Today we celebrate the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. It is a moment reflect on the progress made and multiply our actions to achieve an ambitious vision of gender equality, critical to the well-being of humanity and the planet we inhabit. We know that despite many efforts worldwide, gender equality is still far from being a reality. This is true not only in some professional areas, geographies, or in the home, but across all areas of life globally. For instance, the recently released UN Secretary-General’s report underlines, among many other considerations, the great gender gap in public sector decision-making positions: there are currently only 22 women Heads of State or Government, and only 24.9% of national parliamentarians are women, globally. Things are even worse if we zoom into the decision-makers steering the response to the current COVID-19 pandemic. An analysis of COVID-19 task forces from 87 countries revealed that only 3.5% of these had gender parity; a particularly stark reality considering that women represent at least 70% of the workforce in the health sector.
The imbalance is not only unjust towards women, but it has repercussions on everyone, leaving Governments unable to respond adequately and holistically to global challenges. Unequal decisional power translates in decisions that are less inclusive and relevant to the needs and interests of some segments of society, and thereby in worse societal outcomes. One needs not only think about COVID-19, similar considerations apply decision-making pertaining to climate change, biodiversity loss, sustainable development, education, conflict resolutions, ethics, and so on. This is why this year’s IDW theme “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” focuses on the critical need of supporting women’s right to decision-making and having women leaders, while also honoring the fundamental role of women and girls all over the world in shaping a more equal future; contributions often made from disadvantaged situations.
Social structures that shape asymmetric gender dynamics have been a focus of FTA’s research since the program’s inception. When drafting its renewed Gender Action Plan in 2019, FTA reinstated equal participation as one of its key focus research areas. A recent news article also recalls how FTA contributed to make two UN processes more gender-responsive. In the FTA 2020 Science Conference, one of the technical workstreams dealt with inclusive governance for sustainable landscapes, concentrating discussions on decision-making at the intersection of policy and practice, together with the institutions that support or obstruct inclusion, transparency and accountability in decision-making processes. FTA also substantially re-oriented its work on sustainable value chains to focus on social inclusion and especially gender issues, as testified in the value-chains, finance and investment session of the FTA conference. It was an occasion to highlight the significant research FTA is conducting in this domain, which surfaces pressing challenges as well as possible solutions and strategies to address them.
Unequal gender norms and social structures limit women’s genuine participation and influence, and lead to their overall underrepresentation, in landscape and value chains governance. As we’ve emphasized in a previous newsletter, the COVID-19 crisis has brought a double burden on forest-dependent and rural women, who need to fight on two fronts: they are the first exposed to the socio-economic repercussion of the COVID-19 response and at the same time expected to lead the charge in enhancing their households’ and communities’ resilience.
As a research program, it is our role to investigate and contribute to the strong evidence that women’s equal and effective participation is a key to unlocking solutions to the many environmental and socio-economic crisis humanity faces, and to advance sustainable development and embed justice into the fabric of our societies. For all and for women, let’s use this moment of crisis not to “build back better” but to “build forward better”.
Vincent Gitz, FTA Director and Marlène Elias, FTA Gender coordinator