UN officials in Bangladesh visited Kurigram for two days to explore innovative ways to better support women through existing food security, nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and climate change adaptation programmes.
According to the Bangladesh Chronic Food Insecurity Situation 2019-2024 report, 20 percent of households in Kurigram suffer from malnutrition and food insecurity. Many households depend on unskilled daily labor, marginal farming, or traditional fishing to survive. They often live in areas where there is a high recurrence of shocks, flash and monsoon floods, riverbank erosion, and dry spells.
During the visit, women at a grassroots level explained how, thanks to UN support, they are accessing resources and growing their businesses and agency within the household. UN programmes have enabled small-scale farmers and agribusinesses to access finance, insurance, inputs, and training, as well as to promote information on market conditions and weather advisories. By empowering women at the grassroots level with these innovations, the food and nutrition security of rural families is improving.
The UN team was also able to identify practical solutions to enhance gender inclusion, through in-depth discussions with women and men farmers and communities, and in dialogue with local government counterparts.
Reflecting on her experience, the UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, Gwyn Lewis, said, "Increasing womens empowerment is essential for womens well-being and has a positive impact on agricultural production, food security, diets, and child nutrition. I am amazed by what Bangladeshs women farmers can achieve when provided the opportunity." One of the three interventions visited was IFADs PROVATi project, which has increased resilience and sustainability at Kurigram for 303,000 rural families. One of their unique activities was integration of gender-based learning systems to promote behavioral changes in families. "We are grateful to the government for partnering with us to implement this multi-year project to create an enabling environment for such vulnerable communities," IFAD Country Representative, Mr. Arnoud Hameleers, said about his organizations initiative.
The mission met with the women farmers of Jatrapur, supported by WFPs Building Resilience for Zero Hunger project and discussed their engagement in farming activities, adapted to seasonal patterns to mitigate their financial risks. Mr. Domenico Scalpelli, WFPs Head of Agency, stated that: "WFPs role extends beyond just agricultural aid; we are committed to empowering these women, helping them gain confidence through economic empowerment, and contributing to positive changes in their families and communities. This high-level perspective underscores WFPs commitment to not only improving food security but also fostering sustainability."
Jiaoqun Shi, FAO Representative in Bangladesh said, "FAOs Missing Middle Initiative facilitates access to finance and markets. We have strengthened the capacities of 55 Producers Organizations and their 11000 smallholder members of which 64 percent are female farmers. The project supported them in management, governance, and engagement with agriculture value chains. Our beneficiaries financial achievements via a revolving loan fund, common facility center, and our Digital Village Centre to produce inputs, mechanization services, and post-harvest operations are impressive."
"The work of the UN in Rangpur prioritizes gender equality. Gains have been made in exercising voice and agency. However, women farmers still demanded dedicated spaces for women in markets, farmer cards, seed banks, female- friendly toilets, and the redistribution of the care burden. We also observed how social norms, linked to mobility restrictions, continue to pose a barrier." - Gitanjali Singh, Country Representative, UN Women, stated on the mission.
Women are key actors in food systems. Agrifood systems are an important source of livelihood for more women than men in Bangladesh. However, we need to urgently address the challenges rural women, especially farmers and entrepreneurs, face every day in their life and livelihoods, alongside being unrecognized for their domestic work; and discriminated against in their commercial initiatives in agriculture. Thereby, programme designs, infrastructural and policy support, skills development projects - at all levels, with all actors - are necessary to include more women and to achieve greater and more equitable economic participation in productive activities.
The mission was part of the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF) 2022-2026 in Bangladesh which aims to accelerate progress towards sustainable development goals, which includes a specific strategic priority to advance gender equality. It is also linked to "Making Food Systems Work for Women and Girls Coalition for Action initiative to take forward the work of the UN Food System Summit and to foster the implementation of gender and food systems actions in National Food Systems Transformation Pathways, in line with the transition towards sustainable and resilient agrifood systems.
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