Friday, 25 November 2011

Women and Food Security

Katherine R. Vasquez Tarazona

I often hear that the world is just beginning to grasp the real role that women play in the [local and global] economy. The fact that we contribute both as consumers and providers seems obvious to me, yet not everyone has acknowledged their part in the market. Nowadays, more and more women are entering the labor force, increasing production numbers but also affecting households’ living standards. Nonetheless, we still see that wage disparities persist around the globe. 

When reading about development programs, we frequently find an ongoing discussion on gender advance. Some may question the relevance of spending resources on women’s economic power. To others, this is very clear. Research is showing that by enhancing it a positive affectation on the collective is more likely to occur, and international actors are shifting to focus more on designing efforts based on evidence of impact. 

Recently, there has been great debate on the American and European crises and their capacity on foreign aid. USAID has suffered an extreme reduction on its budget (even, current candidates are suggesting a zero aid campaign for the future of the country). A similar situation has appeared at some European countries, and the argument of effective aid has risen once again. Among all that literature, I came across the interesting subject of food security and the part that women take on it. 

One of the many faces of foreign assistance is humanitarian aid which includes natural disaster and man-made disaster alleviation. Food security has generated concern in the international community, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa (Somalia, being one of the most affected). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “women produce between 60 and 80% of the food in most developing countries and are responsible for half of the world’s food production.” However, they have more difficulties than men accessing resources, such as land or credit. 

More than two decades ago, Muhammad Yunus started his micro lending program in India. For those who are not familiar with his initiative, the Grameen Bank’s objective is to promote financial independence among the most vulnerable, offering credit to people that usually have been neglected by the financial system. Thus, Grameen has reached illiterate and unemployed people, among many others; creating access to credit on reasonable terms and enabling them to build on their skills to earn a better income in each cycle of loans. 

One of Grameen’s more significant features is that the majority of borrowers are women (97+ %). Yunus recognized that women acted differently from men regarding money, in the context described earlier. According to him, “Women are very cautious with the use of the money, but the men were impatient; they wanted to enjoy right away. (…) But women didn't look at it personally. Women looked at it for the children, for the family and the so on, and for future.”

According to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), “studies show that (…) when women farmers have the opportunity to earn and control income, they are more likely to focus their spending on their children’s nutrition, education and health. Women also are integral to alleviating hunger and malnutrition because they are primarily responsible for ensuring that food for their families is reliably available, accessible and nutritionally balanced.”

Great efforts are been met world-wide in order to attack the problem of land accessibility and property. In many countries, women struggle with the lack of resources existing for them and the discrimination of their work. Women have confirmed to be as successful as men working the land and finances; many have proved their way in the entrepreneurial world; most of them secure their family health and own improvement. Still, they find themselves somehow trapped by inequality and restrictions. 

In addition to these efforts and recognitions, I wonder if we could do more. In 2010, the United Nations implemented the “women-only food coupons” in order to assure that supplies really reached families in need, as a consequence of the earthquake in Haiti. Women are main players in the economy, not just as consumers and providers. They have a strong impact on families and communities development. They have been acknowledged as key actors for ensuring progress. Then, why are we falling so behind –in facto- from achieving structural changes on gender equality, respect and non-discrimination policies?


  1. Great Post, Katherine! Do you think the true obligation to cater to world hunger and food requirements are being lost in worthless Rhetoric? Are too many governments descending into inaction as soon as they draft a "law" or a "program", since it is "enough" to have a scheme in place?

  2. Well Kirthi, there are several possible answers to your questions.
    When it comes to program implementations and the absence of follow-up schemes, countries (donors mostly but also beneficiaries) have been long discussing the relevance of monitoring aid effectiveness. Now, that the resources seem to become scarce, the argument is treated with severity. Have you heard about the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness? Well the OECD and other countries are trying to adapt to the rules established back then in order to make assistance worth. The follow up created for such purpose have showed that there has not been done enough to meet the agreement.
    This debate is persistence in aid. Nonetheless, it is that: a well-intended argument. When it comes up to other areas of structural change, there are many key elements to look at. One of the most relevant to me is sovereignty. No structural change can be introduced without an agreement on the ruling government and therefore, political will. International organizations are limited on the enforcement of the treaties.
    So, yes, rhetoric is part of the equation but I wonder if there's also needed a change of the cultural mindset. It is very important, in order to achieve a real transformation, to have a committed society that is read to carry on and question the status quo too.

  3. That was well put. I know of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, yes. I agree that rhetoric is a part of the equation, but I wish there is a major change in the mindset of the people vis-a-vis their cultural perspective, just as you rightly pointed out. Very nicely analyzed, Katherine!