By Zablon Oyugi
African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) has announced 50 female Fellows to join the second Cohort of its Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship designed to help catalyze the design and implementation of gender-responsive policies in Africa’s agri-food systems.
The two-year career development program aims to grow a pool of confident and capable mid-career African women to lead policy changes to improve African smallholders’ livelihoods, particularly women.
Originating from six Anglophone and Francophone African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Senegal), the Fellows hold positions in various institutions – from government and education to NGOs and the private sector – with most working in social sciences. The selected applicants all have at least 10 years of experience in the policy field in agriculture and food systems at national, regional, or continental levels.
With a significant number (18) working within governmental roles, these women are well-positioned to contribute to enhanced, evidence-based policymaking – a key ambition of the program.
This year’s selection sees some Fellows from the same institutions as those from Cohort one, including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Labour Organization. This is hailed as a positive step towards building teams who can champion policy change within organisations or in particular policy areas.
With a significant number of Fellows coming from Ethiopia and Madagascar – 11 and 13 respectively – the aim is to generate a pool of expertise amongst women who can support one another in influencing and fostering policy change.
Why the GRASP Fellowship?
A new report published by FAO this year, The Status of Women in Agrifood Systems, reveals that whilst there has been some progress, substantial gender inequalities in agrifood systems persist. The report further highlights the need to intensify efforts towards policy reforms to ensure that agricultural policies specifically address gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The GRASP Fellowship focuses on fostering gender-responsive policies to close the gender gaps in agrifood systems: “One of our goals at AWARD is to support women to not only become effective leaders of agricultural research for development agendas, but also to promote an enabling environment for equitable agri-food systems. The GRASP Fellowship offers unparalleled opportunities to women in Africa, and is cultivating a growing pool of women to be technically competent to lead policy processes and decisions that will take into account the unique experiences of women and men smallholders,” says, Dr. Susan Kaaria, Director, AWARD.
The 50 women selected for the GRASP Fellowship will receive customized training in mentoring, advanced leadership skills, negotiations skills, gender in agricultural policy, and masterclasses on policy processes. Beneficiaries will also receive catalytic funding and access to networks to enable them to lead policy processes that integrate gender for agricultural transformation in Africa.
Each Fellow has been matched with a senior policy professional who will serve as a mentor, and the Fellows will also each select a junior policy professional to mentor later in the Fellowship period. The trio will be supported to participate in structured mentoring programs to foster knowledge sharing and development of Policy Innovation Projects that will provide hands-on practical experience in collaborating toward gender-responsive policy development.