The Common Good

Are Women the Secret Weapon in Battle for Food Security?

On Monday, Olivier De Schutter, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, submitted his report Gender and Food Security to the U.N. Human Rights Council, adding to the mountains of evidence that if you empower women with education and independent rights, they can substantially, cost-effectively, and generationally reduce hunger and malnutrition. The Guardian's Poverty Matters Blog reported: 

The notion that gender equality can play an important role in reducing hunger and malnutrition has gained increasing traction in development circles. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation claimed in its 2010-11 State of Food and Agriculture report that equal access to agricultural resources could reduce world hunger by 12-17%. Gender and food security also came under the spotlight in the 2012 edition of the World Bank's flagship annual report, where it was argued that parity in areas including landrights, employment and political representation could improve development outcomes.

These ideas are not new. Obliged to raise children, care for sick and elderly people, and run households – work that, valued in monetary terms, would be equivalent to 15% of GDP in low-income countries, rising to 35% in middle-income countries – it has long been argued that women are being denied education opportunities, marginalising them both economically and politically. The challenge lies in convincing policymakers to do something about these multiple challenges.

Says De Schutter:

"We must address how gender roles are being defined within the family and who makes the decisions in government. ...We must refuse to take existing gender roles as givens, and instead allow women to shift the burden to men;where possible, giving women access to more opportunities and better training and education, and exposure to something other than the traditional responsibilities they have been assuming."

"If local NGOs and women's organisations and unions mobilise, using the report to put pressure on the government from below, that will be even more effective than international pressure."

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