Relation of Gender Inequality and Hunger
Hunger, malnutrition and poverty are natural human phenomena, but they are often discussed in ways that are far removed from people’s experiences and thus cannot explain their engagement in food systems.
There is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, but the number of people affected by hunger and malnutrition is still ‘unacceptably high’ (FAO 2014:4). Food and nutrition insecurity is a political and economic phenomenon which gets intensify by inequitable global and national processes. It is also an environmental issue. New methods of intensive agriculture, livestock farming and fishing are resulting in air pollution and food and water erosion, which are leading to climate change and food insecurity.
Even though the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target 1c of halving the proportion of undernourished people globally by 2015 is ‘within reach’ (ibid), conservative estimates indicate that the overall number of people in the world experiencing extreme, chronic malnourishment was at least 805 million between 2012 and 2014 (FAO 2014). But these figures do not explain the depth of hunger and malnutrition. In particular, they fail to reflect the micronutrient deficiency, or ‘hidden hunger’ (FAO 2012: 23) that affects 2 billion of the world’s population, contributing to child stunting and increased rates of illness and death (IFPRI, Concern et. al. 2013).
The 1996 World Food Summit Plan of Action defined food security as existing “when all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life” (World Food Summit 1996, para. 1).
Food security is built on four pillars:
- Food availability: sufficient quantities of food available on a consistent basis;
- Food access: sufficient resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet;
- Food utilization: appropriate use based on knowledge of basic nutrition and care, as well as adequate water and sanitation; and
- Food Stability: A stability in the food supply for every year. This would also mean having adequate food storage capacities or other means of savings for times of crises.
Relying on this broadly accepted definition, contribution of gender equality to food security and its three components has been examined. As a result, it is concluded that women face obstacles of discriminatory laws and social and cultural norms, and such obstacles are responsible for food and nutrition insecurity. Limited access to educational and employment opportunities restrict their economic value and independence, reducing their access to adequate food.
Most importantly, food and nutrition insecurity is by some means related to gender justice issue. Lack of access and low status in society, makes women and girls most disadvantaged.
Gender-just food and nutrition security means a world without hunger, where every human irrespective of gender, class, and social status have equal access to nutritious, healthy food, and access to the tools to produce, sell and purchase food. It is a world where the right to food for all is realised.
Women literally ‘feed the world’. Despite often limited access to either local or global markets, women are the majority of food producers in the world and usually manage their families’ nutritional needs. Due to some cultural and social values, they often neglect theirs and their daughter’s nutritional needs.
Across the rural area of Asia and Pacific region, women assume critical roles in achieving each of the pillars of food security: availability, access, and utilization. They play a crucial role throughout the agricultural value chain including production, food preparation and distribution within the household. However, their roles are generally undervalued.
Women and girls are overrepresented among those who are food-insecure. Worldwide, an estimated 60% of undernourished people are women or girls (United Nations Economic and Social Council [ECOSOC] 2007, para.14; World Food Programme [WFP] 2009a.p6).
There are many food security programmes in place, but they never discuss the contributions made by women and the constraints they had to face and are still facing. There is no discussion on the link between food insecurity and malnutrition with gender inequalities which exists at global, national, regional local and household level.
Role of women in agroforestry and livestock production is not even counted. For example, although two thirds of the world’s 900 million poor livestock keepers are rural women, few interventions take this into account, and little research has been conducted to better understand these activities (Kristjanson et al.2010).Half of the global fisheries workforce comprises of women. They are majorly active in artisanal fishing and other side services such as gathering shells, making nets and administrative tasks than commercial fishing. But, their wages are lower than men’s.
Varying needs of girls and women across their life cycle for specific nutrients and additional calories during childhood and adolescence, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and during menopause, are often ignored. Where nutrition programmes are provided they often tend to prioritise women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children below the age of two, as these have been identified as the most vulnerable groups. These narrow prescriptions mean that groups such as older women, adolescent girls and vulnerable men and boys may not be receiving nutritional inputs they badly need (Ramachandran 2012; Dercon and Singh 2013).
Women also play an important role in food and agricultural processing at the home and community level. At this level, the raw grain, roots, tubers, pulses, vegetables, milk, fish are being processed in other products which are more nutritious and safe for eating, but again, this role is not recognised by the community.
In most of the developing countries, women do not own or operate the land and if when they do, the land they can access is often of poorer quality.
These gender inequalities not only affect women’s status; they also have significant implications for food and nutrition security at all the levels. Landesa (2012) reports that where women lack rights or opportunities to own land, there is an average of 60 per cent more malnourished children.
Usually women are involved in small-scale retail marketing of agroforestry products, while men dominate the wholesale trade. In rural areas, women are most likely to spare from education. Over two thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women – many living in rural areas. Due to illiteracy, women are also excluded from agriculture and other training schemes which can help them in agriculture production. Only 5 per cent of women farmers spanning 97 countries have access to extension services, and only 15 per cent of extension agents are women (FAO 2013).
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if women had equal access to productive inputs such as improved seeds and fertilizers, yields from their fields would increase by 20 to 30 per cent. This would boost total agricultural output by up to 4 per cent in developing countries, reducing the number of hungry people globally by 12 to 17 per cent, or 100 million to 150 million people.
Gender equality can make a substantial contribution to a country’s economic growth (Abu-Ghaida and Klasen 2004; World Bank 2012), and it is the single most important determinant of food security. A cross-country study of developing countries covering the period 1970–1995 found that 43% of the reduction of hunger that occurred was attributable to progress in women’s education. This was almost as much as the combined effect on hunger reduction of increased food availability (26%) and improvements to the health environment (19%) during that period. An additional 12% of the reduction of hunger was attributable to increased life expectancy of women. Thus, fully 55% of the gains against hunger in these countries during those 25 years were due to the improvement of women’s situation within society (Smith and Haddad 2000).
Challenging the limitations women and girls face and providing them opportunities is an essential component of the fight against hunger and malnutrition. It is achievable, effective, may form the basis for a sustainable strategy for reducing food insecurity.
Access to resources, services and technology is defines the differences in yields between male and female smallholders. Researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) found that 79% of the studies concluded that men have higher mean access to Fertilizer, seed varieties, tools, and pesticide (Peterman, Behrman, and Quisumbing 2010, p. 6). One study in Burkina Faso found productivity on female-managed plots there to be 30% lower than on male-managed plots within the same household because labour and fertilizer were more intensively applied on men’s plots (Udry 1996). Yet, the literature also shows that with equal access to inputs, yields for men and women are very similar (Udry et al. 2005). FAO concluded that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent. This could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent, which could in turn reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12–17 percent (FAO 2010, p. 40).
Due to commercialization, globalisation, new technologies and climate change, the small- scale agribusiness is also changing. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the role women play in agriculture, along with men. Women need investment and support from the communities to adapt these changes and grab the new opportunities. When women have access to land, water, education, training, extension and financial services, and strong organizations, entire communities benefit socially and economically.
The message is clear: the empowerment of women is fundamental to reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition.
Strengthening gender equality has multiple benefits:
- It improves food and nutrition security.
- Reduces malnutrition.
- Contributes to inclusive economic growth that lifts people out of poverty.
- Makes food safety projects more sustainable.
- Increases household income and assets, and benefits entire households
- Develops the skills base of rural communities.
- Helps protect the natural environment.
- Enhances the relevance and effectiveness of development intervention.
Women are players in agriculture sector, in household food and nutrition security, and in natural resource management. In the agriculture sector, they work in food system along the value chain, in their own enterprise, at household or as an employee.
They also engage themselves in some non-farm activities to diversify their livelihoods and household nutrition options.
IFAD is firmly committed to empowering women and to working with families, communities and countries to build gender equality at every level. In 2012 the organization’s Executive Board approved the IFAD Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. The policy is central to the overall goal of IFAD’s Strategic Framework 2011-2015 – enabling poor rural women and men to improve their food security and nutrition, raise their incomes and strengthen their resilience.
The gender policy has three strategic objectives:
- Promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to participate in and benefit from profitable economic activities.
- Enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations.
- Achieve a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men.
Social protection plays an essential role in assuring food security. Such protection can be provided on an informal basis by family and community networks, by NGOs, or formally organized by government and local collectives. It is vital, of course, for individuals and households that cannot produce food for themselves, or who have no income to purchase food. In Pakistan, support was provided in 2009 to the Benazir Income Support Program (now called the National Income Support Program [NISP]), a targeted cash transfer program for female heads of households and adult females of eligible poor households. By 2011, 9 million women had received identity cards and 4.6 million adult females had received cash payments (ADB 2011a).
Microfinance has been a primary tool to help women farmers overcome obstacles to obtaining credit. However, this approach has not always resulted in positive outcomes for them (ADB 2013). Research in Africa shows that increased income, though important, does not always translate into empowerment and can leave them burdened
With debt (Baden 2013; Batliwala and Dharanj 2004).
- Asian Development Bank 2013,
Gender Equality and Food Security
Women’s Empowerment as a tool against hunger
, ISBN978-92-9254-172-9, ADB, Philippines.
- Bridge-cutting edge programmes 2014, Gender and Food Security: Towards Gender-just Food and Nutrition Security, ISBN 978-1-78118-203-1, Institute of Development Studies, UK.
- IFAD 2012, Gender Equality And Women Empowerment Policy, ISBN 9789290723226, Rome.