sack farming. Sack farming is an affordable way to grow nutritious foods inside of scrap sacks instead of relying on expensive equipment. Tule Vyema works toward its mission to end hunger and malnutrition by raising awareness through nutrition health talks and training of young unemployed women.
18. Reema Nanavaty, Ahmedabad, India
Reema Nanavaty is the director of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India. SEWA is a labor union of self-employed women working to promote the growth and development of women in education, leadership, self-reliance, and health care. In her position, Nanavaty focuses on women’s economic empowerment by helping build women-owned enterprises and women-led supply chains in food processing and agribusiness.
19. Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Nairobi, Kenya
The UN Food Systems Summit identified four levers of change that have the power to bring about change and achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the four levers is Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, led by Dr. Jemimah Njuki, Director for Africa at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). There are seven prominent issues that the summit will focus on to strengthen gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women’s engagement: women’s rights to land; unpaid care and agricultural labour burden; changing norms and addressing institutional barriers; economic empowerment of women in food systems; access to technologies (including digital); and gender-responsive agriculture and food systems policies.
20. Mary Peabody, Vermont, United States
Mary Peabody founded Women’s Agriculture Network (WAgN) in 1995 and currently serves as the director. The organization provides networking opportunities, technical assistance, and education geared to the needs of women farmers. WAgN’s is on a mission to increase the number of women-owned and operated profitable farms and ag-related businesses. The organization also works to create women leaders in the agriculture sectors of government, business, and community.
21. Ma. Estrella Penunia, Metro Manila, Philippines
Ma. Estrella Penunia is secretary general of the Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA), a regional farmers organization with 22 national farmers’ organizations in 16 Asian countries, with nearly 13 million family farmers as members. AFA promotes a six-point agenda which includes women farmer’s empowerment and focuses on capacity building, knowledge management, and policy advocacy.
22. Adae Romero-Briones Colorado, United States
Adae Romero-Briones is the Director of Programs for the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative at the First Nations Development Institute. The First Nations Development Institute works to improve economic conditions for Native Americans through financial grants, technical training, and advocacy and policy. Their programs focus on increasing families’ access to healthy, nutritious food and ensuring the cultural well-being of Native communities.
23. Mily Trevino, California, United States
Mily Trevino is the executive director of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, the first national farmworker organization to empower women farm workers in policy making, leadership, and combat violence in the fields. ANC works to bring awareness to gender violence through educational webinars and social media campaigns.
24. Geum-Soon Yoon, Korea
Geum-Soon Yoon facilitated the first reunification conference between North and South Korean farmers. She is also the President and Founder of Korea Women Farmers Association (KWFA), an organization that aims to empower poor and female farmers in South Korea and expand women farmers’ role in their communities. KWFA has 8,000 members and 23 regional branches and works to design welfare policies for women farmers.
25. Amy Wu, New York, United States
Amy Wu is the founder and Chief Content Director of From Farms to Incubators, a multimedia platform that uses photography, video, documentary, and the written word to tell the stories of women leaders and innovators in agtech working to solve farming challenges. Through storytelling, From Farms to Incubators contributes to the ever-changing agriculture and landscape in the U.S. and globally. The organization serves as a community and connector for women in this space to build partnerships and collaborate.