05/31/2013 12:36 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

14 Initiatives Helping Women Deliver All Over the World

This week at the Women Deliver conference in Kuala Lumpur, women from all over the world gathered together to discuss reproductive health, economic empowerment, food security, social justice, and the environment.

Women, particularly in developing countries, face numerous challenges, including sexual violence, limited access to health resources, barriers to education, and inadequate economic opportunities.

These barriers include:

  • In Europe, when it comes to major decisions about climate change -- a crucial factor in global food security -- the role of female decision-makers is lacking. According to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women: "In negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change over the past decade, women accounted for only 30 percent of registered country delegates and 10 percent of heads of delegations."
  • In 2011, women only held 18 percent of national seats in parliamentary bodies across East Asian and Pacific nations.
  • According to a U.N. Women report, women now make up 45 percent of the agricultural labor force in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, women still make less money for their work.
  • Lingering gender discrimination limits the successful involvement of women in food production in Latin America -- only slightly over 20 percent of those employed in the agriculture sector in the region are women.

Not only are all of these factors harmful to the well-being of women, but they're hindering global development. Research from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that if women had the same access to resources that men have, global malnutrition could be reduced by up to 17 percent. Olivier de Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, recently published "Women's Rights and the Right to Food," a comprehensive report illustrating how breaking down the discriminatory barriers that women face will resolve food security in multiple ways.

But there's good news, too. From May 28 to May 30, the organization Women Deliver hosted their conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where international leaders in the women's movement discussed solutions to address challenges facing women across the world. And in the light of these challenges, women across the world are working with a wide variety of organizations to make strides in gender equity, both socially and economically.

Changing discriminatory trends will be a key to sustainable development for the future. Improving women's access to education, health, and economic resources will lead to better nutrition for not only women and children, but the entire world.

These 14 organizations are working to empower women in the food system.

1. African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) (sub-Saharan Africa) - AWARD works to strengthen the research and leadership skills of African women working in agricultural research and development. Launched in 2008, AWARD helps promising women contribute more effectively to food security in sub-Saharan Africa. The program currently has 250 fellows, who go through a two-year career development program aimed at improving science skills, fostering mentorships, and developing leadership capacity.

2. Global Plant Health Clinics (Vietnam) - In Vietnam, 53 percent of the farming population is female, and 74 percent of these women are involved in agriculture. In 2007, CABI's Global Plant Health Clinic program and the Southern Horticultural Fruit Research Institute (SOFRI) partnered to introduce the first plant health clinics in Vietnam. Clinic workers were trained on recognizing symptoms and clinic management. The clinic served to transfer knowledge and technologies from SOFRI to farmers at a low cost, allowing farmers to use fewer chemicals and farm in a more sustainable manner. Since 2007, SOFRI has been working to expand the plant clinic model to other areas of the country. Vietnam now has 19 trained plant doctors, serving six provinces in Vietnam.

3. Il Buon Seme (Italy) - According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, women from around the world are taking the lead in transforming farms to do more than just produce food. In Italy, farmers like Luisa Vergnano are combining on-farm tourism with community engagement. At her farm in Asti, part of the farmhouse serves as a social cooperative to create housing for mothers and children, demonstrating how women across Italy are changing future of farming.

4. Jatun Sach'a Project (Bolivia) - In Bolivia, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime started the Jatun Sach'a project to provide rural women with training on innovative uses of local plants. Through increased knowledge of native vegetables and other plants, such as the yucca and majo, the women in the program create products for their families and the local communities that increase food access and nutrition.

5. Líderes Campesinas - Data from the World Health Organization (WHO), FAO's report and Rural Women and the Millennium Goals shows that rural women - who make up the vast majority of women in agriculture - are more likely to suffer incidences of abuse. This coalition of women farmers in California is working to improve the public support system for female agricultural workers who have been victims of sexual assault and/or domestic abuse.

6. Mariam Gnire Ouattara and Slow Food Chigata (Ivory Coast) - The leader of the Slow Food Chigata convivium in the Ivory Coast, Ouattara has been leading the women of the village of N'Ganon to organize a farming co-operative in order to serve nutritious, local food in schools. Ouattara partnered with Slow Food International to form the co-op, which now produces rice, groundnuts, white beans, and a variety of vegetables. The group reaches out to other villages with the goal of replicating the project around the Ivory Coast.

7. Ocean Somali Community Association (OSCA) (United Kingdom) - According to the OSCA Women's Project, Somali women with limited English language skills are some of the most socially excluded people living in the U.K. During the past year, OSCA has worked with over 300 women, delivering over 50 workshops and administering three projects to empower women by delivering educational, recreational and one-to-one support activities. The Mothers and Daughters Healthy Lives project for example, delivers healthy cooking classes with nutrition, lifestyle coaching and gardening.

8. The "Pesticide Lady" (India) - Arkhiben Vankar, an Indian midwife from the state of Gujarat, is known as "the pesticide lady," after her development and promotion of an herbal pesticide that reduced costs and was free of toxins. The toxin-free pesticide--made from bitter plants--has been shown to be just as effective as chemical pesticides.

9. Rural Women Making Change. In 2005, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded the Rural Women Making Change (RWMC) initiative in order to support broad research into issues that impact rural women within Canada. The RWMC is organized into eight research teams investigating three broad topics, including the day-to-day work of rural women's organizations, the everyday experiences of rural women and girls, and the impact of gender and rural policy on women.

10. Researching Women Smallholder Farmers' Practices in Papua New Guinea - Last year, the University of Canberra was awarded a grant for nearly AU$800,000 (approximately US$780,000) from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research to study the practices of women smallholder vegetable farmers in Papua New Guinea. The purpose of the project is to provide resources to build these women farmers' business knowledge and financial literacy to increase their economic validity.

11. Sakhrah Women's Society Cooperative (Jordan) - Sponsored by New Global Citizens, which creates small, women-led businesses in Jordan. The cooperative runs several projects, including farming, drying vegetables, cleaning and packaging crops, and a dairy operation. The members of the cooperative equally divide the revenue from the items produced, which can provide a safety net for women whose projects may have been less successful.

12. Smallholder Farmer Diversification Initiatives (Fiji) - A program in Fiji helps smallholder farmers - more than one third of whom are women - diversify their agricultural products in order to increase income and move away from dependence on a single product. The Fijian government is also helping their farmers to process and develop cassava into a value-added product, in order to increase farmer incomes.

13. Univerde Cooperative (Brazil) - Visitors to the neighborhood of Parque Genesiano da Luz, one of the poorest areas of Nova Iguaçu, Brazil will notice something interesting when they peer into the neighborhood's vacant lots - small community gardens. In 2007, Brazilian state-owened oil company Petrobas financed a project to help families start several community gardens, but when Petrobas' financing ended, many families stopped gardening altogether. A group of dedicated women continued even in the face of sever hardship - lacking seeds, transportation to take their produce to the market, and tools. The women banded together and formed the Univerde Cooperative to facilitate knowledge sharing and the sale of their excess produce in the local market.

14. Women for Women International (Afghanistan) - Since 2002, this organization has run a yearlong program training and providing funds to women in Afghanistan. Their goal is to provide these women with the means to support themselves financially. Courses include raising poultry for egg production, growing vegetables in greenhouses, and beekeeping.

Each of these inspiring initiatives represents a significant step forward for women. At the Women Deliver 2013 Conference, international leaders from around the world came together to discuss how to ensure the development of even more like these, so that women do not get left behind as we move toward a more equitable, sustainable, and productive planet.

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