Elisabeth Prügl reported first results from her analysis of international discourse on gender in agriculture and food security at the Annual Meetings of the Swiss Political Science Association in St. Gallen on January 12, 2017. Her paper entitled Frontiers of Neoliberal Globalization: Gender in Agriculture and Food Security examines 32 reports, working papers, and briefs produced by international agencies since 2007 with a particular focus on the FAO.

The paper illustrates the contested nature of the incorporation of feminist ideas into discourses on agriculture and food security. The starting point for many gender-focused publications is the gender productivity gap, i.e. the suggestion that plots managed by women generate lower yields than plots managed by men. The reasons for this difference are seen in various forms of discrimination. Neoliberal ideas that promote development through markets and technological inputs paired with “good governance” inform the solutions proposed, such as access to inputs and land rights. These ideas celebrate women as independent producers who, with the equitable access to resources and a non-discriminatory environment, are capable of increasing their productivity and of pulling households out of poverty.

In addition to this individualizing construction of gender as women, the study also finds in the documents elements of a structuralist approach to gender as a social relation. Reminiscent of the “gender and development approach” some documents emphasized that gender relations are labour relations, that it is necessary to value women’s reproductive labour, that this labour is particularly important for nutrition and food security, and that many women play a distinctive role in farming systems around the world—not as independent farmers, but as flexible family labourers. Better property rights, inputs, and services targeted to women individually may do little to enhance their households’ food security. In addition, it is necessary to empower women politically, to give them a voice in decision-making both in households and the public sphere.