Despite the fact that women bear the heaviest responsibility for food supply globally, they themselves are the most affected by hunger and malnutrition. In order to end hunger in the world, the systematic discrimination against women must also end. This is written by representatives from the organization The Hunger Project. Photo: CIFOR. Source: Flickr.

Debate

Inequality in the world leads to hunger and malnutrition

Gender discrimination continues to be a contributing factor to hunger and malnutrition in the world. Everyone must work for more equal societies to end hunger, and men in particular must realize that their commitment is essential to achieving equality. It writes Elodie Iko, Grace Mga bathers Chikowi and Malin Flemström from The Hunger Project. 

Globally, it is still women who bear the greatest responsibility for ensuring that there is food on the table. Among other things, they are responsible for the majority of all food purchases and all cooking in the world. Despite that, women are most affected by and vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, studies from, among others, show Care.

- In Benin, the government has invested in better access to drinking water and sanitation, improved healthcare and increased access to nutritious food. But high child mortality and morbidity rates reveal that communities are kept in hunger, and one reason for that is gender discrimination, says Elodie Iko, country director of The Hunger Project in Benin.

If you look at the distribution of resources and responsibilities in the household, especially between men and women, the connection between hunger at the household level and gender discrimination becomes clear, she explains. In our patriarchal society, men are considered the heads of the household. They have the social responsibility to bring in money for the household, then women are expected to put food on the table. But today, when prices for food and agricultural inputs have skyrocketed, it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide for one's family. In many cases, it is then up to women to find extra sources of income to guarantee food on the table. And it is made difficult by a lack of training, resources and time. Women are often responsible for time-consuming household chores such as childcare, livestock tending and fetching water in rural communities in countries like Benin, Iko explains.

Grace Mgabadere Chikowi is the country manager for The Hunger Project in Malawi. She testifies that it may be a matter of cultural practice that women eat last and thus also the least:

- It is a custom that is dying out, but if there is limited food in the house, you prioritize your husband and your children, she explains.

Chikowi also mentions that the lack of equality in land ownership and decision-making is linked to hunger.

- In Malawi, as in many other countries, most women do not own land, and if they do own land, the land area is not large enough to cover the household's need to grow varied nutritious food, explains Chikowi.

She is certain that the biggest change a society can make to end hunger and improve food security is to change attitudes about gender equality.

- It is only when a woman has the opportunity to make decisions about the household finances that she can fully meet her own and her children's needs, says Chikowi.

Systematic discrimination must end

Iko and Chikowi's testimonies are just some of the few that all highlight the same systematic discrimination against women and girls. Even today, in 2024, girls around the world are not allowed to complete their schooling, women find it difficult to access money and even more difficult to participate and make decisions in society. Girls are exposed to child marriage and women to violence in relationships. The health of pregnant women and their babies is a major global problem. Women living in rural areas, often dependent on their own small farms for food supply, are the ones who suffer the most from hunger. This is only a small part of the challenges women face in an unequal world.

To end hunger in the world, everyone must work for equal societies. We cannot be content with women being trained to become decision-makers, community leaders and entrepreneurs if we do not also remove the structural barriers that exist. Men must take greater responsibility and realize that their active work and commitment are crucial to achieving gender equality. The fight for an equal world has long been driven by women and women's organisations. But if we all think equality is good, we all need to work for it. Sharing power is uncomfortable. Changes are also uncomfortable. But it is the change and shift in power that is required to reach an equal world, free from hunger. 

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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