Where are women in the food system?

As we explore the elements of the new GROW campaign, we’re asking, where are the women?

Women who struggle daily to grow, process, sell, and cook food for their families are painfully aware that the current food system is failing millions of people. Women play a key role in feeding the world, but often it is them that are ignored and left short changed.

Much of the food on our tables has been produced or processed by women. Like the army of agricultural labourers who grow fresh fruit in Kenyan farms, French beans for export in Senegal, or who form the majority of poultry workers in Brazil. Women also make up two thirds of the livestock keepers throughout the world. Despite the long hours and hard work involved, many of these women still live in poverty.

In the many of these cases it is basic gender inequality that locks them in poverty and hunger. Too often, they don’t own land, get no access to the financial credit they need to grow their businesses and little access to markets and information. Ironically, they’re often forced to go without food. Half of pregnant women in developing countries are iron deficient, and iron deficiency anaemia among pregnant women is associated with over 111,000 maternal deaths each year. 

Many politicians and business elites continue to ignore women’s rights, and their vital contribution to the food system that we all rely on. Millions of women produce the food necessary for our survival and wellbeing but they are glaringly absent from the tables at which crucial decisions about food are being taken.

Women are rarely present and participate in, let alone lead, farmers organizations and producers cooperatives. Women have muted voices at climate change negotiations and other global forums such as the G20, in government bodies, and powerful companies’ boards.

It’s no surprise that food related problems are felt so acutely by women. To change this we need to understand the role that women play in the food system, both domestically and as producers. Their interests have to be represented in governments and international institutions, and more women must be in decision-making positions.

The photos below show how some women already play a key role in feeding their families and the wider community; by making sure that they play a greater role we can go some way to fixing the broken food system.

Find out more: Time to GROW out of climate change

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