Do women hold the key to building a world free from hunger and poverty?

Women may hold the key to building a world free from hunger and poverty, yet is gender inequality putting a brake on sustainable development worldwide?

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggests that in developing countries, women make up 45% of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20% in Latin America to up to 60% in parts of Africa and Asia.

In developing countries in Africa and Asia and the Pacific, women typically work 12-13 hours more than men per week.

Across all regions women are less likely than men to own or control land, and their plots often are of poorer quality. Less than 20% of the world's landholders are women.

If women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million due to productivity gains.

Women reinvest up to 90% of their earnings back into their households - that's money spent on nutrition, food, healthcare, school, and income-generating activities - helping to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.


Access barriers to resources and technology

IWD women forging change - sustainability, technology, agriculture

Women in agriculture are important to farming and perform a considerable amount of farming activities, despite having less access to resources and technical inputs. Despite these challenges and limitations, women are often the custodians of local culture, diversity and cuisine - and they are often the ones pioneering family farming which is primarily responsive to household needs - be it food, nutrition or income.

Rural women and girls, in particular, are seen as major agents of change. Across low-income countries, women make up around half of agricultural employment.

As farmers and farm workers, horticulturists and market sellers, businesswomen, entrepreneurs and community leaders, women fulfil important roles throughout agrifood value chains, as well as in the management of natural resources such as land and water. 

Addressing an audience some years ago, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said: "Achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition."

Additionally, the former European Union Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, has explained: "It is often said that if you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation. The same is true when we empower women across the board - not only through access to knowledge, but also to resources, to equal opportunities, and by giving them a voice. We know that agricultural yields would rise by almost a third if women had the same access to resources as men. As a result, there would be up to 150 million fewer hungry people in the world. And we know that children have significantly better prospects for the future when their mothers are healthy, wealthy and educated. Especially during the first 1,000 days of a child's life."

"If we are serious about putting an end to poverty and hunger once and for all, then we all need to step up our support for rural women. As an investment in families, in our communities, in our wider societies, and in our planet's future."

The gender gap in food and agriculture is extensive

IWD women forging change - sustainability, technology, agriculture

As consumers, women are more likely to be more food-insecure than men in every region of the world.

As producers, rural women face significant constraints in accessing essential productive resources and services, technology, market information and financial assets. Women are under-represented in local institutions and governance mechanisms, and tend to have less decision-making power. In addition to these constraints, prevailing gender norms and discrimination often mean that women face an excessive work burden, and that much of their labour remains unpaid and unrecognized.

Attention on these barriers is important, however, focusing solely on the negatives can also reinforce and influence perception about rural women and girls beng vulnerable victims of their circumstances. In turn, this can obscure the nature and magnitude of their potential - yet rural women are resilient, resourceful, industrious and innovative.

Evidence shows that when women are given the right opportunity, yields on their farms increase, as do their incomes. Natural resources are better managed. Nutrition is improved. And livelihoods are more secured.

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