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Is Our Society Gender Biased In food Nutrition

May 20, 2024
Archana Ms.
Core Spirit member since Aug 24, 2023
Reading time 7 min.

Although gender inequality has become a common issue in our society, where women have often been perceived as a weaker section, it’s important to recognize that not only social rights but also the lack of nutritious food contributes to gender inequality faced by many women.

Yes, nutrition and gender are closely intertwined. Women and girls disproportionately suffer from poor nutrition due to social, cultural, and political norms that affect food production, access, consumption, and the utilization of nutrition services.

Women’s access to resources, services, and inputs—such as land, knowledge, food, and sociocultural norms—is impacted by gender inequality and harmful gender norms. Vulnerable women, particularly those living in households headed by women, struggle to obtain the resources and nutrition information they need to enhance food security. Women are more susceptible than men to food shortages, food instability, and malnutrition-related deaths. In 2021, 31.9 percent of women worldwide experienced moderate to severe food insecurity, compared to 27.6 percent of males.

Indeed, there are many places globally where women have less access to food than men. Despite this, a significant portion of global data on gender equality tends to overlook issues related to women’s access to food or even food scarcity.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, gender disparities in food security are significant. In 2021, between 828 million and 2.3 billion people faced hunger and food insecurity, respectively.

Meanwhile, the 2022 Global Gender Gap report highlights that gender parity is not improving. It is estimated that another 132 years are needed to close the global gender gap. As crises continue to compound, exacerbated by the setbacks experienced during COVID-19, women’s workforce outcomes are suffering, and the risk of global gender parity backsliding further intensifies.

Women, who often bear the responsibility of securing food for their households, are disproportionately affected by these challenges, indirectly leading to anemia in females. This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including food shortage and nutritional deficiencies particularly iron deficiency in women. Anemia is indeed more prevalent in women and girls than in males. Globally, 31.2% of women had anemia in 2021, compared with 17.5% of men.

Does this situation exist only in India? Let’s find out,
Gender disparities in access to nutritional food are a global issue, with women often facing greater challenges than men. Based on datasets and global trends, a CARE (Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere, Inc.) report released on August 3, 2022, highlights the persistent global relationship between gender inequality and food insecurity. It also reveals that food security has declined due to increased gender inequality in 109 countries.

According to the U.N.'s 2022 'The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World' report, women have poorer food security than men in every region worldwide. This disparity is especially pronounced in developing countries, specifically in the Global South.

In fact, out of the 690 million people suffering from hunger globally, 60% are girls or women. The gender gap in food insecurity widened further in 2021, driven largely by Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and Asia. In that year, 31.9% of women worldwide were moderately or severely food insecure, compared to 27.6% of men.

However, these disparities are exacerbated in countries like India, where societal norms and economic factors often limit women's access to resources. The prevalence rate of undernutrition among ever-married women stands at 55.3%, compared to 24.2% among ever-married men in India. This significant gender gap highlights the challenges women face in accessing adequate food and nutrition. Consequently, women's vulnerability to underweight across all age groups remains a serious concern in India.

What factors contribute to women's vulnerability in this context?,

In addition to negative gender norms and lack of resources, women are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity due to several factors:

Economic Challenges - Women often have fewer economic resources, lower employment rates, and are more likely to be caregivers. In households headed by single women with children, rates of food insecurity are higher. During economic crises, women’s employment recovery is slower than men’s, as they often reallocate time to non-market work like procuring food and caregiving.

Unrecognized Economic Contributions - Even in the case of working women, large portions of their economic contributions go unrecognized or are hard to calculate — at least in economic data. The IMF estimates that the economic value of unpaid work, which is mostly done by women, accounts for between 10% and 60% of gross domestic product.

Gender-Based Disparities - Globally, women tend to be less educated, experience higher rates of gender-based violence, and bear a larger burden of caregiver responsibilities. These disparities contribute to their vulnerability to food shortages and insecurity.

Nutrient Deficiencies - Women suffer more from macro- and micronutrient deficiencies, especially during reproductive years. Malnutrition negatively impacts both individual women and society as a whole.

Socioeconomic Challenges - Women in low-income households often lack the necessary resources to secure nutritious food. This includes financial constraints, limited access to markets, and control over household income.

Cultural Challenges - Cultural norms and practices can restrict women's access to nutritious food. For example, in some cultures, women eat last and receive smaller portions after serving other family members.

Knowledge and Information Barriers - Women, especially those in vulnerable groups, often lack access to nutrition information and education. This limitation affects their ability to make informed decisions about food choices for themselves and their families.

Geographical Barriers - Women living in rural and remote areas face challenges in accessing healthy food due to physical distance from markets and limited transportation options.

Policy and Institutional Factors - Women's contributions to food security are often overlooked in policy, legal, and institutional frameworks. This oversight can hinder their access to resources and services needed for nutritious food.

Health and Nutritional Status - Poor maternal nutrition has serious consequences for infants and young children. Maternal undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and anemia increase the risk of stillbirth, newborn death, and preterm delivery, affecting fetal development.

These interconnected barriers reinforce gender disparities in food access. To address this issue, a comprehensive approach involving policy changes, education, and increased awareness is essential.

How can we find the solution ?,

By prioritizing gender-sensitive policies and programs, fostering greater collaboration among stakeholders, and empowering communities with knowledge and resources, we can work towards achieving equitable access to nutrition and ensuring the right to food for all women and girls in India. Addressing the underlying determinants of malnutrition is essential for achieving true gender equity in nutrition.

Here are some notable initiatives that have improved food security for women:

Women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs) - In India, SHGs play a significant role in empowering women and enhancing food security. These groups provide financial literacy, training, and access to credit. Women pool their resources, engage in income-generating activities, and collectively address food-related challenges.

Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture - Programs that promote diverse and nutritious crops, kitchen gardens, and livestock rearing have positively impacted women's nutrition and food security. For example, the Homestead Food Production program in Nepal encourages families to grow vegetables and fruits at home, benefiting women and children.

Conditional Cash Transfer Programs - Some countries have implemented cash transfer programs specifically targeting women. These programs provide financial support to pregnant women, mothers, and caregivers, with conditions related to health and nutrition. Brazil's Bolsa Família program, for instance, has improved food security for vulnerable households.

Gender-Responsive Policies - Governments and organizations increasingly recognize the importance of gender-responsive policies. These policies address women's unique needs, such as maternity leave, childcare support, and equal access to resources. When women are economically empowered, household food security improves.

Empowering Women Farmers - Organizations like the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) focus on empowering women farmers by providing training, access to markets, and technology. When women have equal access to resources, they significantly contribute to food production and security.

Remember that these success stories are part of ongoing efforts, and there's still much work to be done. Empowering women and addressing gender disparities remain critical for achieving global food security.

In this context, Gender Transformative Approaches (GTAs) are notable interventions that create opportunities for active changes in gender norms. They promote the inclusion of women in social and political positions of influence and address power inequities between genders.

GTAs aim to create an enabling environment that goes beyond merely including women as participants or beneficiaries of nutrition support. They integrate gender issues into all aspects of program and policy design, development, implementation, and evaluation.

Regarding health and nutrition, GTAs specifically address community power structures that prevent women from making decisions about their own well-being. These structures include access to health and nutrition services, family planning, food security, livelihoods, land ownership, and equitable job opportunities.

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