GENDER EQUALITY AND FOOD SECURITY: Women’s Empowerment as a Tool against Hunger
Food security and hunger eradication are among the top priorities on the international agenda today in view of the impact on agricultural productivity of global economic crises, food price spikes, and climate change. The extent to which gender inequalities in general, and the gender gaps in agriculture in particular, thwart attainment of these twin priority goals is a key concern given the vital role of women smallholders in household and community food and nutrition security.
Across the Asia and Pacific region, rural women assume critical roles in attaining each of the pillars of food security: availability, access, and utilization. Their role is thus crucial throughout the agricultural value chain, from production on the family plot, to food preparation, to distribution within the household. However, their roles are generally undervalued and constrained by limitations on their access to resources, services, and labor market opportunities. Most rural households and communities in the region manage their agricultural production systems based on social norms and practices that determine the gender division of labor. These vary from the notably constrained roles and opportunities of women in South Asia (with the exception of Sri Lanka) to the more complementary gender roles found in parts of Southeast Asia and some of the Pacific island nations. A lack of data, combined with gender-biased perceptions, have limited awareness and appreciation of rural women’s productive roles and contributions to food security in the region. In addition, poor education and health indicators for women limit their access to resources and opportunities.
This publication analyzes gender inequalities that constrain women’s roles in agriculture and food production, and in the long run undermine achievement of food and nutrition security in the Asia and Pacific region. It recommends priority interventions that would enhance food and nutrition security in the region by ending gender discrimination and empowering women. It argues for policy reforms to advance gender equality and strengthen country-owned food security strategies. Social protection policies that address the structural causes of poverty and vulnerability are strongly recommended, as are policies that improve women’s access to agricultural production resources and services, and to decent wage employment.
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