|Women: The Key to Food Security - Food policy report (IFPRI, 1995, 28 p.)|
Women in developing countries currently play a crucial role in meeting the food and nutrition needs of their families through all three pillars of food security - food production, economic access to food, and nutrition security - but they do so with inadequate resources. If the constraints confronting women farmers were removed and women were granted access to the resources available to male farmers, they could make significant contributions to eradicating the food insecurity faced by millions of people. To allow women to fulfill their potential in generating food security, national governments and international organizations must take policy steps in three broad areas.
Increase Womens Physical and Human Capital
Womens ability to fulfill their roles as food producers can be enhanced by improving womens access to resources, technology, and information. Efforts must be made to safeguard womens traditional rights to land through nondiscriminatory registration and titling and the explicit inclusion of women as sole or joint beneficiaries in land reform programs. Guaranteeing the sustainable use of the natural resource base will also enable women to have continuing access to the forest products needed for their livelihoods. Innovative credit programs using non-traditional forms of collateral and local institutions (like womens groups) can ensure that women are able to obtain access to credit. Programs can support the development of farm technology that takes into account womens needs and their knowledge of indigenous farming systems.
Providing effective agricultural extension services to women as farm managers is essential to increasing the adoption of new technologies and realizing productivity gains in agriculture. Extension messages can be made more appropriate to female farmers and delivered cost-effectively using local institutions. More female extension agents can be recruited, particularly in rural areas, and additional training can be provided to female local experts to enable them to be extension providers. Male extension agents can be trained to work more closely with women in settings that are culturally acceptable, such as womens groups. Such groups can also improve access to infrastructure by serving as marketing cooperatives and communal irrigation associations. A revised incentive system can be used to encourage all extension officers to work with women farmers.
Increasing education for girls, particularly in rural areas, is one way to ensure the next generations stock of human capital. Where there are cultural barriers, governments and communities can find appropriate mechanisms to increase girls enrollment, such as hiring more female teachers, building separate schools for girls, and providing scholarships, books, and uniforms to girls. Increasing the number of female high school graduates will also, over time, provide a pool of potential agricultural extension officers.
Governments and donors can support the training of more women in the agricultural and related sciences. With increased support from governments and donors, such highly trained women can be included in decision-making positions in all agricultural and environmental departments of government, bilateral, and multilateral agencies. Finally, governments should ensure that the workplace, in agriculture as elsewhere, offers equal opportunity to women in terms of both hiring and the training and work opportunities that contribute to advancement.
Increase Womens Ability to Generate Income
To maximize the positive effect that womens incomes have on household food security and nutrition, efforts must be made to increase womens ability to generate and control income. Women are often prevented from participating in more remunerative employment opportunities because of the constraints of home production. Strategies should be geared toward increasing womens productivity both in paid work (whether in agriculture or other sectors) and in domestic production, so women can increase their incomes without sacrificing additional time, their childrens welfare, or their own health and nutritional status. Such strategies can include the development of technologies to reduce time spent in traditional home production activities such as milling and fetching water and the provision of community child-care facilities. More important, education and training may be the most crucial investments to be made in women who do not have physical assets such as land. General education and skills training may also help many women gain employment outside agriculture.
Protect Womens Health and Nutritional Status
Good health and adequate nutrition are important to women at all stages of their lives. Women need to protect their own health and nutritional status to be able to fulfill their productive and reproductive roles.53 In targeting appropriate development or safety net programs toward women, the focus should be on those that increase womens income-earning potential while reducing the energy or time intensity of their activities. Such efforts should also be supported by programs addressing girls and womens specific health needs - especially in relation to puberty, pregnancy, and lactation. These include programs to relieve iron deficiency anemia, vitamin A and iodine deficiencies, general reproductive health care, and pre-and postnatal care. Lastly, women need to be empowered to seek health care for themselves and for those who depend on them for food and nutrition security.