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Forum discussed gender mainstreaming initiatives for post-COVID-19 recovery

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Philippines Gender Network (IPGN) and the Agricultural Transformation and Market Integration in the ASEAN Region: Responding to Food Security and Inclusiveness Concerns (ATMI-ASEAN) project co-implemented by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) organized a virtual forum on mainstreaming gender equality towards an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID 19 recovery in Southeast Asia held on 21 January 2022.

According to Dr. Pedcris M. Orencio, SEARCA Program Head for Research and Thought Leadership, the IFAD-funded ATMI-ASEAN project covers the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.

Gender mainstreaming is a globally accepted strategy that accounts for the differences in needs, living conditions, and circumstances of women and men when designing, implementing and evaluating policies, programs and projects so that they benefit both women and men and enhance gender equality.

Orencio stressed that mainstreaming gender equality must be at the heart of the recovery agenda as this is crucial to development, particularly in ensuring programs are gender-balanced—something that is not given much attention during a crisis. He explained that by making the policymaking process more inclusive for women and men, better governance systems can be achieved.

Dr. Glenn B. Gregorio, SEARCA Director, pointed out that the “frontline” role assumed by the agriculture sector and key players during the pandemic had transcended gender norms and biases. Noting the diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences of the forum participants at the outset, he urged them to contribute to the discussion and actions to realize the transformative impacts of empowering women and men, the youth, and indigenous communities to manage the challenges in the region’s agricultural sector.

At the forum, local and international experts discussed gender mainstreaming initiatives in Southeast Asia to come up with recommendations for scaling up and adoption to complement and support the implementation of the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF).

Miguel Rafael Musngi, Senior Officer at the ASEAN Secretariat Poverty Eradication and Gender Division, presented the ACRF and the ASEAN Gender Outlook. It complemented the presentations of Mr. Steven Jonckheere, IFAD Senior Technical Specialist for Gender & Social Inclusion, on the organization’s current gender equality and women’s empowerment initiatives and of Dr. Agnes Quisumbing, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow, on the reach-benefit-empower framework for gender equality in agriculture.

IFAD Country Director for the Philippines and Myanmar Alessandro Marini affirmed that gender is currently one of the four key mainstreaming thematic priorities of IFAD in terms of investments and operations. He said the IPGN facilitates knowledge exchanges and sharing of lessons among the different IFAD projects to ensure that the quality of IFAD operations in the country, particularly with respect to gender equality, is high. He explained that such forums support IFAD in harvesting knowledge and best practices to help further improve the effectiveness of its operations.

Gregorio also noted the importance of partnerships among organizations in providing in-depth knowledge and co-creation platform as the region welcomes new movements in the emerging digital sphere and gears towards the ASEAN Gender Outlook

SEARCA, through the ATMI-ASEAN project, hosted a panel session to discuss specific gender mainstreaming strategies on key priority topics under the ACRF. The selected topics and their discussants were food and nutrition security by Dr. Devesh Roy, IFPRI Senior Research Fellow; climate change and disaster resilience, by Dr. Julian Gonsalves, Senior Advisor, International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR); and digital technologies in agriculture, by Atty. Dulce Blanca Punzalan, Chief Executive Officer, Crea8 Innov8 Marketing.

These topics were also the focus of the IPGN-facilitated breakout session wherein participants from different countries shared their gender-related programs and initiatives. Each group also provided recommendations and proposed courses of action to support and complement the implementation of the ACRF.

IPGN Chair Rhine Joy Lesigues, who is also the Institutions and Gender Specialist (IGS) of the IFAD-supported project Fisheries, Coastal Resources and Livelihood Project (FishCORAL), recommended that in future IPGN strive to extend its membership and broaden its reach by implementing activities and providing support to other gender-related programs in the Asia-Pacific region. She explained that this will be an opportunity for IPGN to capacitate IFAD-supported projects and link them with regional gender experts as well as to document gender issues, strategies, and lessons learned through knowledge sharing activities.

For his part, Dr. Shahidur Rashid, Director of IFPRI-South Asia, recommended the following actions to improve gender mainstreaming: know gender differential effects in the food system; look beyond food security to include food safety, nutrition, and overall health security; and regard climate change as an “existential challenge” for the region.

Rashid also emphasized that mainstreaming gender equality is a lifetime endeavor, and those working to promote this should continuously strive to open spaces for multistakeholder discussions and encourage equal representation in all aspects of the policy-making process such as in the case of COVID-19 response planning and decision-making.

Yolando Arban, IFAD Philippines’ Special Adviser and Acting Country Programme Officer, formally closed the forum with an assurance of IFAD’s continuous commitment to support gender empowerment and transformation, especially in the field of agriculture and rural development where many women and girls are vulnerable.

The forum was attended by some 190 participants from government agencies and ministries in the region; from international and regional institutions, such as the ASEAN Secretariat, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Grow Asia and its country partnerships; from civil society organizations in the region such as the Asian Partnership for the Development of Human Resources in Rural Asia (AsiaDHRRA) and its country offices, Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) and its member-organizations; and at the local level such as the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection (MoWECP) in Indonesia, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development (MWFCD) in Malaysia, Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR) in Myanmar, among others; from the ATMI-ASEAN Project implementers and country partner-institutions; and from IFAD-supported projects in the Philippines.

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