Women’s Equality Is the Best Way to Reduce World Hunger
How can sustained efforts on behalf of women's rights help alleviate the world's hunger problem?
April 11, 2011
Giving women the same tools and resources as men, such as financial support, education and access to markets, could reduce the number of hungry people worldwide by up to 150 million, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The agency estimates that 925 million people around the world are undernourished. Of this total number, 906 million live in developing countries.
The greatest burden of economic crisis falls on those least able to sustain it: women and children, particularly in non-industrialized countries. At the same time, services such as education, women’s and children’s health and nutrition sink lower among national priorities.
FAO reports that women make up 43% on average of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and they tend to be kept on low-paying jobs and have mostly seasonal or part-time work. Plots managed by women tend to be smaller, on average, than those managed by men, and women farmers have less access to tools and technology than their male counterparts.
Women have the traditional role of both producers and caretakers, i.e. for children, the elderly, the sick, the handicapped and all those who cannot care for themselves. This explains why in Africa, women work an average of 50% longer each day than men.
I remember visiting the countryside in Equatorial Guinea where I saw what is called “casa de la palabra,” which can be loosely translated as “house of talk,” where men gather early in the afternoon after the day’s work and spend several hours chatting or trying to solve some problem in the village or community while their wives continue to work at home. A similar situation likely exists in other African countries.
There is little recognition of the critical role that women can play in increasing agricultural productivity and businesses. Although some commercial banks are lending more to women entrepreneurs to develop new agricultural services and products, women are left out of the picture when it comes to issues such as land tenure rights and access to markets.
In Cameroon, for example, women hold less than 10% of land certificates, even though they do a significant part of the agricultural work.
Several years of work at the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) have proven that improving women farmers’ access to adequate resources, technologies, markets and property rights can help them increase agricultural productivity and improve household nutrition.
This is relevant since many people still go hungry every day. According to the Global Food and Farming Futures report, the existing food system is failing half of the people on earth. The report estimates that one billion people lack crucial vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Women should have easier access to better seeds, fertilizers and time-saving technologies as well as better access to credit, land and job opportunities. In Kenya, it has been shown that women with the same levels of education, information, experience and farm resources as men increased their farming yields by 22%.
It is clear the world needs to do a better job of recognizing that women are essential agents of development. As Sandra Bunch and Rekha Mehra write in their ICRW report Women Help Solve Hunger. Why is the World Still Waiting?, “If the global community is to increase agricultural productivity and income-generating activities in hunger-prone communities, it must be willing to adjust its vision and see women as central to both food security and agricultural economic development.”