According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), over 50% of the food grown internationally is done so by women. More specifically, in Sub-Saharan Africa, “women contribute 60 to 80 percent of the labour in both food production for household consumption and for sale… women’s contributions to household food production range from 30 percent in Sudan to 80 percent in the Congo,while the proportion of women in the economically active labour force in agriculture ranges from 48 percent in Burkina Faso to 73 percent in the Congo (FAO, 1994)” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). While the actual responsibilities of women differ in each country; overall, women provide most of the physical labor involved in agricultural practices, as well as most of the household preparation of food.
The level to which food insecurity occurs in Africa is attributed to gender inequality or the gender gap. Men and women who are both involved in food production have unequal access to a variety of things that aid in food security including “land and capital, credit, agricultural inputs, education and appropriate technology” (“Women’s contributions to agricultural production and food security: Current status and perspectives”). Socially and culturally women are seen as inferior. This is a Western concept that was brought to Africa along with colonization. As a result, the idea of gender roles was also introduced, but in food production has been more of a conceptual idea rather than an actualized one. Women do the majority of the agricultural work across Africa but they continue to be undervalued and underacknowledged. This is partially because of legislation that makes it nearly impossible for women to own and control land. As a result, they are doing the majority of the work, but have very little control over what they are doing. This impacts food security as they are directly cultivating the crops, as well as the lack of an income needed to purchase food for the household and prepare it. This means that women are responsible for providing nutritious and balanced meals for the families, but do not have the means to do so. It has been shown that women spend more of their income on household goods when compared to men but have less of an income than men. This results in less nutritious and less of a variety of foods being purchased. In addition to the lack of income, with the gender gap, women are often not provided education on balanced and nutritious diets. The FAO therefore has claimed that equalizing the gender gap will be the most efficient way to combat food insecurity.
What can be done?
Because of the food insecurity in Africa being partially attributed to gender inequality, more emphasis has been put on examining gender inequality in order to increase food production and decrease poverty, therefore improving security. There are many researchers who stress the necessity of programs surrounding the issues of food production in the areas of both education and training. These programs should specifically target gender issues relating to the topics. Rather than being “gender blind”, these programs should be focusing on providing the different training needed for men and women, as they have different issues surrounding food security. Never Assan, an Associate Professor of Animal Production at the Zimbabwe Open University, claimed that it is necessary to for women to be educated in sustainable food production in addition to being empowered through policy making (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”).
Research already shows the value that providing programs dedicated to women has on food security: According to the article, “Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”, a study was done examining many developing countries from 1970 through 1995. It was discovered that 43% of the decline in hunger was credited to the progress in women education.
The education put in place to close the gender gap will be most effective if it combines the outside aid of those with professional skills and knowledge with people in the community who share and know the workings of everyday life in that region. Because of the different farming practices in different regions in Africa, including the acknowledgement of different climates and access to various technological advances, there is not a one size fits all solution. By having members of the community aid in the training, jobs are being created and the education will become more specialized to the region. Specific programs and training should be implemented and as such, research and planning must be done prior. In these programs, the differences in gender roles and availability of resources should be discussed, teaching women how to best work with what they have access to, in addition to addressing farming for personal use verses farming for economic and community use. It is expected that the training and education will directly cause there to be an increase in food available, helping to decrease food insecurity.
Overall, the necessity of “access to productive resources, education and training, provision of extension services, credit facilities and appropriate technology” (“Relevance and feasibility of women’s involvement in promoting sustainable food production and security in Southern Africa”) is crucial for women in order to close the gender gap and increase food security throughout Africa. As a result of the closure of the gap, there will be an increase in food production, a greater role in agriculture for women, as well as better financial situations, which allow women to provide more nutritional food for their families.