Good Food Powers People And Economies: It Starts With Women
COVID-19 emerged suddenly and upended everything. As so many have noted, the pandemic has revealed significant inequities and vulnerabilities in our food systems. One direct consequence is that women all over the world have disproportionately borne the brunt of the crisis. The reasons for this injustice are rooted in the challenges women and girls have long and consistently faced.
Good food begins with women: women and girls grow much of the world’s food – globally, almost one third of employed women work in agriculture, making up 43 percent of the agricultural labor force. They purchase and cook most of the world’s household meals. In other words, women are powering local food systems, as producers, sellers, consumers, and preparers of food. They are also the first food system that millions of babies will know.
Yet their vital contributions are overlooked or undervalued. Even before the pandemic, women were more likely than men to report food insecurity in nearly two-thirds of countries. Women are the cornerstone of food production and consumption globally, but too often eat last and least due to poverty and discriminatory norms. They also lack access to the resources and supports that are readily available to men.
The true cost of gender inequalities goes beyond the impact on women’s ability to earn a decent living. Decades of research has shown that women’s earnings and agency improve the health and wellbeing of their children and households. The lost productivity of female farmers means less food reaches and is sold at market. The true cost is felt by all of us.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year and look ahead to the UN Food Systems Summit, Nutrition for Growth and the Climate COP26 later in 2021, we have a historic opportunity to recognize women’s crucial roles in food and nutrition security. As food systems actors from local communities to global committees, we all have a role to play to position women at the heart of the Build Back Better agenda and the transformation of our food systems..
We can do this on the farm: by supporting women in gaining access to required tools, know-how and the markets. We can do this in value chains: investing in women’s cooperatives and women-led small and medium enterprises. And we can recognize and value their role as caregivers, by making sure that women are healthy, have access to affordable, nutritious foods, are supported in breastfeeding and that unpaid household chores are shared equally within the household.
To do all of this more effectively, we need better data, disaggregated by gender. We need to apply a gender lens to research, so that we can find solutions that best support women in agriculture, food security and nutrition. And we need to translate the data and evidence into gender-sensitive polices and programs, which invest in women and reduce gender discrimination.
Gender equity is a prerequisite for sustainable and just food systems. Centering efforts to transform food systems around women is the smart thing to do—for her, for her family, for her community, for her economy, for her planet and for the next generation. In fact, it is good for everyone. Now is the time to act.