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Barza Wire recently spoke with Kawinzi Muiu, director of the gender office at the World Food Programme (WFP). Ms. Muiu was in Ottawa, Canada, where she spoke with Kathryn Burnham about women’s roles in ensuring food security and nutrition for families across Africa. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
From what you have seen, what challenges do African women face when it comes to food security and hunger?
We know that women work a lot. We know that women do more than their share of work. They are looking after families, and also attending [to] small farms, and sometimes they also need to work for someone else to get income.
So … I think we need to put resources into women’s hands. When there are disasters and climate change is happening, sometimes women do not have access to resources, either technical knowledge or equipment to deal with climate change. So some of their gains are wiped out.
But at the same time, we need to make sure that when we try to involve them in some activity … we are not increasing the burden on women. We know sometimes that they have to cook food for the family or collect children from school. One of the things WFP does is provide women with [fuel-efficient] stoves, [and] access to fuel and energy. This is good because it stops people from going outside, sometimes at night, to look for wood. It’s also a good way to save trees.
If we want to change the dynamics, we need to put good resources in the hands of women, including financial training, access to finance and credit, access to technologies, and also limit the burden of work. Be careful that it’s not a double burden that’s unpaid…. I think this will go a long way to increasing their food security and women’s empowerment.
For example, in Rwanda, through the Purchase for Progress program, we buy from women farmers, and we have found that by buying from them, we increase their income, and that will lead to their families having a better life—the kids go to school, they get medical insurance. It’s a good thing for the whole family.
What is the role of men in women’s empowerment? More resources for women doesn’t mean fewer resources for men, but sometimes there’s that impression.
People think it’s a zero sum game. But that’s not true. WFP’s gender policy says WFP is going to provide food assistance to men, boys, girls, and women. Why are we saying that? Because sometimes when we look at the situation and do a gender analysis, it may be that a boy is not going to school. And all this time we assume that it’s a girl [who needs assistance]. Sometimes we have found that in Syria, boys are dropping out of schools to work, and girls are staying in school. So we must be informed…. Sometimes it could be a boy that needs assistance.
We are never going to reach gender equality if men are not involved, really. This is a challenge that we need both genders to be involved in. This is why it is important to have men champions who see the economic benefits of gender equality. One example we like to use is of Zara, a woman who is given resources, and with these resources she starts a small business which provides income, and she buys more land and she buys a small vehicle to use as transportation—and she changes her life, and her children’s life. And she opens a bank account and her husband sees that getting his wife involved in economic activities is a win-win for the whole family.
So a message I’d like to say to my brothers in Africa is really that this is going to benefit us all—women and men and the family. It must never be a woman’s issue. Everybody wins, the whole family wins, if the woman also contributes to the well-being of the family through access to resources and making decisions on how to use these resources.
That’s really important, because what’s the use of a resource if you can’t make a decision? Making decisions is important for a woman to lead the life she wants to live.
What sort of discussions do you hope are starting to take place in the homes of African families?
In places like Niger, working with partners like FAO and UN Women and IFAD … we run Dimitra clubs, which is an area for communities to come together and discuss issues that are concerning that community. Dimitra clubs include both men and women, so it’s a good place for them to discuss issues that affect their community and to come up with an agreed solution. And we have found this is good because it reduces misunderstanding—and gender-based violence—because people have discussed [the issues they are facing] and they have come to see a solution and move forward.
Before we do any intervention, it is very good to talk to the community elders, to talk to the households, to see what they think about where they are, and what is the solution. Because they know their situation better. So it is very good to work with local NGOs and for the communities to come with a solution that works for everybody.
Thank you to Kawinzi Muiu for this opportunity to discuss the World Food Programme’s gender policy in action in Africa.
Photo: Women in North Darfur learn about fuel-efficient stoves as part of a WFP project. Credit: World Food Programme