Why Transforming Our Food Systems Is a Feminist Issue

 By Jemimah
, IPS News, 18 January 2021.
In countries where
women are most marginalized, discriminated under the law and where gendered
norms prevent women from owning property and resources, people are also the
hungriest. This is because gender equality and food systems are intertwined.

Women farmers
clearing farmland in Northern Bangladesh. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

However, too often, we only focus on the roles that
women play in production, processing, trading of food and in making decisions
about consumption and purchase of food at household level.

A just and equitable food system will require the recognition of women as
farmers, with rights to the land they cultivate, technologies that reduce the
drudgery of agriculture and policies that ensure women can make a living wage
from agriculture

And while this is important, we must
also focus on whether the food system as organized is just and equitable and
whether it promotes the empowerment and livelihoods and health of women and

The UN Food Systems Summit, to be convened by the UN
Secretary General 2021, provides the world with a unique opportunity to reframe
the global conversation on gender and food and ask the hard questions of how
the food system can be structured in a just and equitable way.


Reframing gender and food systems

While there is recognition that food systems
transformation is a political, economic and environmental issue, we must also
recognize it as a gender justice issue; stark gender inequalities are both a
cause and an outcome of unsustainable food systems, unjust food access,
consumption and production.

Tackling gender injustice and truly empowering women
is not only a fundamental prerequisite for food systems transformation but also
a goal.

So, what should a gender just and equitable food
system look like?

A gender just and equitable food system is one which
guarantees a world without hunger, where women, men, girls and boys have equal
access to nutritious, healthy food, safe food, and access to the means to
produce, sell and purchase food.

It is a food system where the roles, responsibilities,
opportunities and choices available to women and men – including unpaid
caregiving and food provision – are not predetermined at birth but are
developed in line with individual capacities and aspirations.

It is a food system where countries, communities and
households and individual men and women are equipped to produce enough food for
their own populations through environmentally sound processes, while also being
able to participate in gender-equitable local, global and regional food trading

So as food systems transform, the goal should be to
ensure that they transform in ways that are equitable, that ensure meaningful
engagement and benefits to all, women, boys, girls, men, indigenous groups
amongst others.


Towards a just and equitable food system

A just and equitable food system requires a rethinking
of the role of women as producers and consumers and a move from “what are
women’s contributions in agriculture” toward “how can food and agricultural
systems transform in ways that are equitable and that empower women”.

Achieving this will require systemic innovations in
the food system and the use of a feminist lens.

First, at agricultural production level, a just and
equitable food system will require the recognition of women as farmers, with
rights to the land they cultivate, technologies that reduce the drudgery of
agriculture and policies that ensure women can make a living wage from

Women in many different contexts continue to have
their rights to independent control of land denied, and access to agricultural
inputs, credit, and other essential resources due to cultural norms,
assumptions by governments and programs that farmers are male, because ‘men are
the providers’.

A global movement like the “Me Too” movement that
raises the consciousness and triggers action towards women’s rights to
resources and to a living wage in agriculture is needed.

Second, it will require trade, market and finance
policies and processes that do not discriminate against women, and that
explicitly engage women in formulation and implementation.

For example, the
African Continental Free Trade Agreement – AfCFTA –
framework agreement includes an objective of gender equality that recognizes
the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in an integrated
continental market. Monitoring of this

Third, it will
require gender standards that include workplace dignity for women and equal pay
with monitoring and accountability mechanisms for the food industry, whether
large farms, food factories or the service industry. In the US, women food processing workers
made 74 cents to the dollar
 men earned in 2019.

And in 2018, ILO put a spotlight on sexual violence,
harassment and poor workplace conditions of women workers in commercial
agriculture. Such standards are being discussed in some industries such as the
garment industry.

For example,
the Gender Working Group at ISEAL aims
to improve the working conditions of women in textile and apparel supply chains
by promoting tailored, evidence-based strategies, tools and systems, with
lessons that will be more broadly applicable to other standard organizations.

And finally, it will require strengthening and
amplifying the voices of women in all levels of the food system. This will
require funding women smallholder farmers organizations, women business
networks, women workers unions, women’s consumer organizations to engage at
different levels and in different conversations to influence food systems.

And for the
industry, it will require adoption of a set of principles or a women and food
systems manifesto for women’s representation and inclusion in food system,
similar in nature to the Chef’s manifesto.

Our food systems need to change to nourish all in a
sustainable way that protects our planet. Equally important is that they must
be just and equitable and guarantee the needs and priorities of those that
depend on them, including women.