A desperate and largely unknown humanitarian crisis is deteriorating in the Lake Chad Basin region of West Africa, forcing millions of people to flee their homes and leaving millions more in need of humanitarian assistance. Oxfam is providing life-saving support but help is urgently needed to prevent the crisis turning into a catastrophe.
A new UN report released today on ‘Women’s Rights and the Right to Food’ puts the spotlight on the hugely disproportionate amount of time that women spend caring for their family.
Women across the globe struggle to balance the demands of work with their role as carers. This issue hit the headlines just last week when Yahoo! banned employees from working from home – a particular blow for working women who value the flexibility of remote working as they juggle childcare and work.
In the world’s poorest countries this juggling act is harder still. The time women spend fetching water, collecting firewood, raising children, or caring for the sick and elderly is time not spent going to school, earning a decent wage, producing food, or taking on positions of leadership and shaping the policies that will affect their lives.
Sharing care more equally
In a New York Times opinion piece today the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, says the responsibilities of care – traditionally seen as a women’s role – need to be shared more equally. He calls for the provision of basic public services such as childcare, running water and electricity which would relieve women of the burden of the household chores. He also calls for a different approach to employment and social protection which would accommodate women’s specific needs (e.g. for childcare provision) while challenging gender stereotypes which exclude women from certain areas of work.
This is no small matter. Tackling inequalities - whether the burden of care or the discriminatory laws and practices which prevent women farmers from accessing resources such as land and credit available to their male counterparts - is the single most important way of cutting hunger and malnutrition. For example, UN data collected over 25 years, shows that allowing women the time to complete their education can lead to 43 per cent reduction in hunger.
Tackling time poverty
For decades now, women’s movements have been drawing attention to women’s time poverty and the implications for tackling poverty and the realization of basic human rights.
The issue of care was raised repeatedly in an Oxfam online discussion on ‘Making the food system work for women’ last November. De Schutter made an impassioned call to “re-civilize men” and to end the gendered division of roles that keep women hungry and dis-empowered, while Joanna Kerr, CEO of Action Aid, urged us to “rethink women’s unpaid care work and lack of time as fundamental issues of food security”.
It’s great to see the word finally starting to spread.
To tackle this fundamental issue, both policy responses and attitude changes are needed. Care needs won’t disappear, but the responsibility must be redistributed between men and women, and more equally shared among households, governments and the private sector.
Women’s organizations also need a bigger seat at the food security table.
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