World Food Day: Food Security and Women's Economic Empowerment

I was reading a paper published by the World Bank on “why women’s economic empowerment is important for development”. Though it’s is a few years old, the topic is close to our heart here at Teach By Tech. Since today is #WorldFoodDay I thought it appropriate to discuss the relationship between economic empowerment and food security. Women comprise an average of 43 per cent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. However, less than 20 per cent of landholders are women.[1] In many countries women are denied ownership to land and do not have the right to inherit land. Think about this for a moment, if you have no claim to the land, how can you protect the crops you grow? Throughout history farming has often been a sector in which men and women both work to produce and harvest the goods. Why then should only one gender control the land and ultimately the crops and money produced from the land?

The graph below breaks down women’s contributions to the agricultural sector by region.  When viewing the graph, one must remember that work in the field is only a portion of the work that goes into successful crop growth and food production.

[2]

 

Food production involves work far beyond caring for crops and livestock. Once the food has been harvested women continue to labor in preparing the food. Women must gather the wood for fires and carry the water they need for cooking and processing food. In many regions of the world, women spend up to five hours per day collecting fuelwood and water and up to four hours preparing food.[3] In addition, rural women provide the majority of “labor for farming, from soil preparation to harvest. “After the harvest, they are almost entirely responsible for operations such as storage, handling, stocking, marketing and processing.”[4]

Despite the countless hours of labor women put into food growth and processing, food security eludes many women. Earlier the problem of land and usage rights for women was raised. But, it is also important to consider the perils of climate change which negatively impact rainfall, soil nutrition, water accessibility, drought to name a few. We must also see that civil wars and conflict make food security nearly impossible as villages are destroyed overnight or pillaged by warring factions. When families are forced to flee, their crops are left behind and the land returns to its natural state no longer ready for planting if the family is able to return. Another factor of food insecurity that is often overlooked is the influence of foreign governments and multinational corporations on agriculture. Nigeria offers an excellent, albeit infuriating, example of foreign nationals paying little attention to environmental regulation or impact on the land and water. When petroleum and sludge seeped into the land and destroyed it, no one was held accountable. Yes. Shell has been sued, but court hearings and appeals will last for decades. What are the people to do in the meantime? Who is providing them with food until the land recovers?

So, you may ask what is the answer to food security? I would argue Investing in women’s economic empowerment. There are so many advantages to this suggestion: a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. What does women’s economic empowerment look like? It all begins with EDUCATION.  Through education and acquisition of business skills women can improve their own status, improve the nutrition of their families and national food production and begin a path towards economic sustainability and independence. The ripple effect of educating women transforms societies in positive ways that will improve lives around the globe.

 


[1] http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures

 

[2] “Women Feed the World” http://www.fao.org/docrep/x0262e/x0262e16.htm

 

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid