Global food systems don’t think about women. UN report calls for action

Biased power structures must be changed for more inclusive decision-making processes, the United Nations said ahead of the Food Systems Summit in September

Women farmers are disproportionately more affected by climate change and land degradation. Photo: CSE / DTE

What does a fair food system look like in times of climate crisis and pandemic?

Gender equality and food systems are closely linked. But today’s food systems – heavily affected by power imbalances and inequalities – don’t work for most women.

These power structures need to be changed for more inclusive decision-making, the United Nations noted in one of its Action Track reports ahead of the Food Systems Summit in September 2021.

He stressed the urgency to protect the livelihoods of women living in times of vulnerability. He called for social protection systems that preserve their livelihoods for move beyond the rhetoric of poverty reduction to enhance opportunities that help build assets and create wealth for them.


Women farmers are disproportionately more affected by climate change and land degradation, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They face high levels of obesity and are more susceptible to chronic diseases.

Indigenous women play a crucial role in eradicating hunger and malnutrition; there are 185 million indigenous women in the world. But limitations in the recognition and exercise of rights have hampered access to equitable food systems.

Youth migration during the urban transition as well as the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic have had impacts on the gendered nature of economic roles.

Such migration has resulted in a growing gap between the location of food production and food consumption, according to the report. This may have been followed by a change in lifestyle, including eating habits.

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have not been gender neutral: more women have fallen victim to heightened poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition and disease prevalence. A 2020 UN report suggested how epidemics can dramatically reduce women’s economic activities and livelihoods, increasing poverty rates and exacerbating food insecurity.

RRural women were among the most affected among the food insecure population of 821 million (as of 2017), according to an Oxfam report released in 2019. Up to 31 African countries depended on external food aid until 2019. Oxfam is a confederation of 20 independent charities focused on reducing food poverty in the world.

Rural women make up almost half of the agricultural workforce in developing countries and face discrimination. They have very few land rights, have difficulty accessing property, have no access to credit, and are engaged in unpaid work.

This lack of agency is reflected in their eating habits: they eat the least, the last and the least. Women farmers who control the resources tend to eat better quality foods.

Call for inclusive systems

Dimitra clubs in rural sub-Saharan Africa have been the engines of women’s leadership for over a decade. These groups are made up of women and men who highlight gender inequalities in households and communities.

They fight against malnutrition by shaking up food taboos, mobilize to meet environmental challenges and create a credit union to avoid getting into debt.

The UN called for more independent social systems at national and regional levels to strengthen institutional architecture and make decision-making processes related to food systems more inclusive.

He urged systems to adopt policies that remove barriers to accessing basic services, ensuring, for example, the right to food, housing and health.

The report cites the example of the German dual training system, an institutional infrastructure that paves the way for jobs and better livelihoods. It integrates school-based learning with on-the-job practice by providing theoretical training to future farmers as well as short-term courses in specific skills.

The UN has stressed that inequitable systems and structures that enable and exacerbate inequalities for workers and consumers of food systems must be dismantled and that governments, businesses and organizations must be held accountable for ensuring equitable livelihoods. .

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