Tanya Cox, Director at CONCORD Europe
For a long time now, I’ve been mulling over how difficult it is for decision-makers to move on from a general understanding of the fact that ‘things have gone rather pear-shaped’ to their being convinced that a fundamentally new approach to the world is needed in order to rebuild better.
As I see it, it’s not about solving the current problems – by addressing things issue by issue – but about putting in place profoundly new ways of working. Which requires totally new ways of thinking. Not to mention the political will to make it happen. Only in this way, will we really solve inequalities and ensure we all have a far greater sense of well-being and freedom to lead our lives in a way that suits us. It was Albert Einstein who once said that we cannot solve our problems using the same thinking that created the problem. And yet time and again, this is what we see among EU decision-makers.
Let’s just take the dominant global food system as an example. It has to typify two underlying fault lines of today’s world: our patriarchal society and the quest for ever greater profit for corporations (dressed up as ‘the need for growth’). Both of which cause and amplify huge power imbalances. Our food system was rotting even before the global COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, close to 690 million people faced hunger on a daily basis – that’s more people than the whole of the EU population, plus the UK, plus Russia! The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified that figure. It is estimated that 132 million more people became undernourished in the past year. But are global leaders fundamentally revisiting our food and agriculture system?
I would argue not, if the European Green Deal – which spawned the Farm-to-Fork Strategy – can be called Europe’s new growth strategy! How is that possible? Well, because those supposed to be solving the problems are not questioning the preconceived wisdoms and ways of thinking. And may be subjected to heavy lobbying by the food industry.
COVID-19 again exposed the fragility of our globalised food supply system and the inequity of its production, processing and delivery models, dependent on workers without rights. In the case of the food system, disruption led to millions of tonnes of crops rotting in the fields of some producer countries and communities at risk of becoming undernourished, while rich countries, on the other hand, are in the luxurious position of hoarding food and maintaining well-stocked supermarket shelves. That’s why diverse collectives across the globe are increasingly advocating for food sovereignty and the right of peoples to define and organise their own agricultural and food systems.
Women and girls have borne the uneven brunt of the impacts of COVID-19, and this is especially visible in the food system. Women are at the core of the food system, but are continuously overlooked and discriminated against within it. Just to take one example, women constitute less than 20% of the world’s landholders but are responsible for the majority of the world’s food supply. But they are, shockingly, still denied equal rights to own land in 90 countries. This gendered asymmetry of power extends from the farm to the fork: women are often the last to eat if food is scarce in the family.
Now, thanks to the evidence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the EU has claimed that it wishes to seize the opportunity to ‘build back better’. However, if EU strategies don’t address head on the desperate need to decentralise the global food system and allow for diversified, localised and shorter supply chains, supporting agro-ecological methods of production, then not much will change. Similarly, if the EU does not apply the principle of policy coherence for sustainable development to all policy areas which have an impact on food and agriculture (such as trade, migration, climate change, environment and biodiversity) not much will change. The EU must push back against corporate capture of policy-making in this arena and do what is right for people and planet, not simply for profit. The new Gender Equality Action Plan III does offer a glimmer of hope…if all the commitments are implemented.
Having participated in the conference on inequalities that the EC and the Agence française de développement co-hosted recently, I saw at first-hand the work we have ahead of us when even some inequalities ‘experts’ defended the infamous growth paradigm! And failed to understand that they are looking at the wrong issue. It is not that the economy should produce growth, but that it should produce well-being for all. And how you get there must determine the policies governments follow. Whether so-called ‘growth’ results or not is almost immaterial.
If we are to free ourselves from the shackles of inequality, it’s going to be critical that academics, policy-makers and global leaders are able to use a fundamentally different set of lenses to solve the deeply rooted problems. Otherwise we have no hope of dismantling our patriarchal and profit-driven approach to the economy, to politics and to societies.