By James Laraki (March 10, 2013)
INTERNATIONAL women’s day (IWD) this year was observed with the theme “the gender agenda gaining momentum”. In commemorating IWD this year, the global community is focusing on how to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women and girls. In spite of the major role played by women in producing food and feeding their families, little attention has been paid to the connection between gender, violence and food security.
Both men and women play important roles in agriculture. Women do much of the farming work within households and are also the main providers for their families. Although referred to as “managers of the households” women are often vulnerable and powerless in major decision making, resource allocations and benefit sharing.
Our concern is that women cannot continue performing this important role when all forms violence against them continues to prevail.
We need to address this issue that is very much entrenched in our culture, something which is seen to be contributing to the inequality and low status of women. Efforts must be to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence against women as they partners in development. Gender based violence seems to be a hidden and neglected aspect of society. No one wants to recognize it as a problem. We need to change this mindset, be responsible and fight against it.
Agriculture is the way of live for majority our people, especially in the rural areas.
Over 80% of the seven million people depend wholly or partially on it. Women make up 50% of the population with nearly 90% engaged in agriculture and related activities. Women contribute between 50 - 70% of agricultural labour such as clearing, planting, weeding, harvesting, transporting, stocking and marketing. They produce the bulk of our food. Cash income received by women from agriculture is mostly spent on food, health and education. These are done in spite of limited or no access to resources such as land.
Gender discrimination fuels female malnutrition and disempowerment. Very often, discriminatory practices in rural communities generate biases in household food distribution, whereby women and girls usually have access to limited and less nutritious food.
Poor families may force marriage of under-age their daughters. Women may be forced to trade sex for food. Women spend hours working gardens, travel long distance to markets, collecting firewood to cook the family meal, leaving themselves vulnerable to rape and other attacks. Widows are persecuted over land ownership but, all too often, community laws favour men.
Domestic violence has an overall negative impact on agricultural production and family well-being. “For many women struggling to feed themselves and their children today, food security would mean personal and legal security.
If we unite to increase food security for women, we also nourish the minds and bodies of whole communities. If a girl can attend school in a safe environment, she can reach her full mental and physical potential. She can avoid early marriage, forced marriage or other forms of violence. If a woman can register the birth of her children, legally own land and the money she earns, she can contribute to the benefit of her society and its economic development”, notes the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN.
Reports indicate women make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Improving equality in women's access to agricultural inputs (such as seeds, tools, fertilizers), education and public services would contribute significantly to achieving food security and better nutrition for all.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) recognizes women and gender as an important cross-cutting issue, which needs to be addressed through appropriate strategies. NARI also recognizes that both women and men have vital roles to play but the prevailing gender inequality needs to be addressed.
The institute is addressing gender issues by mainstreaming gender throughout and at all levels and layers of operations. In order to facilitate this, the Institute designing the NARI Gender Mainstreaming Policy to ensure pro-active gender responsiveness environment in promoting and contributing to the enhanced gender equity and equality in the agriculture sector.
While this policy is still in its draft stage, it is in line with PNG Government policies and strategies where the call for greater gender equity and equality has been made.
PNG Vision 2050 recognizes the need for greater participation of women at all levels of society in its first pillar. This is supported by strategies in the PNG Development Strategy Plan: 2010 - 2030 and reflected in Medium Term Development Plan: 2011 - 2015, aimed at providing equal opportunities for men and women in participating and benefit sharing from the development. The National Agricultural Development Plan: 2007 - 2016 further calls for the mainstreaming of gender, social issues and HIV/AIDS in all agriculture development programs.
We are undertaking this to empower women and girls through our agriculture research and development efforts. But we also note that it is collective effort to ensure our women and girls are equal partners in development. And it must be so. We believe empowering women and girls legally and economically will go a long way to creating opportunities for development, enhances their political voice and reduces their vulnerability to violence. And food security links the diverse elements needed to build a peaceful and fair future for them and society.
Photo: Female staff of NARI preparing to join fellow women in Lae for a sit-in protest staged at the Sir Ignatius Kilage Stadium last month following the rape of a female nursing officer from the Angau General Hospital