Gender equality can boost food security through sustainable systems
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) researchers had adopted a scoping review in a recently published United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) brief to assess the current evidence on pathways between gender equality, women’s empowerment, and food systems. Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in food systems can result in greater food security and better nutrition, and a more just, resilient, and sustainable food system for all. Hence, in July, IFPRI and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) organized a UNFSS side event webinar to present the main findings of the brief and get insights from a group of panelists on the way forward. Simrin Makhija, Program Manager at IFPRI, moderated the session.
Prof Kaosar Afsana, Professor at James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), BRAC University, and member of the UNFSS Science Group, gave the opening remark. She mentioned that gender equality had drawn specific attention to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Women are central to development, contributing to improved nutrition status and food security in small and large areas. Although women have been denied rights and access to resources due to deep-rooted social, political, economic, and cultural systems developed over the years, social movements and research evidence leading to positive decisions are causing a slow change in structural issues. “Hence the need to embrace SDGs to transform the society, establish equal rights and access of women to basic amenities along with men and the marginalized people across the world,” she said.
IFPRI Director in Africa, Dr Jemimah Njuki, presented the key findings from the UNFSS brief on gender, women empowerment, and food systems. She mentioned that unequal access to important resources in food systems had undermined women’s empowerment and productivity. “Transforming food systems equitably require changes in gender equality at individual and systematic levels as well as formal and informal levels,” she said.
Panelist and IITA Senior Scientist and Gender Specialist Steven Cole stated that gender power relations create a range of social inequalities and disempower women who work for and depend on food systems to secure their livelihood. He cited evidence from the research showing that one important solution to fixing food systems is transforming gender power relations. Through investment, food system actors can promote positive and equal gender norms for women and men to participate in and equally benefit from food systems. Cole added that women and men should resolve unequal power relations because of the disadvantages created for women due to inequality. “Using the information from this review, a transdisciplinary committee can create interventions that engage women and men to address unequal power relations and challenge oppressive norms, behaviors, and structures,” he said.
As highlighted by all the speakers, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, Dr Ruth Meinzen-Dick, re-emphasized the need for research and development efforts to go hand-in-hand with tackling restrictive norms and power relations. It is not just about uncovering the root causes of gender equality but the need to work together to create opportunities for women and men stakeholders to make norms and systems more equal. “I hope this session becomes a rally and cry for researchers and development action to go hand-in-hand to deliver a more just and equitable food system for all,” she said.