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Why and how to narrow gender gap, women scientists and leaders explain

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Today is the International Women’s Day. In many countries it is celebrated as a public holiday. It is a fitting reminder of how women enrich public life and of their critical role in different public spheres. In every area from the field to the lab to the office, their contribution to social and economic development is immense. Alas, they are still underrepresented at senior levels of decision- and policy-making in most countries. More importantly, they do not enjoy the same level of access to a wide range of resources from land to finance to training. As a result, a lot of great potential goes unrealized. This year’s theme “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives” brings into focus the challenges facing rural women, who make up more than a quarter of the world’s population and a majority of the 43 percent of women in the global agricultural labor force.

On almost every measure of development, they are still in a worse position than rural men or urban women.

Different cultural and economic barriers not only prevent women from reaching their full potential but also cost their communities. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that if women were to have the same access to resources as men, agricultural yields could increase by as much as 20-30 percent, with the potential to reduce food insecurity for an astounding 100-150 million people globally.

It is little wonder then that narrowing the gender gap is high on the agenda of policymakers and development organizations the world over. In fact, the Sustainable Development Goal 5 is all about gender equality and calls for empowering all women and girls. However, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017 by the World Economic Forum, which ranks countries according to their progress towards gender equality across four thematic dimensions, an average gender gap of 32 percent remains to be closed worldwide. Under its mandate, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) also implements programs to empower women in science and agriculture. One example is Tamkeen, a fellowship program started in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), which aims to improve research and leadership potential of women scientists in the Middle East and North Africa region.

On this day, we ask some of our women leaders and scientists to share their thoughts and views on why it is important to narrow the gender gap and how the lives of rural women can be changed through science and technology.

Dr. Ismahane Elouafi, Director General

“This day is an opportunity to look closely at the gender gaps and to make efforts towards reducing those gaps by creating more opportunities and an enabling environment for more active and more prosperous women around the globe. Rural women are the backbone of agriculture and food security in most of the developing countries. Therefore, we need to create more avenues by empowering them and providing them with equal opportunities for development. At ICBA, we believe in equal opportunities for all. We are proud to empower women through our research programs and special initiatives like the Tamkeen program for Arab women scientists, which is designed to help them to excel in research and leadership roles.”

Ms. Seta Tutundjian, Director of Partnerships and Knowledge Management

“Women make up about 30-50 percent of the global agricultural labor force. But an analysis of development programs demonstrates how disproportionate programs targeting them are. If we want to pull the bottom 5 percent of the poorest people out of the poverty trap, we should focus on advancing the skills of rural women through equipping them with effective, low-cost targeted technologies and best practices.”

Dr. Rachael McDonnell, Head of Climate Change Modeling and Adaptation Section

“Climate change is already affecting rural and urban women, but scientific advances at ICBA offer real and practical solutions to help their adaptation to the new conditions. The synergy of science and policy can really alleviate the hardships felt by many such as through the introduction of drought-resilient crops and more efficient irrigation systems.”

Dr. Dionysia Angeliki Lyra, Halophyte Agronomist

"Women in rural areas should have more access to resources, opportunities, employment and services to be more productive and effective for the farming communities. Scientific initiatives and interventions should target women’s empowerment, providing them with access to land, inputs, education and financial means, boosting their productivity, performance and active participation in the farming communities. The promotion of gender equality is vital for agricultural development and enhances food and nutrition security in their regions. Women’s contribution to the livelihood of their household is crucial for the economic and social development of society.”

Dr. Henda Mahmoudi, Biotechnologist

“Women play a crucial role in rural and urban areas. We cannot overcome poverty and hunger without empowering rural women. Providing women with appropriate tools and technologies will help to guide them to proper ways of getting maximum benefit from their lands and improving their wellbeing. And this where ICBA can play a major role through building the capacities of rural women.”