Investment in Women is the Key to Global Food Security: Five Ways to Promote Gender Equity

Meeting of members in a network, started by women farmers in the Chakwal District, Punjab, Pakistan who hoped to share resources and knowledge after a drought led to a near 70 percent loss in their winter wheat crop. (Anduze Traveller )

Women, particularly in developing countries, face numerous challenges, including sexual violence, limited access to health resources, barriers to education, and inadequate economic opportunities. Gender-based violence continues to threaten hundreds of millions of women in industrialized and developing countries alike - one in three women has been the victim of sexual abuse or violence at some point in her life. Furthermore, women’s economic opportunities are still more limited than those of men: the most recent United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Report indicates that women are still more likely than men to work for themselves or their families - in Sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of women are informally employed, versus 69 percent of men. Girls - especially from low-income backgrounds - are statistically less likely to have access to secondary education than their male counterparts. These factors are responsible for women making up a disproportionate amount of the world’s poor - some estimates are as high as 70 percent.

Despite these challenges, women are working with a wide variety of organizations to make strides in gender equity, both socially and economically. In March, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter released “Gender and the Right to Food,” a special report on the state of  gender equity and food security. De Schutter’s report demanded that more work be done to eliminate discrimination against women at household and state levels alike. While the situation of women throughout the world is improving, there is still much progress to be made - progress that could finally help to achieve global food security.

From May 28th to May 30th, 2013, the organization Women Deliver will host their annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where international leaders in the women’s movement will discuss solutions to address these challenges facing women across the world. 

The world is now entering the final 1,000 days before the Millennium Development Goals — the global development goals that call for, among other things, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – expire in 2015. Addressing the ways in which world leaders, private sector actors, and other stakeholders can support and undertake both investment in women and protection and augmentation of their rights is of the utmost priority in order meet this deadline. Changing these trends will be a key to sustainable development for the future. Improving women’s access to education, health, and economic resources will lead to better nutrition for not only women and children, but the whole world. 

Unfortunately, the cycle of women fighting for food security is often a self-perpetuating one. Especially in rural and agricultural sectors, women’s lack of access to reproductive health services can lead to women having bigger families than desired.

“Overcoming hunger is a game changer for a girl living in a developing country. Fifty-three percent of children who drop out of primary school are female – mainly because they need to work to help feed their families. Girls who stay in school are empowered to make positive decisions that affect their entire lives, such as waiting to have children and acquiring the skills they need to support to them,” says Ellen Gustafson, co-founder of Food Tank.

According to Women Deliver, if the international community spent an additional US$12 billion per year, women around the world would be able to receive sufficient family planning and maternal and newborn care. By reducing deaths of mothers and infants, such an investment would lead to US$15 billion in gained productivity. In addition to investing in health, investment in economic opportunities for women, particularly in the agriculture sector in developing countries, is crucial. Research from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that if women had the same access to resources that men have, global malnutrition could be reduced by at least 12 percent. 

"Up to 80 percent of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, but they don’t have the same access to credit, land, and extension services. Studies show that by empowering women and providing them with these resources, yields increase and household nutrition is improved," says Danielle Nierenberg, Food Tank co-founder.

In anticipation of the Women Deliver 2013 Conference, Food Tank is sharing five recommendations of ways to invest in women and girls through food and agriculture:

Supporting girls’ access to education and success in school - 

The World Food Programme is currently collaborating with Groupon to provide school meals to girls in schools in 14 South Asian countries. Ensuring food security during the school day not only makes sure that girls are able to concentrate in class, but also takes pressure off of girls to work to be able to feed themselves and their families, instead of attending school.

Teaching women sustainable farming practices -

Women Going Green, founded by Rose Karimi, is a five-year project in Kenya enabling women coffee farmers to adopt low-cost climate change adaptation strategies, such as using fruit trees to shade their coffee crops. These practices can help women not only feed their families, but also increase their incomes. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is working to implement solar technology in developing countries to reduce poverty. A recent SELF initiative is the Solar Market Gardens project in the West African nation of Benin, which will enable groups of women farmers’ cooperatives to grow more crops through solar-powered drip irrigation.

Giving women control of their health choices - 

The Jane Goodall Institute is helping to address some of the most serious health issues that women in sub-Saharan Africa face, such as HIV/AIDS and mother and infant mortality. It provides essential health services and equipment, along with educational programs to better inform women and their families on family planning methods and HIV/AIDs prevention education.

Addressing violence against women - 

Using data from the World Health Organization, FAO’s report on “Rural Women and the Millennium Goals” showed that rural women - who make up the vast majority of women in agriculture - were more likely to suffer incidences of abuse. Líderes Campesinas, a coalition of women farmers in California, is working to improve the public support system for female agricultural workers who have been victims of sexual assault and/or domestic abuse.

Providing credit to women in agriculture -

 The One Acre Fund is an organization devoted to helping smallholder farmers become self-reliant by providing families with high-quality seeds, soil nutrients, advice, and financing. They place a special interest in helping women, such as Lorna from Kenya, a single mother who through the fund’s investments is now able to provide for her five children by growing maize. Additionally, Kuapa Kokoo, a cocoa farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, established a Gender Programme to give women access to credit without requirement of any collateral.

By directing research and funding where it’s most needed, more progress can be made toward achieving true equality for women in all aspects of their lives. The Women Deliver 2013 Conference will be a significant step toward ensuring that women do not get left behind as we move toward a more equitable, sustainable, and productive planet.

Speakers at the event will include Danielle Nierenberg; Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations; and many others. The main goal of the conference is promoting United Nations Millennium Development Goal 5 — improving maternal health and reducing maternal mortality. 

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