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Who cares: Gender-just workplace policies in food system organisations

UNICEF Iran, Mojgan Parssa-Magham

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and UN Women launched the third annual Global Food 50/50 report, assessing gender equality across 51 global food system organisations. This year’s edition includes a focus on workplace policies related to gendered opportunities for career advancement and gender-equitable distribution of benefits across the food system, with the significant expansion to employees’ care responsibilities.

Understanding and supporting employees’ care responsibilities through workplace policies is crucial to promoting gender equity. Whether paid or unpaid, care work is fundamental to the well-being of individuals and the economy. Yet, in no country is care work shouldered by men and women equally. In India, Pakistan, Cambodia, and Mali, women spend ten or more times more time on care work than men. According to UN Women, by 2050, women are expected to spend an average of almost 2.3 more hours per day on unpaid care work than men, highlighting the urgent need to invest in the care economy to facilitate women’s employment and food rights.

Gender equality in these organisations is essential not only for their employees but also because these entities play a crucial role in addressing food security and economic stability. Organisations that fail to recognise and adapt to the distinct needs of all genders risk perpetuating inequities and inefficiencies in how they serve their diverse constituencies. The Global Food 50/50 tool fosters accountability and transparency in advancing workplace gender justice, thereby contributing to gender justice in board and management decisions.

Impact of Women’s Care Responsibilities on Food Security

The report effectively highlights how gendered care responsibilities affect food systems and women’s opportunities. It draws attention to unpaid care and domestic work, to the effects of climate change on these responsibilities, and to the increased burden on women due to climate change, exacerbating food insecurity and limiting access to resources. This is significant as climate change is expected to worsen food insecurity for women, who already have less access to healthy food, land ownership, and resources for food production than men. For instance, in regions where safe drinking water is scarce, women and girls predominantly bear the burden of water collection and treatment – a fact that aligns with findings from FAO’s recent report “The unjust climate. Measuring the impact of climate change on rural poor, women and youth,” which notes that female-headed households suffer significant income losses due to environmental stressors.

Workplace Equality: Progress and Challenges

The report shows an increase in organizations adopting gender equality policies – from 69% in 2020 to 76% in 2023 – and diversity and inclusion policies – from 53% in 2020 to 73% in 2023. These are crucial steps towards an inclusive work environment. However, the report also emphasises persistent barriers that inhibit equal career opportunities, particularly those affecting women’s participation, progression, and leadership in global food systems.

Progress toward gender equality in senior management and board positions remains inconsistent. Although there has been a modest reduction in organizations where men outnumber women in senior management roles, board diversity policies and the representation of women in CEO and board chair positions still lag significantly.

While 76% of the organisations have explicit workplace policies promoting gender equality, the definition of gender remains controversial. 22 out of 49 analysed gender equality policies include transgender and/or nonbinary individuals, reflecting increased inclusivity.

The proportion of organisations defining gender as a social construct has increased from 53% in 2021 to 69% in 2023. The report’s title, “50/50,” however, still suggests a conservative binary perspective on gender, excluding non-binary and gender-fluid individuals, thereby perpetuating a lack of inclusivity deeply rooted in many national and UN systems. This does not align with the nuanced spectrum of gender identities, highlighting a critical area for reevaluation in future reports.

Care-ful Workplace Policies

IFPRI’s report annually assesses organisations’ commitment to gender equality, their internal definition of gender, policies addressing power imbalances, the existence and efficacy of workplace gender equality, diversity, and inclusion policies, and their impact on career opportunities and gender representation in senior management and governing bodies. It identifies progress and challenges in promoting diversity and justice in career opportunities and highlights care as a critical issue. Emphasising “care” over “caregiving” shifts the narrative to suggest care should be a shared, redistributed, or compensated responsibility, not a duty assigned to one individual. Changes in workplace policies must be accompanied by shifts in social norms and attitudes towards care, recognising its integral role in professional and personal spheres. The report effectively uses inclusive language such as ‘primary/secondary carer,’ reflecting a nuanced understanding of caregiving roles.

Gender-disaggregated Data

Organisational practices are examined with data segregated by gender, demonstrating a commitment to gender justice. Yet, translating these policies into gender-equitable outcomes remains challenging. Gender-disaggregated data essential for evidence-based, gender-responsive programs and for ensuring accountability. However, combining this data with a broader and qualitative gender analysis is vital for identifying disparities in food system access, consumption, and production.

Over half of for-profit organisations (57%) lack explicit policies for gender-disaggregating their data, compared to 32% of non-profits. This highlights a gap between policy existence and effective implementation, and the need for continuous efforts to translate policy intentions into tangible outcomes.

While IFPRI robustly commits to collecting gender-disaggregated data, this approach should better encompass gender diversity. By focusing predominantly on gender as a binary variable, the varied experiences of non-binary and gender-fluid individuals are overlooked.

Measurement Methods and Long-Term Impacts of Care Work

Time spent is commonly used to measure unpaid care work. However, are also important to consider, such as the intensity of care activities, the emotional and physical toll on caregivers, and alternative metrics, such as the value of time approach, replacement cost, and opportunity cost for a more comprehensive understanding. For example, calculating the economic impact of unpaid care work if compensated at market rates or estimating the cost of replacing this labour with professional services offers a clearer economic estimate. Additionally, assessing the income lost by caregivers can estimate the economic impacts on caregivers.

The long-term effects of care responsibilities, such as career interruptions, reduced pension accumulations, and heightened risks of gendered poverty later in life significantly affect women’s long-term economic stability. Policies adressing these enduring inequalities are urgently needed to support caregivers and recognise their extensive contributions to social and economic systems.


In a world increasingly characterized by polarization and climate challenges, designing and implementing effective gender-responsive workplace policies is crucial. Such policies must dismantle discriminatory norms that disproportionately burden women with care and domestic responsibilities, hindering their full participation and advancement in the global food system. Gender-just workplace policies are needed for achieving gender justice, and for ensuring global food system organisations act in ways that benefit all genders equitably.