By: Steve Holt
Published:, June 3, 2013
When it comes to fixing the way humans eat, there’s no shortage of proposed methods and philosophies. But if we could do just one thing to fix the global food system, what would that be? The answer, according to many experts, may surprise you: empower women.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of eight Millennium Development Goals—a vision set by many nations and development organizations to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people by 2015. Food and agriculture is one of the areas where this goal is most needed.
Consider: Women comprise about half the agricultural labor force in the developing world, and in some countries—particularly Sub-Saharan Africa—make up 80 percent of farmers. Here in the United States, more farms than ever are run by women—especially among new and young farmers (there has been a 19 percent increase in female operators since the 2002 U.S. Farm Census). And as the primary purchasers of food worldwide, women control the majority of food choices families make—choosing how to spend as much as 80 percent of a family’s food dollar.
However, women typically don’t have the same access to land, banking and financial services, credit, education, or extension services as men do, says Danielle Nierenberg, cofounder of Food Tank, a food-policy think tank. She says that if women had the same access to these resources as men, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that yields could increase by 20 to 30 percent and global malnutrition could be reduced by up to 17 percent. As a result, one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals is to promote gender equality and empower women.
But to achieve these goals requires significant action at the policy level, an arena controlled almost exclusively by men.
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