International Mountain Day 2022: FAO aims spotlight on gender equality

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today marked International Mountain Day 2022 with a high-level event at its headquarters in Rome, a series of celebrations around the world and a new study that sheds light on the issue of gender equality in mountains.

International Mountain Day, celebrated every December 11, aims to raise awareness about the importance of mountains to life and seeks to build alliances that bring positive change around the world. FAO is the lead UN agency for mountains and for organizing the Day, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 2002.

The theme of this year’s edition is Women move mountains.

In mountainous regions, more than 50 percent of women carry out agricultural activities.

Yet, women face discrimination in some form or other in many walks of life, and mountain women are particularly at risk when men emigrate in search for work.

This means women are often the primary managers of mountain resources, as well as guardians of biodiversity, keepers of traditional knowledge, custodians of local culture and experts in traditional medicine. It also means that they face a number of additional constraints. On top of lacking access to credit, land ownership, markets, trainings and digital access, they are even more exposed to the negative impacts of the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Women in mountain regions can also be victims of gender-based discrimination in many sociocultural environments and work sectors traditionally dominated by men.

“Gender equality is central to FAO’s mandate to achieve food security for all by raising levels of nutrition, improving agricultural productivity and natural resource management, and improving the lives of rural populations,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said in his opening remarks at the ceremony in Rome. “It is time to value mountain women and strengthen our support, providing them with access to what they need, especially to science, innovation, digitalization and technology,” he added.

Andorra Foreign Minister Maria Ubach, Stella Jean, an Italian-Haitian fashion designer and Mountain Partnership Goodwill Ambassador, and Nikki Santos, Executive Director at the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute and Mountain Partnership Goodwill Ambassador, were among those attending the event.

Among other highlights, it showcased a video and fashion show illustrating the recent collaboration between the Peruvian women’s collective Illariy Threads4Dreams and Stella Jean. For this collaboration, Stella Jean travelled to the village of Tolconi, located 4800 metres above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, to create garments using multicoloured alpaca fibre for a 2023 fashion collection and other items to be sold directly by the women online. Through this partnership – borne from an earlier collaboration between the FAO Women’s Committee and the Mountain Partnership – the women are creating new models that can fetch higher prices on international markets.

Mountain women

To mark this year’s edition of International Mountain Day, FAO has published a study highlighting the stories and voices of mountain women, with a focus on rural areas and mountain tourism. The publication was produced together with the Mountain Partnership Secretariat and the Feminist Hiking Collective, a member of the Mountain Partnership and the Mountain Women of the World network.

Entitled Mountain women of the world: Challenges, resilience and collective power, the study is based on in-depth interviews with 313 local mountain women in eight countries – Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Italy, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Tanzania.

The interviewees were engaged in a range of activities, such as farming and handicrafts, as well as working in the tourism industry as guides, porters, cooks or guesthouse managers.

The study found that women’s work is socially, politically and economically invisible in most countries. Achieving recognition for the value of their work – whether paid and unpaid – remains a challenge for many mountain women. Working women in many mountain regions also have limited access to basic health services and education.

Improving their lives requires funding and a series of policies, including granting women the right to resources and services under equal conditions as men and facilitating their access to local, national and international markets through training and priority access to loans and other financial services.

The study also offers reasons for optimism. Technologies such as the internet are allowing women to organize themselves into so-called “networks of solidarity,” and this trend was accelerated during COVID-19, with 61 percent of respondents telling researchers they had connected with other women during the pandemic.

As one mountain woman in the study is quoted as saying, “In times of challenges, people get closer, and life in the mountains is full of challenges.”

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