There is growing evidence to show that women are the biggest victims of food insecurity and their involvement is key to solving it.

A shocking jump in the number of women compared to men facing food insecurity lays bare a broadening gender gap, with women now shouldering a disproportionate amount of the burden in the current global food crisis.

A recent report from CARE found that 150 million more women than men were considered “food insecure” in 2021. This is an unconscionable jump from 2018, when this imbalance was an already unacceptable 18 million.

The same research highlights that the greater the gender equality gap, the hungrier people are. This is a cruel irony given women’s vital role in food systems. We cannot reach the goal of zero hunger nor tackle the current crisis without tackling this great injustice.

It is precisely women’s central roles as food producers, processors, traders, retailers and heads of households, particularly in emerging economies, that make rural women such important, if under-utilized, agents of change. The global response to the food crisis must prioritize gender, enable and equip women to make full use of these roles to drive change, uplift and strengthen entire communities, as well as close the gender hunger gap.

Evidence shows that improving women’s involvement in household decision-making leads to better nutrition, livelihoods, well-being and resilience. Involving women in these decisions improves outcomes for everyone across the production, processing and provisioning of food in developing countries, among families and society at large.

When rural women had a greater say in family farming in southern Africa, for example, households were more likely to adopt climate-resilient practices. And in Bangladesh, families with gender-equal decision-making were more likely to grow a diverse range of crops, minimizing the risk climate change and market shocks pose to food security and nutrition.

Developing more inclusive decision-making processes and environments relies heavily on the insights and evidence provided by research into gender inequality within food systems and the barriers that currently exclude women.

Ensuring that data gathered about food security is broken down by gender can help surface gaps and opportunities to shape more effective humanitarian and development efforts. Without this data, it is oftentimes impossible — and in some cases, risks being counterproductive — to make truly informed decisions that benefit women and their empowerment in rural communities.

Resources including CGIAR’s newly launched GENDER Impact Platform provide clear guidance on the importance of gender-inclusive research to help ensure that interventions to improve food security are also designed to address inherent gender inequality.

Such research can also then help governments across the world to ensure that their policies, innovations, agricultural programs, and interventions to address the global food crisis account for the needs and challenges specific to women. This is critical to prevent unintended negative consequences that could inadvertently amplify gender inequality. For instance, men and women face different dietary challenges during food crises, with research showing that women are more likely to face malnutrition because they often skip meals to feed other family members in times of hunger.

However, we have seen how carefully designed programs that deliberately set out to increase women’s access to agricultural technology can have multiple benefits for nutrition, health and food security. This was the case in Benin, where greater access to solar-powered drip irrigation also led to improved diets among women.

As the world continues to develop its response to the global food crisis, the role of women has so far proven to be a missing link, exacerbating the already significant vulnerabilities to global food security prolonged by persistent gender inequality.

If we are to limit the already widespread damage from this crisis and those to come, the international community must anchor its efforts with the promotion of women’s empowerment. This will deliver benefits not just for the individual, but for the communities in which they lead and thrive.

Claudia Sadoff is the executive managing director of CGIAR, the world’s largest publicly funded agricultural research organization.

Original source: https://thehill.com