The role of women in integral human development: AVSI at the Holy See’s event towards the United Nations Food Systems Summit

Date 17.05.2021

This year, the Holy See has organised the series of seminars “Food for life, food justice, food for all” in order to contribute to the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit and the pre-Summit, which is scheduled between 26 and 28 July, 2021 in Rome. The seminars draw inspiration from the “levers of change” that will be adressed at the Summit: women, finance, human rights and innovation.

The first one took place on May 17 and focused on “The role of women in the promotion of integral human development”. Romana Koech illustrated how AVSI supports women in order to activate a process of self-reliance and community enhancement during the panel “Food and development: women and rural contexts".

In her speech Koech stressed the importance of restoring the dignity of and giving recognition to the women living at the margins of the world. To convey this message, she shared the stories of women, whom she met working with AVSI.

Remarks by Romana Koech

The stories I want to share prove that every woman is capable of putting food on the table and caring for their families with dignity and happiness, supporting their neighbours and community and caring for the environment.

As AVSI we are pleased to share experiences of women who were supported, accompanied to believe in themselves, to recognize and to be aware of their own dignity, and starting from this point, were able to become independent, to work, to support their children and families and to activate a process of development for the whole community they belong to.

This is a key point: we are interested in the promotion of the single person always connected to a family, to a community.

Women well supported are able to foster and strengthen the link person-community with a particular commitment and engagement. Their personal development is a development for the whole community.

Romana Koech AVSI Kenya Country representative

The journey starts from respect of their dignity, as human beings the fact that each of them has what it takes to be protagonist of own lives.

The stories

Jacinta is a widow and single mother of three, who has been living in the Kibera informal settlement (close to Nairobi) for the last 20 years. When she was enrolled in our project for household empowerment, which includes trainings in parental guidance, savings and investment, she was running a small grocery business which was at the verge of closing down especially at the height of COVID pandemic. She became a member of a village savings and loan association, which allowed her to borrow the money and receive the guidance she needed to boost her small business. She is now able to get money out of the business and pay for rent, food, transportation, and even save some money weekly.

Adelide was 27 years old when she fled her country in search of safety. She had a very difficult start when she arrived in Kenya and lost her one-year-old child due to an accident. She became a beneficiary of our urban refugee program, where we seek to improve resilience and copying capacities of the affected population by enhancing livelihood and accompanying refugee women towards self-reliance. Through guidance, she was able to accept the loss and started searching for casual jobs. After joining a village saving group and receiving training, she started her small business and is planning to pursue her passion for tailoring. She feels her dignity has been restored.

As the beneficiary of AVSI education program, Mercy was able to complete her studies and is currently working as sales manager representative for an insurance company. She is married with two children and expecting a third child soon. With her first salary, she helped her mother stabilize her income by cultivating produce for consumption and selling the extra, in addition to renovating her mother’s house.

About village savings and loan associations

The AVSI micro enterprise groups "village savings and loan associations", together with education, are key ways to engage and take that journey to recognize the important role played by women in food security. They show how an increased inclusion of women in leadership roles and decision-making can help reduce food insecurity.

AVSI works with 144 village savings and loan associations, of whom 85% of members are women. Every year they register a total amount of savings over € 37,000, which is available for reinvesting and family up-keeping at individual levels.

Groups are formed freely according to proximity, small christian communities, friendships; a person will join a group where they feel more comfortable. Each association comprise of 15-25 members, they save weekly and borrow to invest at minimum interest.

Final remarks

These stories show how women are extra-ordinary in their ordinariness, how with few resources they can get lifesaving results. Going forward, there is need to increase the support towards such works as these. These groups are not only business oriented: they are also emotional support groups, entry points for hard to reach communities and people.

The webinar series “Food for Life, Food Justice, Food for all”

This three-part series will address how the new concept of integral ecology, that focuses on the interactions between eco- and social systems, could be able to prompt a regenerative change in food systems in the post-COVID future. Inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato Si’, it will showcase the role Church actors can play in this process and amplify voices that are often ignored, such as those of women, indigenous communities, small scale farmers, and so on.

While the first webinar focused on the unique role of women leadership, the second will explore the impact that dignified work, finance and innovation could have in building sustainable food systems. The final webinar will elaborate on the conclusions drawn during the two previous ones, in addition to bringing up the topic of hunger and food inequality, linked to the contributions of the Church to this matter.

The UN Food Systems Summit

In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres will convene a Food Systems Summit as part of the Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The Summit will launch bold new actions to deliver progress on all 17 SDGs, each of which relies to some degree on healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems.

The Summit will bring together key players from many different fields (science, healthcare, youth organisations, indigenous groups, environmental activists, etc.) to work together and generate positive changes.