Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Wise Women

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

You have heard the “would have” story about the Three Wise Women at the birth of Jesus. Its origin is unknown. Some humorless know-it-alls question its biblical, theological, geographical and even astronomical (something about the guiding star) possibility. But here it is, anyway.

“What would have happened if it had been Three Wise Women instead of Three Wise Men? They would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts.”

The killjoys have a sequel to this that is unflattering to women. It tells about what the Three Wise Women did after they had left the Nativity scene. So much for scrooges who can’t take a Christmas story with a gender-sensitive twist.

But, indeed, the women can be relied upon, as the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has often stressed. In its latest report, the FAO said “women hold the key to building a world free from hunger and poverty. But gender inequality is putting a brake on sustainable development.”

FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva said recently that achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is also a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Speaking at a high-level event co-organized by the FAO, the European Commission and the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (Ifad), the World Food Programme (WFP) and UN Women, Da Silva said: “Women are the backbone of our work in agriculture,” adding that women comprise 45 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. That figure is rising to 60 percent in parts of Africa and Asia.

What do these numbers mean? They underscore the importance of ensuring that rural women enjoy a level playing field. “It’s all about opportunity. Evidence shows that when women have opportunities, the yields on their farms increase—also their incomes. Natural resources are better managed. Nutrition is improved. And livelihoods are more secured,” Da Silva said.

This is why rural women are key players in the effort to achieve all of the Sustainable Development Goals, but especially SDG2, freeing the world from hunger and malnutrition, he added. So if Zero Hunger is to be achieved, women have to be involved. There is no way to get it done without them. Neven Mimica, European Union commissioner for international cooperation and development, told event participants: “It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board—not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice.”

Yet current statistics suggest that the world is falling short on this score, Mimica said. “We know that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men. As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life,” he said, adding: “If we are serious about putting an end to poverty and hunger once and for all, then we all need to step up our support for rural women. As an investment in families, in our communities, in our wider societies, and in our planet’s future.”

And so the need to close the gender gap. Although nearly half the world’s agricultural labor force is female, women own less than 20 percent of agricultural land. The FAO has it figured out: If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million due to productivity gains.
I have headed to the “wilderness” where I will thrive on the proverbial locusts and wild honey while awaiting The One. Maranatha! Have a good Christmas, everyone. #