Upholding women’s rights is key to reducing global hunger

16 January 2013

Decades after the historic success of the suffrage movements championing the rights of women to vote and be voted for, women continue to shatter the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’ against all odds, seeking empowerment, inclusion, respect and equality in the socio-cultural, political and economic arena. Their heroic global struggles across generations have today, undoubtedly yielded progress on a host of women’s rights issues. To date  186 countries have signed up to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 46 countries have signed the Maputo protocol on the rights of women in Africa; 125 countries have outlawed domestic violence; 115 countries guarantee equal property rights and 28 countries have reached or surpassed the 30 percent mark for women’s representation in parliament.

Yet we still see spikes of insensitivity to the rights of women and girls in many countries where institutions and fundamentalists defend barbaric acts under the auspices of protecting their traditional values. Amongst others, India reported that rape cases have increased drastically over 40 years from 2,487 in 1971 to 24,206 in 2011; in Nigeria most women between the ages 15 to 24 years still think it is reasonable for a husband to beat his wife if she burns the food; in Pakistan most women face atrocities like rape, acidthrowing attacks, honor killings, forced marriages, forced prostitution and human trafficking. As someone who grew up in a relatively large African family with five strong progressive women, I know that how we uphold and recognize women’s rights in every sphere of life is an important indicator to understanding our own well-being.

There is no doubt that our global economy cannot thrive without the invaluable contributions that women bring to bear across all sectors. In the food and agriculture sector for example, reports show that there are more women than men. Women represent more than 70% of the agriculture workforce in South Asia and about 59% in sub-Saharan Africa and if women have access to the same resources as men, they can grow 30% more food and increase agricultural output by 3% thereby catalyzing the reduction of global hunger by 150 million people. But in food supply chains of companies around the world the plights of farming women are marred by intensely laborious long hours and low pay, bonded labour, physical abuse and sexual harassment, poor access to financial facilities, information and technology as well as discrimination on land ownership and land rights. It is unacceptable that the women in agriculture who do so much work receive so little recognition. This is why Fairfood International will continue to engage with food and beverage companies worldwide to address gender-related issues within their supply chains.

As a society we are still a long way from where we need to be. We need to ensure that empowerment, respect and equality for women become deep-seated at all levels from the household all the way up to religious and educational institutions, farms, industry and government.

Image: Pierre Holtz for OCHA | hdptcar.net (CC license)