08.03.2021 |

Empowering women and girls is key to ensuring food security

Empowering women is key to food security (Photo: CC0)

Empowering women and girls is crucial to ensure sustainable food security in the aftermath of COVID-19, according to the heads of the three United Nations’ food agencies. Hunger and famine will persist and there will be unequal recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic unless more women in rural and urban areas hold leadership positions with increased decision-making power, they said in a press release published ahead of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. The heads of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) highlight that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities by reducing their economic opportunities and access to nutritious foods while at the same time increasing their workloads and escalating gender-based violence. Empowering women and female farmers is thus important so that they can contribute to the recovery from the pandemic and help create an environment that eliminates poverty, enhances productivity and improves food security and nutrition. “Women and girls can play a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular in transforming our agri-food systems. We all need to work together to spark the necessary changes to empower women and girls, particularly those in rural areas,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

Food security and gender inequality are closely linked with disadvantages beginning at a young age. In many countries boys and girls have very different childhoods, the UN organisations remind. Boys eat first, are given more food than their sisters, do less housework and marry later. For girls, marriage and not school work can dominate their childhoods. “The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18, who have the potential of becoming the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers ever seen for the better future. Yet, women and girls continue to face persistent structural constraints that prevent them from fully developing their potential and hinder their efforts of improving their lives as well as their households and communities,” QU Dongyu added. “We know from our work around the world that when women and girls have better access to information, resources and economic opportunities, and are free to make their own decisions, hunger rates fall and nutrition improves not only for themselves but also their families, communities and countries,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP.

Women’s leadership is particularly important in rural areas of developing countries, where the voices of the 1.7 billion women and girls who live there are often overlooked. 60% of women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, yet they have less access to resources and services than men, including land, finance, training, inputs and equipment. Research suggests that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields by 20 to 30% and total agricultural output by 2.5 to 4%, lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. In addition to their agricultural work, women are overburdened with domestic chores and caring for their families - roles that have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, women are more negatively affected by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, including losing livelihoods and experiencing decreases in their personal incomes. “Investing in rural women’s leadership and involving them more in creating our post-COVID future is critical to ensure their perspectives and needs are adequately considered, so that we can build back better food systems where there is equal access to nutritious food and decent livelihoods,” said IFAD president Gilbert F. Houngbo. (ab)

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