Women at the Table: the Importance of Female Representation at High-level Events in the Agri-food Sector and Beyond

Women at the Table: The Importance of Female Representation at High-level Events in the Agri-food Sector and Beyond

Where were the women at COP28’s World Climate Action Summit? This is a question posed by many in the aftermath of the event. The international summit on climate, which gathers world leaders from 197 countries as well as the European Union, is the global centre stage for addressing the urgency of climate action. While many milestones and commitments were made during the UAE edition, the COP28 “family photo” caused a stir online due to its clear gender imparity.

The numbers speak volumes: only 15 out of the 140 world leaders scheduled to speak at COP28 were women. An analysis of the party delegations further highlights the gender gap, with less than 40% female representation- still an improvement from previous editions. This leads to very important questions about equal representation and inclusivity. The ever-increasing climate urgency requires collective action encompassing the views of all affected by it. As UN Women urges, women must be an active part of this critical conversation. Not only because women and girls are among the most affected, but also due to the positive climate impact associated with increased female representation at all levels: from national parliaments to the local and business levels (UN Women, 2022).

While the COP28 “family photo” reinforces the tendency for women to be underrepresented in climate policy decision-making, the gender imparity at COP28 can very well have a spillover effect on the agriculture and food sectors. Its Dubai edition was an important milestone for agri-food, being the first time food systems were made part of the main program. With over 200 events focused on the topic, it brought the perspectives of various non-governmental stakeholders. As a sector faced with its pre-existing challenges of closing the gender gap, including the voices of women and ensuring their equal representation is crucial. 

Zooming in on key agri-food events in December

While there was significant talk about the lack of female representation at COP28, one cannot help but ask if this is a single example or the norm when it comes to high-level events on a European and international scale. December was a busy month for the agri-food sector, with events such as Food2030 and EU Agri-Food Days, which included the 2023 EU Agricultural Outlook and EU-AGRI Digital conferences. 

A quick scan of the agendas of those events paints a rather positive picture, with a very gender-balanced panel of speakers. More notably, more than half of the speakers during the 2023 EU Agricultural Outlook Conference were female, with 2 female farmers being among the 7 farmers speaking at the event. Similarly, Food2030 and the EU AGRI-Digital Conference had gender-balanced panels, with 50 and 40 per cent female speakers respectively. This indicates that events at the European level give importance to ensuring a balanced gender representation among featured speakers. 

The importance of representation of women in the agri-food sector

But why is gender parity and representation of women crucial for the agri-food sector in the first place? The diverse representation is closely interlinked with inclusion, which are both stepping stones for women’s empowerment and the advancement of gender equality. 

As the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations highlight in their latest report, agrifood systems are a key employer for women globally, and their empowerment has a positive impact on agricultural production and food security among others (FAO 2023). On the European level, the sector remains male-dominated, with only about 30% of farms across the EU managed by women. Within those numbers, there are significant differences between member states. In Austria, every third farm is female-led. Meanwhile, in Germany, only one in 10 farms are managed by women (Euractiv 2023). This feeds into larger challenges the sector faces, such as securing the future of European farming, with generational renewal being a front-running topic.

Turning to the policy level, POLITICO also highlights that the EU farm policy is largely dominated by men. Looking closer at the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), its 2013 reform had no female MEP rapporteurs and only 25% of the shadow rapporteurs were women. During the 2021 CAP reform, there was a slight increase in numbers, with 1 female MEP rapporteur and 33% female shadow rapporteurs (POLITICO 2022). 

Taking all the above into account, it is safe to say that while there is an increase in participation and representation of women at different levels, our work is nowhere near done. 

The Gender Alliance for Innovation in Agriculture (GAIA)

The need for better representation of women in agri-tech and their further involvement in the sector were among the key reasons why GAIA was created. Building on the experience of the SmartAgriHubs Gender Task Force, we bring together a diverse team of experts offering connections, knowledge, and sharing of best practices and advice. Forging the Alliance in 2023, we were able to get on board some amazing partners committed to closing the gender gap in the sector, and we are just getting started. Join us on this journey to address the inequalities in the food and tech sectors to ensure an inclusive and sustainable future.












Elka Hubenova, Schuttelaar & Partners/GAIA

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