Delft, The Netherlands, 13 Mar 2015

Women's Day & World Water Day conference at UNESCO-IHE

On the occasion of International Women's Day and World Water Day, UNESCO-IHE and Women for Water Partnership organized a conference on sustainable food security. The programme was moderated by Prof. Michael McClain, who stressed the importance of considering gender roles in the growing need for food provision. Three speakers gave the audience a close look into the broad scope of their work with regard to food security and gender.

Equal access to productive resources

Ms. Ilaria Sisto is Gender and Development officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In her presentation she addressed the action neededĀ to increase agricultural productivity and ensure food and nutrition security. There is more action needed specifically on promoting gender equality in water resources and agriculture. "Women from Sub-Saharan Africa for example, spend 40 billion hours a year on collecting water," Ilaria Sisto stresses. She calls this time poverty. Women often lack time, their work-load is heavy.

In addition, female farmers produce less crops as they control less land than male farmers. Ilaria Sisto: "At FAO we have developed a policy with five gender equality objectives, such as equal participation of women as decision-makers in rural institutions and in shaping laws and programs and equal access to decent employment and income, land and other productive resources. Gender equality goes hand in hand with social, economic and environmental sustainability."

To the question from the audience on the main accomplishment of FAO over the past years, Ms. Sisto stressed that FAO made progress in capacity development in the form of training and data sharing, which she considered extremely important to increase gender awareness with policy makers. Another participant from the audience stressed the importance of not just access to food but to nutritious food. FAO could help with increasing consciousnessĀ on nutritious food.

The presentation of Ms. Ilaria Sisto can be downloaded here:

How can women control water?

Thinking in an integral way

Ms. Frederike Praasterink, Board of Governors & Lecturer Sustainable World Food Supply at Den Bosch University of Applied Sciences, began her passionate speech by sharing insights with the audience about the Dutch food production sector. Even many Dutch people did not know that the Netherlands is the second biggest exporter of agro and food products worldwide. Ms. Paasterink continued by stressing the importance of three issues about food: food security, food and waste losses, and scarcity of raw materials.

"The relationship between food and health is becoming a much bigger issue. The health and retail sector should work closely together in order to address food and nutrition security. Also, the loss of food is huge. About one third of the food produced per year in the world for human consumption is lost or wasted. Another pressing issue is the increasing scarcity of raw materials, not just land and water but also earth metals are becoming scarce," explains Frederike Praasterink.

She advocates for businesses to contribute to the so-called circular economy, where waste materials are reused for other series of products. "In the last century the focus was on productivity of agricultural land; in this century the focus should be on the productivity of raw materials" stresses Praasterink. In conclusion, she mentions the importance of providing students with the opportunity to develop a T-shaped profile in order to really achieve a system change. "Sustainable development is part of the problem; making an existing system less bad, is not a real solution"

The presentation of Ms. Frederike Praasterink can be downloaded here:

Making sustainable food security happen

Male dominance in water for food security

Last but not least, Prof. Charlotte de Fraiture, Professor of Hydraulic Engineering for Land and Water Development at UNESCO-IHE gave a presentation on the relationship between gender, water and food. She pointed out an article from the Economist which presented a research on the so called glass ceiling regarding equal treatment of men and women at work in different regions of the world. In addtion, the research demonstrates that in general, there are more female students enrolled than men. However, Prof. de Fraiture stresses that the number of enrolment of students is not a sufficient condition for gender equality. Other aspects negatively affect gender equality, such as stereotypes in the working environment. "Female engineers always have to explain why they have become an engineer" says De Fraiture.

She continues by giving examples of gender balance in the MSc programmes at UNESCO-IHE in which on average over the past five years, 41% of the students enrolled are women. She explains how male dominance still exists in water for food security by highlighting two aspects: land and water rights and the professional irrigation domain.

To the question how women can be interested in the 'harder' science, Prof. de Fraiture answers that it can be small things, for example through introducing blind grading, as female students are currently graded lower in technical subjects. Secondly, role modelling is important as well as an inclusive culture in the workplace.

The presentation of Prof. de Fraiture can be downloaded here:

Gender, Water and Food


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