On April 11, the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development or AWARD started receiving applications for its inaugural fellowship that aims to raise bold African Women to champion public policy changes toward improving the livelihood of smallholder farmers, especially women in the continent.
Specifically, the new $5 million Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (GRASP) Fellowship, funded by the United States Agency for International Development or USAID, wants to equip fellows with the skills necessary to design agricultural and food systems policies that integrate gender equality.
It is open to females working in public policy in Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia. The application window is open till June 10.
"Through this Fellowship, we aim to grow a pool of confident and capable African women to lead policy changes to improve African women and men smallholders' livelihoods," said Susan Kaaria, AWARD's director, in a press statement announcing the opening of applications.
"This is the first time an AWARD initiative will focus squarely on policy, building on our successful initiatives to increase gender-responsive research and level the playing field to benefit women and men."
The career development programme will train and empower 300 women at different levels of their careers from the three countries within a three-and-a-half-year period, Kaaria told Prime Progress separately via email.
Kaaria explained why the fellowship, first announced in September last year at the UN Food Systems Summit, is necessary.
"Women make up just under half (46%) of total agricultural employment across sub-Saharan Africa, yet they face discriminatory national policies [that] inhibit their ability to provide both food and livelihoods for their families and communities," she said. AWARD added that there is growing momentum for gender-responsive research and evidence-based policies.
"The GRASP Fellowship will offer targeted training on leadership, mentoring, policy advocacy, and gender in agriculture policy," USAID administrator, Samantha Power, said.
"Partnering with governments, the private sector, and other actors, USAID aims to contribute to a 20 percent reduction in poverty and child stunting in the areas where Feed the Future works and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic's impact."
The fellows would be identified and selected through a competitive selection process, including assessing their experience and leadership potential in gender, agriculture, and food systems policy development. And each fellow will be matched with a mentor, a senior policy professional, and a Fellow's mentee, a junior policy professional.
"The fellowship will support the AWARD Policy Fellows, their Mentors, and Mentees to form coalitions to collaborate on Policy Innovation Projects. Each AWARD Policy Fellow will receive modest catalytic funding to design and deploy gender-responsive policy projects to support evidence-based policy processes," AWARD said.
On how many fellows would be selected from each country, Kaaria said, "This will depend on the number and quality of applications we receive from the respective countries. The $5 million funding will allow us to target African women working in policy over the next three-and-a-half years with mentoring partnerships and networks to catalyze cross-learning between seasoned and emerging experts."
In the long run, she said: "We hope that the fellowship will help to foster more inclusive and equitable agri-food systems across Africa by inspiring the next generation of female policymakers across the continent. By targeting African women already working in policy, we are hoping to help them become leaders in this field and design the kinds of policies that are needed to foster an equal playing field in African agriculture that can benefit both women and men and the communities they provide for."
But Kaaria implied that AWARD would have loved to push the number of policy change fellows beyond the 300 to achieve broader and faster results across the continent, but funding limitations hold it down. Nonetheless, she believes the 300 can provide an influence that would inspire other policy practitioners.
More information about the fellowship and application is available here.