Gender Equality and Equity

The COACH project analyses collaborative agri-food chains with its aim to drive innovation in territorial food systems and improve outcomes for producers and consumers. In order to facilitate and systematise project outcomes, all COACH actions oscillate around “Spotlights” – 8 cross-cutting themes illustrating particular aspects of collaborative agri-food chains in territorial food systems.

The scope of the Gender Spotlight focuses on initiatives that address gender and social inequity in the food systems.


Every Spotlight chapter proves that all food aspects analysed within the COACH project are cross-cutting and thus should be considered as parts of one holistic policy approach. Chapter 6 is no different and embraces this idea even more than others since it focuses on gender equality, which is by definition a transversal topic.

At the beginning of the COACH project, when the consortium members identified subjects that should be scrutinised throughout COACH activities, there was no doubt that gender equity and inclusive participation in policymaking and food governance are crucial for the innovation of short food supply chains. In this chapter, we present the key learning from a Spotlight Encounter that was organized on gender equality in food systems at the beginning of the project, as well as some steps that were taken to initiate internal discussions around this important topic. 

GENDER refers to the social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female and the relationships between women and men and girls and boys, as well as the relations between women and between men. These attributes, opportunities and relationships are socially constructed and are learned through socialization processes. They are context/ time-specific and changeable. Gender determines what is expected, allowed and valued in a woman or a man in a given context. In most societies, there are differences and inequalities between women and men in responsibilities assigned, activities undertaken, access to and control over resources, as well as decision-making opportunities. Gender is part of the broader socio-cultural context. Other important criteria for socio-cultural analysis include class, race, poverty level, ethnic group and age.

EIGE, 2022

FAO states that women make up 48 per cent of agricultural employment, and as consumers, they are more likely to experience food insecurity and barriers in accessing productive resources and services. Unfortunately, even though women stand for approximately half of the global agricultural labour and are those suffering most from a lack of a high-quality food policy, they remain significantly under-represented in local institutions and governance mechanisms (FAO, 2022). Women have less decision-making power. In its report from 2011, called “The State of Food and Agriculture,” FAO proves that women’s work remains unpaid and unrecognised even though the evidence shows that if given the same level of resources as men, women achieve the same yield levels, they are resilient, resourceful, and innovative (FAO, 2011). Moreover, Angela Saini, in her brilliant book “Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong (Saini, 2017)” proves that there is no biological nor scientific reason to think that women wouldn’t be capable of doing anything that men do. Therefore, they should be granted equal decision-making power and opportunities. The significant discrepancy in women’s and men’s participation on the decision-making level is not supported by the quality of their performance but rather by cultural stereotypes regarding social attributes and opportunities associated with being male and female (EIGE, 2022), which refers to the lack of gender equity.

Improving women’s participation in agricultural value chains can help ensure the flow of quality goods, improve the efficiency of the business, develop the market opportunities that women represent as buyers and suppliers, target niche markets such as fair trade, ensure the dignity of work and economic equity for all, and lead to broad-based economic growth.

Quisumbing et al., 2014

As highlighted by multiple COACH partners, women not only struggle to own the land but are also forced to operate with machines and tools designed by men. Caroline Criado-Perez (2019) well describes this issue in her book “Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men.” She underlines that companies often do not test innovations from women’s perspectives, nor do they embrace techniques and tools that could more benefit women than men, because men dominate decision-making bodies, and there are no incentives for private businesses to support innovations that would primarily serve individuals different from an average Caucasian man. It is crucial to understand that by closing the gaps in resources and opportunities for women and men in agriculture, we not only respect a basic human right like gender equality, but we also lead to greater economic efficiency (EIGE, 2022).

At the stage of identifying key innovative aspects of the collaborative agri-food chains, the COACH consortium has unanimously agreed on the importance of gender equity. The first Spotlight Encounter, organised in May 2021, was dedicated to this subject and gathered a wide audience of women and men. The Encounter featured four presentations covering: a basic introduction to critical issues around gender in food systems by Isa Alvarez (from Urgenci) as well as two experience-sharing testimonials by Andrea Vaz-Konig (a female chef from the City of Vienna) and Ametz Ladislao (a female livestock breeder from Extalde Women). 

Andrea Vaz-König from the City of Vienna pointed everyone’s attention to the kitchen as a political space. She explained that many harmful stereotypes must be addressed and eliminated, e.g., the belief that women indeed are good cooks at home and in public canteens, but it’s men who are the great chefs de cuisine. Treating women in the kitchen with respect, enabling them to prosper and lead any type of kitchen – from the family, one to the luxurious one – will not only contribute to the basic human rights but could also facilitate food systems innovations. For the Public Food Procurement, it is essential to collaborate with public cooks to support the provision of high-quality food for everyone.

Sustainable agriculture requires addressing forms of power and privilege within agricultural production and supply chains to include more diverse human voices and address structural issues.

Farhall and Rickards, 2021

Amets Ladislao from Etxaldeko Emakumeak explained how women’s presence in food systems leads to more sustainable solutions and why it’s crucial to emancipate women in rural areas. Amets shared with us some insights on how reducing working hours contributes to engaging more people with agriculture and how it results in improving living conditions for everyone.

Isa Álvarez Vispo, who works for URGENCI, added to all the above-mentioned aspects of gender equality from the feminist perspective. During the COACH Spotlight Encounter, but also in the interview she gave to our colleagues from the Agroecology Now, she made it clear that our food systems are based on the anthropocentric needs – needs of men that come from the androcentrism perspective representing the Western point of view, seeking homogenisation rather than diversity. According to Isa, we are used to praising the productive work built around concepts of economics, politics and logistics. At the same time, we do not appreciate and ignore the reproductive work that is based on shared responsibility, a sense of care, emotions, and willingness to support others rather than profit at all costs. In the capitalistic reality, women and their work are invisible. For Isa Álvarez Vispo, gender equity is a tool, while feminism is what catalyses the systemic change. It is an idea that focuses on eliminating hierarchies driven by patriarchal values and therefore addresses all inequalities. From the feminist perspective, diversity and equality are the keys to innovative food systems.

For there to be a feminist food system, the system has to change. Now in the centre, there is the capitalist market, and that centre must be changed. In the centre, there must be life, people, and the planet.

Isabel Álvarez, 2022

When asked why they decided to join the event, the participants provided a broad spectrum of answers that illustrate the problem’s immense scale. Central European female participants highlighted that even though women stand for a significant part of the agricultural labour in the industry, they are not as visible as men, who usually play the representative role of the farm and speak to the customers and public authorities. They have mentioned that men generally own the business and/or the land and livestock.

Another participant of the Spotlight Encounter shared the perspective of his female partner, who is a seed grower and struggles to operate heavy agriculture machinery designed for men. As a member of the Landworkers’ Alliance, who is in regular touch with many agricultural workers, he underlined that even though the majority of the farmer couples work together, it is usually the man who participates in ZOOM videos and plays the representative role in general. Women remain invisible even though they work as hard and as much as men.

Another participant pointed out the connection between the subject of gender equity and food accessibility and social equity. Finally, male academics and members of food movements from England and France shared their reflections on the fact that even though they were aware of gender equality and its many forms, only recently they have realised that being indifferent to these problems and not advocating for the change is a way of maintaining the status quo and is wrong.

EQUITY – It’s impossible to achieve equality without taking into account the intersectional nature of oppression that different people go through. As such, there is a growing consensus on the need to focus on equity. Equity recognizes that each person does not begin in the same place in society. Identity markers such as race, class, disability, gender and sexual orientation can intersect to affect lived experience and create new and more concentrated circumstances of oppression. Resources and opportunities therefore must be distributed based on the needs of its recipients, in order to reach an equal outcome. Equity does not undermine equality, but rather provides the means to achieve it.

EIGE, 2022

In the podcast “A journey through Feminist Agroecology” created by the Coventry University members on behalf of the Agroecology Now, in collaboration with CIDSE, one can learn more about why agroecology is not possible without feminism. The episodes explain feminist intersectionality, aspects like decolonisation, race, accessibility, and many more.

Gender equity is essential for innovation in collaborative agri-food chains in territorial food systems. However, small-scale farmers and food operators, even though they are interested in the subject and aware of gender inequalities, tend to prioritise other aspects of food systems change, which are perceived as more urgent. Food policies should incentivise issues of gender equity to make gender transformation a priority for all.

As a first step and to encourage Beacons and organizations to start reflecting on gender issues within their organisation and their work, a Gender Equality and Inclusivity Guide was collectively elaborated as a guiding tool

Beacons who contributed to the Gender Equity & Equality Spotlight analysis