Gender inequality and hunger are very much interconnected both globally and regionally. Not only does hunger reduce school attendance more for girls than boys, but 60% of undernourished people are women or girls around the globe. Unfortunately, many women are excluded from participating in decisions regarding their communities’ agricultural policy and food production, consumption, and distribution systems, so issues particularly relevant to women, such as the link between undernourishment and school attendance, are often overlooked and lead to disenfranchisement.
Women are disenfranchised
The disenfranchisement of women can be seen in the case study of genetically-modified (GM) maize (corn) varieties in Mexico. These GM varieties actually require more time and more firewood to cook versus non-GM varieties thus requiring more labor and time from women. In Mexico, rural women already work 89 hours per week on average, compared to only 58 hours for men. The extra labour inputs for GM maize have caused many women, especially younger women, to sacrifice making tortillas from scratch or even making tortillas altogether as women often have to balance their time between domestic work and agricultural work. Instead, many women either purchase pre-processed maize flour or tortillas that are lower quality, less appetizing, less filling, and less culturally significant than tortillas from traditional maize varieties. Interestingly, women still support their husbands’ choice to plant GM maize varieties because they are high-yielding and provide more income to the household even at the cost of additional work for women.
These rural women also have to contend with land rights issues. Women are less likely to hold larger plots of land, hold fewer land titles, and have soil with lower quality compared to men. But Latin American women are kicking ass with the cards they’ve been dealt. This group feeds half of the region’s food supply (600 million people) on only 8–30% of land owned by women. The Food and Agriculture Organization said that with access to the same resources as men, women “could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent [and] raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5–4 percent, which could result in feeding 12–17% of hungry people in the world”. This land ownership inequality prevents women from growing their own crops, and it creates a dependence on men that can explain how 40% of rural Latin American women do not have their own incomes — compared to just 14% of men.
Women fighting climate change
Climate change is expected to greatly impact agricultural production due to increased drought and rain variability, which can further marginalize women and their ability to grow their crops. However, women’s unique knowledge about local crops, lunar phases, rain cycles, and their ancestral and cultural connection with nature can be used in combating climate change. For example, women in Nicaragua have begun using agroecology and patio gardens as innovative ways to provide food for their families, and women in Cuba have started to manage irrigation systems using solar energy technologies as a response to climate change.
We not only need to be mindful of the ways women are disenfranchised in terms of agricultural decisions and land rights issues, but we also need to acknowledge their roles in solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Without focused engagement with disempowered people, the cycle of undernourishment and vulnerability will continue for women and girls and we might miss out on key response strategies needed to alleviate the impacts of climate change.