5. Address the health needs of women.
Global leaders and the food security community must go beyond acknowledging the role of women smallholder farmers as global food producers, to addressing the basic health issues that narrow their options, limit their productivity, and effect the nutrition and well-being of their children. Furthermore, a strong correlation between food affordability, food security and women’s health suggests that in food insecure countries, improving the delivery of women’s health services and the effectiveness of food safety nets that increase food affordability would propel development that is both more equitable and food secure.
Improve health outcomes and the effectiveness of food safety nets.
Peace and security depend on food security and on just systems of governance, but rapid population growth in many of the world’s most food insecure countries jeopardizes the ability of countries to either sustainably produce enough food, or to import enough food that is affordable and accessible to the poor. Good governance and improved food security therefore depend upon putting in place the conditions that will enable an organic slowing of population growth, based on both improved health and voluntary family planning.
A strong correlation between food affordability, food security and women’s health suggests that in food insecure countries, improving the delivery of women’s health services and the effectiveness of food safety nets (which increase the affordability of food) would work synergistically to propel development on a path that is both more equitable and food secure.
This follows from the GFSI finding that, for the world’s most food insecure countries, lack of affordable food is a key factor driving hunger. But in countries where women, on average, have fewer children and better access to healthcare— including voluntary family planning, and better prenatal and antenatal care—maternal and infant mortality is lower, food is more affordable, and food security is stronger.
The food security community must go beyond acknowledging the role of women smallholder farmers as global food producers, to actually addressing their health issues as women, as these fundamental issues restrict their exercise of human rights; their productivity as food producers; and their ability to adequately feed, care for and educate their children.
Given the strong correlation of food security with maternal and infant mortality rates, agricultural and food security programs need to put renewed emphasis on providing for dietary diversity, nutritional fortification, and health services for women and children.
Comprehensively address the gender gap and challenges faced by rural women.
To close the gender gap in agricultural productivity, countries must systematically strengthen or put in place policies, laws, programs and practices that address the underlying causes of the gender gap.
Given that women in many countries produce 20 - 30% less than men, and women make up half or more of smallholder farmers in many of the world’s most food insecure countries, closing the gender gap will go a long way to improving food security. The gap is due both to unequal access to productive resources, and also to unequal benefits derived from those resources. The latter is explained
in part by the women’s divided time between the demands of farming and that of running a household, pregnancy and childbirth, and child rearing. At the same time, their access to education, health services, good land, agricultural training, finance, and farm inputs are more limited. Systematically and comprehensively addressing these issues facing rural women can close the gender gap in agriculture.
Invest in reproductive health for women, voluntary family planning, and access to contraception.
Population dynamics in the most food insecure countries require investment in reproductive health for women, voluntary family planning, and meeting the unmet need for contraception. The world’s most food insecure countries are also the ones with the most unsustainable population growth, the lowest levels of public health expenditure, and the lowest levels of educational attainment, especially for girls.
The common thread underlying these interrelated problems is poor healthcare for women and inadequate family planning services embedded in health systems that are easily accessible, and services that are widely understood and utilized, whether in the most remote rural areas or in rapidly expanding, underserved urban areas. Utilization of healthcare for women and family planning services is dependent on improved access to education, particularly for girls.
Photo credit: flickr@Akram Ali/CARE Bangladesh