“Sharing power with women is a shortcut to reducing hunger and malnutrition, and is the single most effective step to realizing the right to food,” said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, while urging world governments to adopt transformative food security strategies that address cultural constraints and redistribute roles between women and men.
“Family agriculture has become gradually feminized, with men frequently moving away from the farm in search of work. Yet the women who increasingly face the burden of sustaining farms and families are too often denied the tools to thrive and improve their situation – on and off the farm,” Mr. De Schutter stressed as he presented his report on Gender and the Right to Food to the UN Human Rights Council [March 4th] in Geneva.
The UN expert welcomed policy initiatives to empower women, such as quotas for women in Indian public works schemes, but warned that barriers to female participation in society are multiple. “Women will not benefit from female quotas in work schemes if no provision is made for childcare services,” he said. “Individual measures will not suffice – gender roles and responsibilities must be challenged holistically and systematically.”
As an immediate first step, Mr. De Schutter called for the removal of all discriminatory laws and practices that prevent women accessing farming resources such as land, inputs and credit. Meanwhile he called for women to be relieved of the burdens of care responsibilities in the home through the provision of adequate public services such as childcare, running water and electricity. Tasks such as fetching water and caring for the young and the elderly can amount to the equivalent of around 15% of GDP
“If women are allowed to have equal access to education, various pieces of the food security jigsaw will fall into place,” he explained. “Household spending on nutrition will increase, child health outcomes will improve, and social systems will be redesigned – for women, by women – to deliver support with the greatest multiplier effects.”