Gender blindness in agriculture and in the livestock sector in particular, continues to limit production in many rural areas, and evidence shows that the more gender inequality there is in a country, the hungrier and more malnourished people are. But what is the relation between gender inclusion and food security?
Socially constructed roles and cultural practices, rules and beliefs, are some of the reasons for food insecurity and poverty in many developing countries. Although society or community defined roles for members are not in themselves a bad thing, the issue comes when it leads to skewed or unfair allocation of resources and unequal power relations. Women are involved in raising livestock, but they normally do not have equal access to land, labour, feed, credit and capital, and veterinary services among others.
In any increasingly populated society, there is a growing demand for food security and livestock source foods such milk, eggs and meat. Although women make up two-thirds of rural livestock keepers, they continue to face various constrains that limit them from achieving optimal livestock production and agricultural development. Addressing these constraints and providing access to the same level of resources as men, would increase agricultural productivity by up to 30%.
The empowerment of women in the livestock sector is fundamental to achieve gender inclusion and equality. This can be accomplished by, among others, creating opportunities and improving women’s access to resources including land, technical skills and capital. Women’s ownership, whether of land or livestock, and decision making (e.g. income from livestock) are some of the issues that should also be addressed.
However, any gender initiative, whether targeted or transformative, that does not simultaneously aim at addressing the gender cultural norms and rules, will result in limited advances. Initiatives aimed at increasing access and/or providing opportunities for women and girls should include educational programs to change society’s entrenched gender beliefs and attitude systems, to avoid backlashes and unintended consequences that would reverse the gains.
Women’s empowerment is not only beneficial to them but to society, as it has a positive impact on agricultural development and contributes to food security.
Written by Thembinkosi Ramuthivheli, GALVmed’s Senior Manager, Commercial Development & Impact, Africa