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11 September 2023

Mind the gender gap in agrifood systems

Selling potatoes on the local market

In Ecuador, often women are the ones selling their cash crops on the local markets. In the Ecuadorian Andes, potatoes are an important crop for food security as well as to sell.

Credit: ©2012CIAT/ManonKoningstein

This is an interview piece with Dr. Lauren Philips, FAO’s Deputy Director of Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, and Tacko Ndiaye, FAO’s Senior Gender Officer, on the FAO The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems report.



In the pursuit of achieving gender equality within agrifood systems, a critical challenge is the need for nuanced and comprehensive sex-, age- and further disaggregated data for other forms of social and economic differentiation. Recently reviewed by SIANI, The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems report by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identified meticulous application of qualitative and quantitative research to understand what works, and under what conditions, as a critical next step. While progress has been made, we here delve into persisting gaps in data collection, availability, scope, and granularity. Conversations with FAO’s Deputy Director of Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division, Lauren Philips, and Senior Gender Officer, Tacko Ndiaye, emphasise the need for disaggregated data, not only for collection but also informing policies and programmes across scales, and how the gap between policy and practice can be bridged.

The dire need for broad, large-scale, and qualitative gender-disaggregated data

Despite advancements in sex-disaggregated data availability over the past decade, critical gaps persist, noted Dr. Lauren Philips, FAO’s Deputy Director of Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division. While progress has been made, key areas such as access to (agricultural) extension services, women’s involvement in livestock-related activities, and gendered impacts of climate change remain neglected. Most of the available data comes from household surveys. Household surveys, however, while yielding data, do not reveal nuanced gender dynamics and roles, such as fishpond management or poultry care responsibilities.

‘The lack of [disaggregated] data remains a significant problem.’ Lauren Philips, FAO’s Deputy Director of Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division

Dr. Philips highlights a notable absence of data disaggregated by factors like age, Indigenous or disability status, or other forms of marginalisation. It is unclear, for instance, how many African descendants living in Latin America are employed in certain fields, creating significant gaps in our understanding.

The challenge with qualitative data lies in the fact that many of the studies used in the The status of women in agrifood system report to identify effective approaches for promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment were based on small, isolated samples or projects. While Dr. Philips and her team gathered a vast amount of information, ‘it can be difficult to determine if the findings are applicable beyond the specific village or community where the study was conducted.’ This lack of broad qualitative data on impact is a significant problem. Additionally, locating real users of the services proved challenging, which is where Dr Philips believes the strongest evidence is to be found.

The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems report, FAO

Credit: Marta Anguera/SIANI

Existing data is not sufficiently harnessed to guide policy

Tacko Ndiaye, Senior Gender Officer at FAO, illustrates the Senegal case, a country assessment done years ago with six disaggregated data sets. Last year’s review of the national budgeting system unveiled that, despite strict ministerial guidelines, the data was not being used to inform national budget decisions. Moreover, no integration with existing gender-related legal frameworks or policies was observed. This disconnection between data and policy impact underscores the urgency to address this gap.

‘There is no reference to the national legal frameworks or policies on gender that exist in [Senegal].’ Tacko Ndiaye, Senior Gender Officer at FAO

Ndiaye’s work serves as an excellent example of connecting the dots to enhance parliamentarians’ capacities, harnessing legislative policy oversight, budgetary responsibilities, and local governance as entryways. The Division aims to equip parliamentarians with content that enhances analytical skills and fosters connections with women’s movements or networks. ‘Our capacity development activities, organised at the country level, involve multistakeholder dialogue forums for parliamentary members,’ she explains. The Division offers them gender data gap insights and channels this information to the ministries responsible for the National Agriculture Investment Plan. This approach ensures that gender considerations become integrated into investments, rather than remaining mere intentions.

At the regional level, the Division collaborates with the pan-African Parliament. In recent years, they jointly crafted a model law on food security and nutrition, offering a framework for countries to adapt and develop their own legislation. This engagement spurred the development of four additional model laws, including one on gender equality and empowerment. Facilitating learning exchanges is another facet of their work, exemplified by a recent trip where parliamentarians from the Economic Community of West African States visited Rwanda. Politicians learned about best practices in sensitive legislation, practice, and budget processes, specifically Rwanda’s budget statement.

Women workers on maize field, Nigeria

Strategies for bridging the gap from policy to practice

The Division adopts community-based approaches to foster dialogue on community challenges, aiming to ensure equitable participation for women. These strategies yield numerous benefits. They facilitate conflict resolution and drive transformative change, as Ndiaye explains. Empowering women to assume decision-making authority within their households and communities has significant impact, giving them a voice in local, regional, and national policymaking. Especially at the household level, these approaches empower women to voice their needs and engage in discussions with men.

As highlighted in FAO’s report, empowerment is crucial. Dr. Philips highlights its merits, from boosting agricultural productivity and child health and nutrition to increasing dietary diversity and family resilience. Women with decision-making power can make different choices, enhancing the family’s ability to cope with shocks and increasing household income. Therefore, approaches that focus on empowering individuals and giving agency in decision-making are paramount and should be implemented on a large scale. Unfortunately, many projects fail to address these issues.

Karya Wiguna Gunda women’s group in Candirenggo village, East Java, Indonesia.

The Karya Wiguna Gunda women’s group began as a space for members to learn about opportunities for improving economic outcomes. It has transformed into a place for the women of Candirenggo village to support their wider community through the Peace Village programme. providing an open space to talk about the issue and solutions.

Photo: UN Women/Satu Bumi Jaya

The Dimitra Clubs: an approach that works

The Dimitra Clubs are an example of a methodology used to contest unequal gender relations and address discriminatory gender norms. As Tacko explains, these Clubs have evolved significantly since their inception and continue to improve. Essentially, FAO-Dimitra Clubs are groups of rural men and women who come together locally to address daily challenges collaboratively and find local solutions together. Across multiple countries, the project has successfully tackled issues such as gender inequality and malnutrition. For example, some communities restrict women from consuming chicken, depriving them of essential nutrients. The Dimitra Clubs also confront cultural practices, such as restricting women from marriage. In one instance, they brought attention to this issue through a theatre performance, and the community agreed to remove this practice. Thus, the Dimitra Clubs effectively address practical daily aspects at the local level.


Dr Philips reiterated during the discussion that the Dimitra Club has been implemented in 70 countries, showing sustained benefits. Her team aims to further enhance its capabilities through continued monitoring and learning between programmes, harnessing qualitative data to gather success stories from different regions. Dr. Philips’s team systematises this information and ensures results are reported, but it requires resources. The team strives to share these results, advocating for the approach so that other groups can benefit from it. This currently stands as a primary focus for their team.


FAO’s substantial efforts in collecting and integrating (sex-)disaggregated data are evident, transcending major statistical databases. Nonetheless, they also show how limited access to detailed disaggregated data and insufficient gender-related information impedes a comprehensive understanding of the roles, statuses, and contributions in agriculture of women, men, and gender minorities. Marginalised and excluded groups, particularly in conflict-ridden countries, are frequently overlooked in surveys. Often, data is only collected at the household level, overlooking intra-household disparities and hindering the design and effective implementation of equitable policies, programs, and strategies.

When collecting and analysing data, it is essential to strive to consider all, including differentiations of gender, age, geography, income, or disability status. Breaking down data by key characteristics enables thorough analysis of disparities, necessitating comprehensive data collection. Access to current and reliable data is critical for evidence-based policymaking. Expanding the use of untapped data sources, such as administrative data, holds potential. Increased global coordination among agencies, investment, and the development of appropriate regulatory frameworks to address issues of transparency are needed.


These interviews are part of SIANI’s ‘Tune in to Food Systems’ interview series composed of monthly interview articles with experts across fields dedicated to sustainable food systems.

Written by Laura del Duca, Research Associate at SEI Headquarters, and Marta Anguera, Engagement Officer at SIANI,