Gender mainstreaming lessons from FAO’s technical cooperation assistance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Submitted by Arwa Khalid on 25 November 2017

Blog by Arwa Khalid (Evaluation Officer), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ (FAO’s) work on gender equality

Gender equality is central to the Organization’s mandate to achieve food security for all by raising levels of nutrition, increasing agricultural productivity and natural resource management, and improving the lives of rural populations. As a result of the evaluation of FAO’s role and work related to Gender and Development, concluded in 2011, a corporate Policy on Gender Equality was adopted in 2012. With this policy, the Organization committed to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment as a key to eradicating hunger and poverty worldwide. The policy specifies FAO’s goals and objectives related to gender equality, and delineates an Accountability Structure for ensuring policy oversight and the achievement of results.

Introduced in 2013, FAO’s Reviewed Strategic Framework 2010-19 outlined five new Strategic Objectives representing the areas of work on which FAO would focus its efforts in support of Member States. In this new strategy, gender is treated as a cross-cutting theme. This is also in line with Sustainable Development Goal 5: “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Economic and Cultural Reforms: What's in it for women?

The Kingdom has set an ambitious plan for structural reform, including the recently announced Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme (2020), unveiled by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016. Through these reforms, the Kingdom intends to diversify the economy away from dependence on oil. Instead it will focus on increased employment, privatization, and monitoring of ministerial performances, the reduction of public sector expenditures, and a shift toward employing Saudi nationals in the private sector, which is currently dominated by foreign workers.

The reforms are intended to restructure the public sector and achieve fiscal balance by 2020. The main obstacle to this goal, however, is the lack of qualified Saudi nationals to replace foreign workers. Additional improvements will be needed in the education system to train qualified workers, as well as in the private sector to train and employ more Saudis. Women university graduates outnumber men. However, their representation remains minimal in professional jobs and or key positions across various sectors. Women’s participation in the workforce is only 21 percent, representing only 18 percent of the female working-age population. According to Vision 2030, the government intends to incorporate more women into the workforce, increasing participation from 21 to 30 percent.

As stated in Agenda 2030, sustainable development actions must “leave no one behind”, including social and cultural reforms and the greater inclusion of women in all aspects of Saudi society.

Evaluation of FAO’s Technical Assistance to Saudi Arabia

Amid this transformation process, the FAO Office of Evaluation has conducted the first comprehensive, independent evaluation of the technical cooperation assistance in the Kingdom i.... This evaluation provided a rare opportunity to examine the extent of gender mainstreaming in the Saudi context, among other technical areas.

The evaluation found that FAO has achieved notable results in a number of technical domains such as animal health, fisheries and aquaculture. However, in the absence of strategic engagement with the Government of KSA to strengthen national food security policies and priorities, the country did not benefit from the full array of FAO’s services. Useful advances were particularly evident in the animal resources interventions, which featured a strong component on capacity building in critical issues related to animal health, to improve disease control programmes, reduce the risk of disease transmission and facilitate early disease detection and action. These activities will help to upgrade the veterinary health delivery system in the Kingdom so that it complies with international standards set by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and FAO. Likewise, the environmental rehabilitation and aquaculture projects made significant progress.

However, the evaluation found that the assistance missed the opportunity to promote gender mainstreaming in its technical work. The following section offers recommendations to better address gender issues in KSA.

Recommendations for Mainstreaming Gender in the KSA Programme

FAO’s future assistance must benefit from the Organization’s work on gender and building on the momentum of the government’s intention and willingness to incorporate more women in the workforce during this transformation process. The evaluation suggests the following actions for consideration by the programme designers and implementers:Improve targeting of programme beneficiaries (in livestock activities, where poor rural women and children are responsible for small ruminants, as well as aquaculture, date farming and other areas) and stakeholders, including women and youth;

  • Consider gender as a cross-cutting theme;
  • Nominate a Gender Focal Point based in KSA to facilitate communication with, and benefit from, the Gender Officer based in the FAO's Regional Office in Cairo, Egypt;
  • Promote recruitment of women in positions of specialists and junior experts (national and international);
  • Seek and promote partnerships with the Ministry of Education to build the capacity of women teachers in the dissemination of extension and rural development messages among rural women; and
  • Training courses should include both female and male university graduates.

In line with Vision 2030, recommendations are intended to facilitate collaboration between the evaluation team and programme designers, and to promote gender mainstreaming in agricultural development in Saudi Arabia.

For further information on the FAO Office of Evaluation and to access the full library of FAO evaluation reports, click here

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