G(irls)20 Summit: Moving the Debate on Women in Agriculture From Washington to Mexico City

Finally, it seems that everyone concerned about global food security is talking about the role of women in growing, preparing, and marketing the world's food. At the Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security last week in Washington, President Obama emphasized that most small farmers in Africa are women and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded the 700 or so participants in this important symposium that "the modern face of hunger is often a woman's face, because in many parts of the world, women still eat last and eat least." Clinton was emphatic that the new food security initiative just announced that day by the President would not be successful if developing and developed country partners committed to this initiative did not make significant strides towards gender equality.

Strong women's voices were heard last week in Washington in tune with Secretary Clinton. Catherine Bertini, Beverly Oda, Ertharin Cousin, Gayle Smith, Ann Veneman, Ellen Kullman, Kristalina Georgieva, Jacqueline Mkindi, Eleni Gabre-Madhin, and Janet Chigabatia-Adama, all leaders in their own right in the fight to end hunger and poverty called for women to have more access to land, credit, improved agriculture inputs like seeds and pest control methods, and better infrastructure linking the farm to the market, where they must sell most of their production. They were clear that gender equality is not just an option.

If the farmers of the world are going to meet the challenge of producing much more and more nutritious food in the face of population increases, the impact of economic development on diets, and the effects of climate change in food producing areas, we have to change the way we work, including the way we support women farmers.

Now fast forward from Washington, DC, to Mexico, host of the June 2012 meeting of the G-20 group of advanced and emerging economies. For the second time, the G(irls)20 Summit will bring together a group of young women, one each from the countries with delegates at the G-20 Summit, to discuss important issues they will face in the near future. These carefully selected, accomplished young women are positioned to become powerful future leaders in their countries, and in the world at large. They will be agents of change, key policy makers, and eventually role models for the next generation

This year, the group of G(irls)20 summit will focus on global food security, specifically the opportunity gained in terms of strategically engaging women in agriculture. On Monday, May 28, they will hear about global food security from many specialists. They will be expected to work together to formulate a group position on how to face the increasing demand for more and better food, how to build resilience into the agriculture sector under the pressure of climate change, and how to ensure that each child receives the necessary nutrition so key during the first thousand days of life, to ensure a productive and healthy human being. They will surely take head on the issue of gender equality, and its importance in ensuring global and household food security.

I will be moderating the discussions on food security on Monday. How terribly interesting it will be to hear what the young minds of Lucila and Barbara from South America; Vera and Sally from Europe, Veronica and Tomoko from Asia, Claire and Elisabeth from North America, Clender and Thato from Africa, and Noura from the Middle east have to say about the role of women in agriculture and food security. Will they see the issues the same way as the leaders who met just a week before in Washington? They come together with experience of growing up in food deficit countries, and food surplus regions. Some have lived close to real hunger, while others only know it via television. Their diets are very different. What the culture they have grown up in has told them so far about gender equality to be sure is quite diverse. They will grapple with the diversity of their own particular experience while attempting to forge a common proposal to put forward to the G20 delegates from their country.

So, May 28 will be an exciting day as we get an early look at these women leaders of the future, upon whose shoulders will fall the benefits of our advances to enhance food security and eliminate hunger from the globe, but more importantly the weight of our failure to rid the world once and for all of hunger, poverty, and gender inequality.

I will report back!