The Global Food Crisis: Pro-Women Approach Crucial For Lasting Solution
Women are the most severely affected by the global food crisis. They also hold the key to resolving it.
By Kathambi Kinoti
The global food crisis has had a devastating impact on the lives of poor people around the world, many of whom have had to make choices with far-reaching implications. A mother in Nicaragua where the cost of staple foods has doubled this year considers pulling her daughter out of school to help sell the homemade tortillas that contribute to their subsistence. 
The crisis also threatens control of HIV. People who are under nourished are more likely to die during the first three months of antiretroviral therapy than are those who are well nourished. A lack of nutrition can undermine the effect of medicines used in HIV and AIDS treatment. A pregnant woman living with HIV is more likely to pass on the virus to her baby. 
Gender inequalities mean that the food crisis affects women and men differently. Before the food crisis, 70 per cent of the world’s hungry were women and girls. Now that there is a full blown emergency, in societies and families where men and boys are accorded a higher status than women and girls, it is likely that the males will have first priority. When poor families have to make a choice about which of their children to keep in school, it is the daughters who are more likely to have their education cut short.
Women Hold the Key
The global food crisis cannot be solved without an approach that has women’s rights and gender equality at its core. Rural women produce half of the world’s food and 60 to 80 per cent of the food in most developing countries, but receive less than 10 per cent of credit provided to farmers. Most of these women do not hold legal title to the land that they work on. Government agricultural extension services assume that it is men who need agricultural seeds, tools, machinery, education and credit, so it is the men that they target with these resources. If women’s access to resources were increased it would lead to an increase in food production. A study conducted in Burkina Faso showed that reallocating resources from men’s plots of land to women’s could increase household output by between 10 and 20 per cent. In Ghana it has been shown that giving women land ownership rights is an incentive for them to adopt agro forestry which is beneficial for environmental management. On the other hand, it is important to not only provide women with formal legal title but also ensure that they have real power to make decisions about their land and not believe that they have to defer to a male family member’s point of view.
More food is not the only benefit that can be harnessed from increasing women’s access to resources and title. When women have more resources, the education, health and nutrition of the whole family are positively enhanced.
A Global Policy Issue
Respecting women’s equal rights to ownership and control of resources locally is not by itself going to solve the food crisis. It should not be forgotten that oppressive international trade policies have made a major contribution to the bankrupting of millions of small-scale farmers in the global South. Subsidies to farmers in rich countries have meant that their produce has become cheaper, turning poor countries into importers of food. At the same time, international financial institutions insist that the governments of poor countries divest from providing support to local agricultural production and food security. International trade policies also favour the rights of multinational corporations over those of poor individuals; large scale cash crop production over small scale food crop farming.
The drive for increased bio-fuel production - itself prompted by the energy crisis- has been blamed for contributing to the food crisis as land that was previously used for food production is used to grow crops for fuel production.
As long as the global market is supreme, hunger and inequality will persist. Finding a lasting solution to the global food shortage will entail implementing laws, policies and practices that protect and promote the rights of the poor and primarily poor women.
1 Susskind, Yifat. ‘Solving the Global Food Crisis starts with Women’s Rights.’ MADRE, 2008. http://www.madre.org/articles/inter/foodcrisis060508.html
2 ‘Global Food Crisis threatens HIV Control.’ Reuters AlertNet August 7, 2008. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/fromthefield/477686/121814494172.htm
4 Taken from Fact Sheet ‘The Effect of the Food Crisis on Women and their Families’ produced by Women Thrive Worldwide. http://www.womenthrive.org/images/food%20crisis%20%26%20impact%20on%20women.pdf
6 Quoted in presentation by International Food Policy Research Institute at Seminar on Global Food Crisis held on June 17, 2008. See http://www.ifpri.org/events/seminars/2008/20080617women.asp
9 See note 1.