Working across sectors to uphold rights

Aliza Lauter, Global Policy & Advocacy, CARE

Date Published

May 3, 2023

Working across sectors to uphold rights

We often give thanks to all those responsible for bringing food to our tables, yet we overlook the poor conditions in which they work.

Globally, there are more than 800 million people who are employed in the agricultural sector. From small-scale farmers and fisher folk to manufacturing and distribution workers to those who stock our grocery store shelves with food. Rural farmers and workers carry food through every level of food systems and ensure others do not go hungry. Yet often they themselves cannot access the food they help to produce.

Women feel the effects of these inequalities within our food system the most. Women farmers play a vital role in every step of the food system: in global food production, water collection, and in the way families eat. Yet if the poorest, most vulnerable are the first to go hungry, it’s the women that often eat last when food is scarce.

At CARE we know this reality far too well. For over 75 years, CARE has led the way to a better life for the world’s most vulnerable people. In 2022 alone, CARE and partners worked in 111 countries, reaching more than 174 million people around the world through 1,600 projects.

CARE focuses our efforts on girls and women because they are disproportionately affected by poverty. If everyone started from the same place on the path out of poverty, CARE wouldn’t need to focus on girls and women. But that is not the case, not yet.

True transformation of our food systems is possible, when women can claim their rights as the leaders, innovators, farmers, food industry workers, caretakers, food vendors and saleswomen they are. We have seen it happen over and over in local communities and in CARE’s work around the world. And when women are empowered and thrive, entire communities are lifted out of poverty.

In the world of work, the World Economic Forum warns of a gender crisis of unknown impact. Women are disproportionately impacted by economic and work crises, because they are often met with unequal and unsafe working conditions, face inequitable unpaid care and domestic work duties, and largely work in sectors with few social and legal protections. Women make up most informal workers; and the majority of health care workers who often are at the front-line and face additional risks. These complex factors have an impact on women’s and girls’ ability to engage in decent work and/or quality education, to stay in work, the conditions of their work, and whether they benefit from the money they earn.
CARE works around the globe to ensure women can access and engage in dignified work opportunities, through our programmes, advocating for change, and working with allies and local partners including at community level. For example, CARE started the Women Respond initiative that unpacked the needs and realities of women and girls, and how they responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. To address the much-needed transition to green economies and foster gender-equitable sustainable economies, CARE developed advocacy and programming on Making the Green Transition Work for Women.

CARE was a champion for the 2019 adoption of the ILO Convention on Addressing Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, the first legally-binding international treaty focused on addressing and preventing violence and harassment in the workplace. This landmark agreement followed years of campaigning by civil society including CARE, during which we launched our first global campaign, #ThisIsNotWorking, to press for its adoption and raise public awareness about workplace violence and harassment. The campaign involved 24 CARE offices throughout the world with a reach of 182 million people.

And when the ILO adopted the Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189) in 2011, setting international standards for domestic workers, CARE made it a key priority to ensure its ratification by national governments, particularly in Latin America and Asia Pacific. The partnerships CARE established in these countries engaged in coalition building, networking, and capacity building, with the goal of influencing public policies, strengthening their organizations, and improving the lives of more than 10 million domestic workers across the region by 2030.

In the garment sector, CARE’s Made by Women is supporting meaningful change across the garment industry by promoting improved practices in global supply chains, strengthening women’s leadership, and working with governments to promote public policies which will positively impact workers. During the first four years of this project alone, over 167,000 women garment workers, and nearly 50,000 men, were able to access rights which they were previously denied. Overall, our work indirectly reached more than 900,000 people, including 519,000 women in the garment industry, across Asia and parts of Africa, and 4.1 million women garment workers stand to benefit from improved legal protections because of CARE’s advocacy.

Given CARE’s frontline role and experiences in battling hunger and improving livelihoods, the UN Secretary General asked CARE to lead the action track to “Advancing Equitable Livelihoods” during the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) process. During 2020, as CARE started to lead this work, it was estimated that over 1.6 billion workers – half of the global workforce – were at risk of losing their livelihoods. Estimates showed that women’s jobs were 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s jobs. Job losses translated to income losses for two thirds of households on average, and this was more severe for households with women. And income losses meant there was less food on the table for all.

Emerging from 18 months of consultations with stakeholders around the world, CARE committed to furthering this work with IFAD, ILO, and other partners in the coalition working to ensure equitable work for all food systems workers. We are engaging our country offices on how to improve worker rights and promoting advocacy on local, regional, and national level that will improve livelihoods for food systems workers.

We cannot address extreme poverty worldwide until we address economic justice and equitable livelihoods for every farmer, fisherfolk, and every worker in food systems. We welcome you to join us in this daunting yet necessary challenge for justice.

Date Published:

Rural farmers and workers carry food through every level of food systems and ensure others do not go hungry. Yet often they themselves cannot access the food they help to produce.

Aliza Lauter, CARE